We live in interesting times. The last few years have seen technological breakthrough reaching wonderous proportions. The way we communicate, connect and live has revolutionized to the point where freedom for one, means captivity for another.
The motorcycle industry has certainly not eluded this. Our wheels of passion have become testbeds for all sorts of gizmos and electronic wizardry. Yet, despite these innovations, the core design of motorcycles have largely remained untouched. Basic engine, gearbox and chassis design remain conventional for the most part. The reason for this is that over the years motorcycles have basically become largely perfect.
Motorcycle design has reached maturity, so to speak. And so has the audience to which all this matters. The fact of the matter is that the average age of the current enthusiast is steadily on the rise. The time has come for us to face this fact and act accordingly.
We need to make it cool again for a fresh audience to ride the objects we love… new buyers, different players, young blood!
The new generation city slicker is an energetic, vibrant, well-informed individual that lives life at “neck break” pace. Life demands more from each day as society shouts “adapt or die”. Amidst all of this, there is a very strong undertone to conform; Do as others do, wear what others wear, eat where others eat, party with the right crowd.
In this process, reality drifts further and further away from authenticity and we become like sheep following an invisible shepherd over the cliff. We become conformists, normal individuals with grey suits following the same path to work every day.
Let’s raise the curtain, for a brief moment on a motorcycle that is set on changing all of this. Taking a look at the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 for the first time is an eye-opener, to say the least! My first reaction was a frown of silence for at least five seconds before reluctantly formulating my opinion. Silencing a journalist for even a few seconds does take some doing. Accolades to the Black Arrow for managing that. The word Svartpilen is Swedish in origin and means “black arrow” in English.
Fresh, peculiar, minimalistic styling to say the least. Almost classic in appearance, with ultra-modern styling thrown into the mix. Painted in a classic dark matt paint scheme that looks downright sinister.
The first, obvious action is to try and categorize this work of alternative design. This is a very normal thing for us to do. In this day and age, everything seems to get a label, a stamp of approval if you will.
But then begs the question; Did the creators of this bike even consider a category whilst at it? Did they seek out a sweet spot that will satisfy the masses? My best guess would be a resounding “No!” It seems a case where the Svartpilen seeks to approve the buyer, rather than seeking to be approved if that makes any sense….
But how does it ride?
The interesting, subjective question, as always. My first thought when I first swung a leg over the Svartpilen 701 was just how narrow it is. Man, this thing feels paper-thin. Eventually, I get excited about the bike. Up to this point, I had no idea what to think, to be honest.
The thought of riding the Svartpilen straight from the estate where I first climbed aboard, into the dense city traffic was now very appealing. This bike was born for the city! Miniscule in size and weight means maximum enjoyment as an urban assault weapon. The motocross type handlebars sends a message of aggression to the brain, so be warned.
The 75 horsepower developed by this proven 692cc, single-cylinder engine never ceased to surprise whenever the throttle was twisted in the right direction. The very strength of simplicity and weight reduction that a single-cylinder engine brings is also its weakness. This comes in the form of noticeable vibration at around the 5000 rpm range. That being as it may, it did not phase me very much as I have had years of experience riding single-cylinder bikes all over Southern Africa.
The chassis and suspension do exactly what they need to do by tracking sharply and responsively around all different sizes and shapes of bends.
I was initially quite surprised, even a little concerned to see an 18-inch front wheel instead of the customary 17-inch of similar types. Conventional wisdom has programmed us to believe that 17-inch is the perfect setup for road riding, whilst 21-inch the perfect setup for off-road use. To me, this is more of a limiting belief than true reality. I have spent hours convincing my off-road students that most any wheel size is adequate and that rider input is by far the most important factor. To this day that gospel is swallowed with a pinch of salt. Be that as it may, the 18-inch front wheel tracked with positivity and great feedback all the way.
The brakes are another item worth mentioning. The single front disk did a good job of stopping the bike every time. I was surprised to see 175km/h on the speedo with regular frequency while on the commute between Joburg and Pretoria and the Brembo stoppers did a great job every time they were called to action. Of course, there was much more speed to be extracted from this little beast, yet I never felt the need to do so.
Another aspect that bothers me very little is wind protection. City dwellers should need no more than the total lack of protection on offer. Some enjoy the freedom of a wind blast in the face. Others enjoy the sight of nothing but the open road before them, ones like me, that is…
A major let down, however, was the instrument cluster. Although modern in appearance with all the necessary functions, it seemed cheap and out of place on this otherwise well-formed package.
Apart from the gear position- and digital speed indicators, the lettering used to communicate the other features seemed way too small and hardly legible for my now mature eyesight. Husqvarna could have used this opportunity to marry a solid, high-quality retro display and old fashioned dials to an otherwise modern interface, perhaps with indigo backlighting to round it off.
A nice touch that enhances the sporty engine characteristic is the addition of a quick shifter that offers clutchless up and downshift action. It does take a bit of time to finetune the correct foot action, yet that is all part of getting acquainted!
I had so much fun carving the city streets that I was a bit annoyed being interrupted by the fuel warning indicator ever so often. The 12 liter fuel tank seems way too small. Understandably, Husqvarna wanted to keep the wet weight around 170kg and this was probably the only way to keep to that target.
In closing, it is important to remember that this motorcycle was born to stand out, not to fit in. There will be very few motorcycles launched in 2019 to make this more clear. Husqvarna should be applauded for such a bold, fresh design. The price tag of over R 150 000 puts it in a bracket where many other value offerings reside, so the Svartpilen will have its work cut out on the local motorcycle scene.
Only time will tell whether this young one will be a sales success in the South African market, as much as it is a statement of individuality. And finally, in the words of the clever folks over at Husqvarna’s marketing department; Simple. Progressive…
For more information visit: www.husqvarna-motorcycles.co.za