The forthcoming Husqvarna Vitpilen 701 has been forthcoming for a while now. Husky first teased the Vit (along with its Svartpilen sibling) at EICMA in November 2014, chiefly in 401 trim and using the 373cc single from the KTM 390 Duke. The 701 though, is the flagship Vitpilen, aiming to capture much of the small bike's charm but thumping down the road with KTM's burly 693cc single.
That means 70 horsepower to the rear wheel, and a full-tank weight of 362 pounds on our scales—that's less than a Honda CBR300R—or in other words, amazingly light. Even though there isn't much to the Vitpilen, it packs a few nice features. An up/down quickshifter, for one, as well as ABS and switchable traction control. The rest of the bike is spartan, no doubt, and it has a surprisingly aggressive riding position.
To understand the Vitpilen a little better we talked to Maxime Thouvenin. The Frenchman grew up riding to GPs on the back of his father’s bike. Just the kind of youth that could inspire the design of Husqvarna’s new street bikes.
The Simple Life
Those who remember the days of points and drum brakes will say that any bike with a quickshifter and ABS isn’t truly simple. But from a distance the Vitpilen is undoubtedly lean. Thouvenin says the goal was to make the bike “as simple as possible.” The only things that clutter the Vit’s aesthetic are mandated—fenders, mirrors, and a bulky exhaust.
Despite the café-racer riding position and the round headlight, the goal was not to add another retro bike to the marketplace.
“At some point we thought, ‘Let’s not do something retro or anything to do with looking back,’” Thouvenin says. “Very approachable, very simple, very reduced—this was our way to capture this essence or flavor of the past but done in a very modern way.”
Looking small is one thing, being small is another. The single-cylinder engine is full of tricks, from cooling passages cast into the cases to the quickshifter sensor tucked inside the clutch cover, plus the bizarre twin counterbalancers—one in the bottom end and one in the head where the exhaust cam would normally sit. Even then, the 693cc engine weighs 96 pounds, which is within a few pounds of a Honda CBR250R unit.
For designers, it’s always a challenge to skirt the necessities of engineering to attain a balance of utility and style that works for production. That’s something Thouvenin admits readily and points out that less visual mass means it’s easier to ruin. “This very simple look means lots of effort to put things together and keep the simplicity,” he says. “When you reduce a bike to the minimum like that, it becomes very sensitive—proportions are critical.”
It was not hard for Thouvenin to identify his proudest piece of work on the Vitpilen 701. Rather than a piece or specific line, it was keeping the bike true to the original design.
“I can tell you, everything is different from the show bikes to the production bikes,” he says. But he feels most people won’t know it, and that makes him happy. “They kept the same silhouette, the same volume—that was really, really important.”