Back in the 50s, people could smoke anywhere they wanted, seatbelts did not exist and bikers were the rebels your mother warned you about. In 1955, Swedish company Husqvarna created a bike called the Silverpilen. It translates as Silver Arrow. Young men flocked to buy this racy looking machine, and even though it was only endowed with a 175cc engine, the clean lines and open frame made it the ideal customizable bike.
Husqvarna made over 30 000 of these bikes, but over the years their business attention moved elsewhere. If you mention Husqvarna now, you immediately think of chainsaws and sewing machines. Fortunately in 2013, the Husqvarna name was brought into the KTM fold again, and they could finally start working on recreating another arrow.
The whole politically correct landscape they were faced with was completely different to the one they had in 1955. Today we Vape and we are offended by everything. And bikers? They are no longer the tough crowd they were back in the day and are more sophisticated. Motorcycle manufacturers have started churning out ‘retro’ bikes and giving them names like ‘urban commuters’. Basically old design, new technology.
Husqvarna on the other hand threw away the rulebook and added two very modern arrows to their historic quiver. They are the Vitpilen and Svartpilen. The Vitpilen is a café-racer styled road bike, whereas the Svartpilen has a more upright riding position with chunky knobbly tyres. Husqvarna did not even have to develop any of the oily bits, as they cannibalized the KTM Duke 390 and 690 to create a 401 and 701 derivation. The design brief was: simple, progressive.
The 401 I reviewed rides on 17” wheels, finished in anodized bronze, and features chunky spokes. They should be durable enough for our potholed roads. The 320mm front disk looks oversized and does a very good job of reigning in the plucky Swede.
Speaking of plucky: as this bike is basically a Duke 390, it uses the same 42hp single pot motivator as its Austrian counterpart, and that makes for a very lively bike. It is quick off the line and lifts its front wheel at the slightest provocation. Keeping up with traffic is easy and the bike will run to the 160km/h mark quite easily.
The riding position of the Vitpilen is a stretch for my old frame, as the seat, tank and clip-on handlebars are pretty much on the same horizontal plane. This setup, however puts your whole body into race mode and combined with the WP suspension you want to ride this bike like you stole it.
When I saw the first concept of the Vitpilen a year ago, it looked like concept bikes do: oddball designs to gauge the public’s response. Well, this one does not look any different to the original design and it is a design that grows on you. It is definitely a head turner, that’s for sure, but if I have to choose, the Svartpilen might be a better match for me, because of the riding position.
If you are looking for something unique that turns heads, then Husqvarna will have an arrow just for you. With their extensive lifestyle catalogue, you can really go to town and also be stylish at the same time.
Words and Pictures – Brian Cheyne