Husqvarna’s entry into the LAMS segment in Australia was heralded by two stylish and unique offerings – the Svartpilen 401 and Vitpilen 401. Original pricing for these exotic machines was over $11k on the road when they were first launched into the Australian market.
Now you can pick up one of these machines for as low as $7,495 Ride-Away thanks to a drastic pricing update from Husqvarna, so let’s take another look at the Svartpilen 401. Moto Hub in Sydney were kind enough to lend me the Svartpilen so I figured I’d see how it stacked up in the LAMS segment.
Of the two 401 options, the Svartpilen boasts dual-sport style tyres alongside the dark colour scheme. The Vitpilen rolls on road tyres and is available in white bodywork with a more aggressive seating and ‘bar position in comparison.
Looking over the Svartpilen 401 I couldn’t help but admire the styling. It won’t be for everyone, but it reminds me of the European or more specifically German custom scene, with a certain brutal artistic quality. These machines stand out from the LAMS crowd, and a deeper look reveals a very rare attention to detail.
The bike is a bit raw around the engine where the wiring loom and piping has been hidden between that powerplant, trellis frame and exhaust collector, but that’s what you get on a nakedbike. The essentially one-piece tank to tail bodywork is what draws the eye.
Somewhat surprisingly for such an aggressively styled machine the Svartpilen includes pillion pegs and a flat pillion perch. The riders seat is sculpted and situated 835 mm from terra-firma. With an upright seating position and raised handlebars you’re offered a commanding view of the road ahead along with a relaxed seating position and plenty of leverage via wide ‘bars.
That level of nice detail continues through to the triple-clamps, those stunning wheels and even across a host of details like the radiator shrouds, blacked out levers and fuel cap, along with an aftermarket style exhaust and much more.
You really have to check this bike out in person yourself to fully appreciate what’s on offer as images just don’t do it justice. Have a look at the RC 390 and compare that to the Husqvarna, there’s a big jump in finish, which is why the Svartpilen originally demanded that premium price and the component quality is a step up from similarly priced models.
Compared to the Harley Street 500, which is priced similarly to the 401’s original RRP and which looks clean with blacked out engine and components – from arms reach – the Svartpilen is a major step up. A closer look at the Street 500 reveals a basic build quality, with many components looking quite cheap. The Svartpilen 401 on the other hand backs up its attitude with top notch quality and componentry everywhere you look. It’s a harsh comparison for the Street 500, especially in light of the Husqvarna’s price drop, for those who may consider something a bit more roadster than cruiser.
Riding the Svartpilen 401
Setting off from Castle Hill a few points immediately strike me, the first being familiarity with the KTM 390s in how the bike feels, and secondly just how good that RbW throttle is, especially cutting through the remnants of early morning peak hour traffic.
I’m heading for Galston Gorge, a tremendous little section of road, especially for a small capacity machine – if you can get a clear run, and manage to avoid the many drivers incapable of sticking to their side of the road.
The ‘bars on the Svartpilen feel super-wide, while vision through the mirrors is exceptional. The dash is a simple and clear digital affair, so there’s everything I need at a glance, while ticking the street fighter theme of the bike.
A light clutch is operated via cable and there’s a slipper function as befits this sporty little offering. Blasting through traffic I’m reminded how good this single-cylinder powerplant is, with a torquey and responsive character – it’s the best fuelled LAMS machine I’ve ridden.
The engine easily matches the performance of Kawasaki’s 400, particularly around town. The twin-cylinder Japanese bike perhaps feeling a little more relaxed at highway speeds while the single-cylinder Austrian donk is always eager.
Being quite enthusiastic on the throttle did mean taking advantage of the brakes coming up to roundabouts and traffic lights, which also quickly showed off just how powerful that four-piston Bybre caliper is. The light Svartpilen has class leading bite and stopping power.
Knock open that throttle when the light goes green and you’re off with plentiful acceleration via a grin inducing surge of single-cylinder torque. Only a very keen cage driver in a performance vehicle will keep up. You can short-shift through the gearbox and enjoy that spectacular low to mid-range, or hold those gears and wait for the shift indicator to light up.
You can still lug the engine if you insist on upshifting early high or let the speed drop without really noticing, but keep the powerplant on the boil and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of urge.
For cutting through suburban traffic and hooning around town the Svartpilen is a gem.
Galston Gorge gave the Svartpilen 401 a real opportunity to shine. This tight and windy section of road with endless tight hairpin corners is a great hunting ground for small nimble motorcycles. The Svartpilen 401 rails through the bends with razor sharp handling that actually surprised me a little at times.
Even the Ninja 400, which makes my own Daytona 675R feel heavy, isn’t as responsive and fast turning as the Svartpilen 401. The meaty single-cylinder engine and Bybre brake set-up is ideal for blasting between corners before washing off speed in the hurry, only to blast back out towards the next, rinse and repeat. Aggressively knocking down through the gearbox onto the slipper clutch is also an option for washing off speed, but even for my lazy riding style the Svartpilen demands rider engagement and rewards it in spades.
The Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tyres also look the business, but through the tight low speed corners in the Gorge I could feel the blocks on the tyres start to move around when really pushed. Dedicated road riders might choose some more sporting road rubber after wearing the original tyres out.
The gorge also gave the opportunity to test out the Svartpilen’s strudy looking WP Suspension. 43mm forks and a mono-shock bolted straight to the swing-arm via the brand’s well-known PDS set-up. I’ll admit I was a little surprised that there wasn’t adjustability on the forks considering the initial asking price, but it’s not a normal expectation in this segment.
The ride itself on the WP springers was sporty, leaning towards the hard-nosed café racer theme that the bike portrays externally. Not having time to play around with the rear preload, at 70 kg the overall setup was still exceptional, with good feel from the front and plentiful support – that’s important with that big stopper up front. The rear could be a little better controlled when it cops the big hits, but still responds better than most of the competition in this segment of the market.
The Svartpilen is in many ways a no compromise option in a segment that revolves around compromises for everyday life, commuting while still having fun. I could easily commute around Sydney on a Svartpilen on a daily basis.
At the end of the day that amazing powerplant, WP suspension and Bybre braking package are a great match for the out-there styling. Paying over $11k for one of these machines would be a hard sell to me, however at $7,495 out the door for an MY18 Svartpilen 401 or Vitpilen 401 that seems like a steal.
With that said, you’ve got to know what you’re after in a motorcycle, particularly a first motorcycle. If you’re just after a run-around and something a bit softer, slower and more forgiving, this may not be for you. There’s nothing wrong with that either. Different strokes for different folks and all that….
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