Husqvarna Svartpilen and Vitpilen 250 First Ride: How good are these new motorcycles?
The first thing that strikes you about the Husqvarnas is the way they look. Both the Svartpilen and Vitpilen 250 — they looked bloody good. And different. They’re distinctly neo-retro — with elements that hint at classic motorcycles, but manage to look futuristic at the same time. The round headlamp hasn’t been in vogue for decades and yet, with that DRL ring, it manages to look properly contemporary. Its closest competitor in terms of design ethos and styling is probably the CB 300R, but even that doesn’t make you double take like these two do — Scandinavian design draped over a trellis frame is hard to ignore. Stunning looks aside, the other consequence of their Scandinavian origins are that their names can be a mouthful. Svartpilen. Vitpilen. Try getting the uncle who asks you about them at a signal to say it correctly.
Telling them apart
There’s a simple trick to remembering which one is which. Svartpilen and scrambler start with the same letter. On the other hand, Vitpilen translates to ‘white arrow’ and there’s only one white motorcycle here. These two share nearly everything under the skin, but the fact that one is inspired by a scrambler and the other takes after a cafe racer does a fair bit to distinguish them.
For example, they get different tyres. Both MRF, but the Svartpilen gets Revz FDs with a tread pattern that can handle a bit of off-road, while the Vitpilen gets the Revs FC 1s which are a road tyre. The Svarptilen also gets 8 spoke wheels, a two-piece seat and a tank rack straight from the factory, while the Vitpilen gets five-spoke wheels and a single seat. Interestingly, these bikes also get a rather ungainly grab handle for the pillion riders, something that only Huskies in India get. I’m not too big a fan of it — the draw of these Huskies is the way they look and that bit poking out of the back doesn’t sit well with its otherwise minimalist form.
The heart of it all
It’s no big secret that these Husqvarnas share their platform with the KTM Dukes. We expected the 401s that are based on the 390 Duke to be launched here first but instead we’ve got the 250s, which are based on the… erm… 250 Duke. The engine is identical, and in the same state of tune as well. So that means it has the same compression ratio of 12.5:1 and puts out 29.5bhp and 24Nm, marginally more than the Bajaj Dominar 250. On the go, the Huskies feel sprightly. They weigh a full 4.6kg less than the Duke and they feel quick off the line. The engine needs to be wrung out to be enjoyed though. You don’t really get a move on below 4000rpm, but it does pick up progressively in to a strong mid-range and a stronger top-end. Refinement is good for the most part though vibes do start creeping in, as they naturally would, post 7000rpm. I did find this to be more pronounced on the Vitpilen’s handlebar and I put it down to clip ons not doing as good a job as the upright bar with risers on the Svartpilen at damping vibes. As for heat management, there was absolutely no way I could tell. I was soaked to the bone and it was a rather chilly day — nowhere close to the conditions a hot Indian summer would put it through, so I shall reserve my opinion on that for another day. The gearbox is quite slick and I had no trouble moving up and down the box — something you will need to be doing a lot of in the cities, with the lack of grunt lower down in the rev range.
Under the skin
On the chassis front, it may once again look similar on paper but that is not necessarily true. The frame that the engine sits in the same as the Duke’s but the rear subframe has been tweaked for the Huskies. Husqvarna has actually increased the length of the subframe on the 250 compared to last year’s 401s, to make the pillion seat a little longer. The suspension too — 43mm forks up front and a monoshock at the rear, but these motorcycles have their own set up. The monoshock on these motorcycles have 7mm less travel than that of the Duke, for example and the WP Apex forks up front are different as well. However, the steering geometry pretty much remains the same.
How does all this translate when you’re on them? Their compactness combined with their suspension set up make them feel very nimble. Turn ins are quick and eager, and whether its carving up traffic or carving up corners, these bikes are up for it. They feel stable through corners as well, not springing up any surprises and remaining forgiving machines much like the 250 Duke. Ride quality is biased to the stiffer side, but it only makes itself apparent on really sharp bumps. For the most part, the bike deals well with mild undulations in the road.
The different ergonomics on both these bikes do lend them different experiences. The Vitpilen’s rider triangle is quite aggressive, though the clip ons are quite wide and give you a good amount of leverage to steer. That said, it is fairly committed and isn’t the most comfortable over longer distances though this riding position does accentuate the compactness of the bike. The Svartpilen, on the hand is more upright. The wider bar does give you more leverage, and it is more forgiving on your wrists and back. If you’re planning on using this bike for anything more than the urban jungle or a weekend ride, I suggest you pick the Svartpilen. If touring is a focus though, you might want to look at the Duke. The seat is more comfortable, it has a fuel tank that is 4 litres larger and you should find it more suited to going longer distances. The scrambler make-up of the Svartpilen may have you tempted to take it off-road but it feels more comfortable on road. It does have a bash plate and the ergonomics conducive to tackling a light trail, but the suspension is still set up for the black top and it will be happier on there.
As good as they are, I don’t see the riding experience being the primary draw of the Husqvarnas. It is the design, the appeal, how cool they are. They won’t be to everyone’s tastes — there’s plenty who would still prefer the aggression of a street naked. But for someone who doesn’t mind giving that up for a motorcycle that ooze class without compromising performance, the Huskies are where it’s at. At Rs 1.84 lakh (ex-showroom), these motorcycles are a cool Rs 25,000 more affordable than the Duke they is based on which makes them good value as well. These are motorcycles that can comfortably take on the city, will keep pace with your group on the weekend ride and still manage to look like something out of a modern art gallery.