It was amid the height of the pandemic when KTM Philippines brought over the Husqvarna brand of motorcycles. While relatively new to Filipino consumers, Husqvarna is actually a tale as old as time. Almost quite literally as the Swedish firm was founded in 1689 as a firearms manufacturer, so imagine how many generations of European monarchs have had an encounter with the seemingly unsayable name.
Of note, it’s pronounced as hoosk-varna; not hask-varna or worse, hasko-varna. And yes, the brand is known globally as a maker of outdoor power products such as tractors, lawn-mowers, and even chainsaws.
Husqvarna’s motorcycle division has been around for quite a while, as well. Since 1903, in fact, but it was only 110 years later when the company became officially part of KTM, with production housed in Austria. The result was the birth of the Pilen twins, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen naked bikes. Both have respective differences and versions, but the one I tested was the Svartpilen 401.
Despite sharing its engine and bones with the venerable KTM Duke 390, the Svartpilen 401 has its own character that makes it a desirable bike – more than its futuristic-retro design and foreign name.
I’m a fan of the Svartpilen’s design. In the sea of neo-retro bikes and UJM wannabes, the futuristic styling is refreshing. It’s a representation of what retro bikes would probably look like two decades from now. Armed with modern features like LEDs and mechanicals, it’s at par with its contemporaries, maybe even better.
And that wasn’t exclusive to my peculiar taste. It did catch quite a number of interest during my testing period, primarily because the Svart was nothing they’ve ever seen before.
What wasn’t new was the feeling while on the saddle of the Svartpilen 401. Despite sitting higher, the ergonomics was comparable to that of the Duke 390’s, which include the tall handlebar and aggressive stance due to the rear-set pegs.
That wasn’t exactly a bad thing. The Duke 390 is known for its agility and commendable power-to-weight ratio. And with the Svart being a bit lighter than its cousin, it inherits the same on-road behavior – whether in the confines of the city or out in the open highway.
Punches above its weight
Along with a number of media friends, I took the test bike on a long ride through Taal loop with a cafe in Cavite as our destination. On the highway, the Svartpilen 401 could keep up with bigger bikes of the group, even outpacing others in some instances.
The bike would let me maximize the 44hp and 37Nm torque coming from the 373cc single-cylinder engine (registered as 400cc, so it’s highway-legal), with the sweet spot around 5,000-6,000 rpm. I did hit the red line in many occasions, which meant that a bigger bike is in order for the more spirited riders. But for conservative ones, the Svart more than fits the bill.
Look cool while cornering fast
The Svart’s lightweight nature made it a very capable canyon carver. Either through downshifting or the strong-biting ByBre brakes, approaching corners were a cinch, more so when breaking away from them. Just don’t push the bike too much as the Pirelli Scorpion STRs aren’t exactly an on-road performer, especially on wet conditions.
As a narrow and light motorcycle, the Svartpilen is at home in the city. It was easy to filter lanes, plus unforgiving road blemishes weren’t a problem as its suspension with 142mm of travel could absorb all the impact. The liquid-cooled engine also kept the bike cool in between the legs, and that’s even when stuck in a traffic jam.
Packed with value
WP Apex suspension, great build quality, two-channel Bosch ABS, ride by wire, quick shifter, Pirelli Scorpion STRs, and ByBre calipers on discs – the Svartpilen offers more than what its P325,000 price tag would normally provide in other brands.
For an additional price, Adventure Cycle Philippines, Inc. (ACPI) will throw in a custom color scheme in the equation, just like the one you see in the test unit here.
The round monochrome display felt like out of place in the whole ensemble of modern niceties that the Svartpilen 401 can offer. Plus the fact that the KTM Duke 390 is already equipped with a TFT colored instrument, I feel that Husqvarna could improve on this end to complete the package.
Tall ride height
As a 400cc motorcycle, the standard 835mm ride height of the Svartpilen 401 made it a bit unapproachable for new riders, especially those that aren’t blessed with height. I’m 5’6” but with an in-seam of a 5’4” human, and I was already tip-toeing on the bike, so two feet down during long stops wasn’t an option.
Granted, KTM BGC offers a lowering option when you buy one, but that would mean a stiffer ride and lower ground clearance, which kind of defeats the seemingly off-road demeanor of the bike.
Get ready for long rides
As the more upright version of the Pilen twins, I was expecting the Svart 401 to be more forgiving during long rides, but I was wrong. Midway through the aforementioned long ride above, I already felt the strain on my arms, and that’s because of the aggressive riding position while seated on the saddle. I can only imagine how it is on the cafe racer-type Vitpilen 401, but that’s another story for another time.
Moreover, the 9.5-liter fuel tank of the Svartpilen was a bit small, which meant more trips to the gasoline station for a needed refill.