2020 Husqvarna Svartpilen ‘Black Arrow’ boisterous and high-spirited

The 701cc Svartpilen is a clever blend of street-tracker and scrambler powered by a single-cylinder motor from the KTM 690 Duke, by Husqvarna’s parent company

Mention the Husqvarna Group and most people might think of lawn equipment or even sewing machines. However, anyone with a dirt bike in their garage will know the colorful past that Husqvarna has had over 50 years in international enduro, motocross and supermoto competition.

In the 1960s, the lightweight, two-stroke, off-road bikes from Sweden helped push the once-dominant British four-stroke competition bikes into history.

Since 2016, Husky has become more active in the street bike arena with its 401 cc and 701 cc single cylinders.

The 2020 701cc Svartpilen (“Black Arrow”) is a clever marketing blend of street tracker and scrambler. It is powered by an over-square 692 cc single LC4 (liquid-cooled four-stroke) motor from the KTM 690 Duke, by Husqvarna’s parent company. The big, 75-horsepower four-valve single is boisterous and high-spirited. Much of the vibration common to one-lung bikes is quelled by balancers on the crank and the cam, making vibrations pleasant enough around town.

The company cites 53 foot-pounds of torque at 6,800 rpm, which is strong and wide, even in low rpms. Pulling hard out of corners in second and third gear is great fun and makes the technical canyon twists addictive. Freeway pace is easily maintained and the bike is lit well for dark freeway visibility.

The cockpit sits well for my 6-foot frame and the one-piece, upright bars have a good “pull-back.” Foot pegs are well-placed, neither racer-rear nor cruiser-forward. Controls fall to hand easily. The ride-by-wire throttle functions smoothly and avoids much of the snatchiness common to some similar arrangements. The slipper clutch is a joy as is the quick shifter for fast work. The seat is firm but not hard.

The mirrors are positioned well, but at high revs the twin balancers struggle and eventually alienate the mirrors at freeway pace. Nighttime mirror use is particularly difficult. I always knew something was behind me but identification was indistinct.

The instrument cluster is awkward. It was often hard to read in daylight and the orientation of data was difficult to discern at a glance. The circular display seems more of an added-on design statement, but the bike needs better.

The tubular trellis frame design is common to all the LC4 Husqvarnas, in which the motor is a stressed-member. The chrome-moly frame is tough enough to resist fore and aft flex as well as torsional twist; all good things on a motorcycle, plus a trellis-frame is more attractive to my eye.

The block-tread Pirelli MT 60 RS tires (110/80R 18 inches front and a 160/60R 17-inches rear) are mounted on spoked rims. The chunky rubber might look to be squirmy on pavement, but I did not experience negative performance at my pace. Suspension is fully adjustable with 5.9 inches of travel. And the Brembo brakes, with ABS, worked superbly on this midweight bike. Traction control is switchable; however, rear ABS is not, which seems like an oversight for those who like to slide the rear wheel in correct conditions.

Hustling the bike through canyon pavement is a hoot. First gear is short-legged, but twisting the right grip in second and third gear shows the wide torque band the big bore LC4 has on a 347-pound motorcycle. Grabbing a handful always made me smile. It’s nimble and narrow for city work and splitting the freeway clutter. The seat height is high at 32 inches so visibility over the bars is good.

The 3.2-gallon fuel tank gives adequate distance and the on-board computer indicated claimed fuel use in the low 40 mpgs, but I got better than that on 100-mile day trips.

As far as appearance, the bike doesn’t fit the average sport bike design. The tank, with its pontoon-like bulges, takes some time to appreciate. Rear-wheel mounted “mud guard” license plate and taillight mounts are becoming more common on new bikes but they bother my eye. And the ducktail rear section is a thinly cushioned passenger perch that looks and sits spartan and severe.

The local Husqvarna shop quotes a retail price of $9,499, (down more than a grand from 2019.). Add the dealer prep and setup for an as-tested price of $11,542.

Motorcycles are the ideal opportunity these days for social-distancing recreation.

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