‘Which company is this?’ asked a gentleman who saw the new Husqvarna Svartpilen 401. Not what you’d expect for the Swedish brand that’s been around for 120 years, though it did only arrive in India four years ago, armed with a pair of unique-looking 250s. However, even back then, the quarter-litre category was past its prime. To launch a new brand in a class that had started down the path of unexciting stagnation, if not outright extinction, was perhaps not the best of ideas. Nonetheless, four revolutions around the sun later, the bottomline remains — Husqvarna is relatively obscure. However, now the black arrow in Husqvarna’s quiver has a shot at bursting out of anonymity with the one thing it needed — more power.
The Svartpilen 401 is entirely based on the new-gen KTM 390 Duke — how’s that for one hell of a starting point? The Husqvarna now has the firepower to get itself noticed, even if it only comes draped in various shades of Henry Ford’s favourite colour. In terms of equipment and intent, the Svartpilen 401 slots into the technological gap between the beautiful and uncomplicated Triumph 400s and the radical KTM 390 Duke that’s armed to the teeth. However, while the 401 hits a few, it misses some as well. Wire-spoke wheels are well and good, sure, but not when the price is tubeless peace of mind. A simpler electronic suite is welcome, too, as is the adjustable suspension. But a ride mode tab that doesn’t do anything but show the word ‘street’? That’s just a standing invitation for more dead-end jokes than required.
Then there’s the fact that it’s gone from being a visual novelty to becoming a capable motorcycle that looks a bit awkward. Or at least that’s what I thought. Husqvarna’s typical minimalist flair is present and accounted for, but in a sectional manner that lacked cohesion. That rear mudguard flap was decidedly an eyesore; I wish they’d left the floating tail of the previous ’pilen as it was. The huge LED headlight and the tank extensions looked great, but only until my eyes fell on the 17-inch front wheel. Even my decidedly non-off-roading brain thought that it needed a 19-inch wheel to harmonise its proportions. Then again, the Svartpilen isn’t really meant to be a scrambler, as much as I’d have liked another addition to the do-it-all category of motorcycles.
The great news is that the 401 gets adjustable suspension; the front fork is adjustable for compression and rebound, and the monoshock for preload and rebound. This most certainly will help a wider range of riders dial in the right setting. Also, the seat is roomier in all directions, which is another box ticked off on the comfort list. And the handlebar results in a more upright position for the rider as well. Hang on — am I saying that they’ve gone and made a more comfortable Duke? Yes, exactly that. And given that the 401 looks precisely the opposite of ‘garish’, I’d say it has a strong set of advantages going for it. At the heart of it all, of course, is that recent 399cc motor.
With 45.37 bhp available at the right wrist, the 401 felt and sounded just like the Duke. In fact, if you’ve read about or ridden the Duke, you’ll get exactly the same sensations with the Svartpilen. Which is to say, the 401 blurred the scenery with internal-combustion hilarity with every intense twist of the throttle. Bajaj claimed 0-60 kph in 2.5 seconds, 0-100 kph in 6.3 seconds, and a top speed of 149 kph. While I never got anywhere close to its top speed, I didn’t have to — it was easy to see that few others will live with the 401 in a straight line, and most of them will also have been built in Chakan. The inherent riotous character of the latest version of Bajaj-KTM’s long-running single will never ever get old. They could make all the bikes they wanted with this engine, and the number couldn’t be called ‘too many’. And that’s what enables the 401 to do all that it can with the rest of its parts.
For once, you won’t hear me complaining about tyres! In my experience, the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs are some of the best dual-purpose tyres ever made, and they equip the 401 with the kind of grip and character it deserves. Tyres can make or break a motorcycle, and the Pirellis certainly make the Svartpilen. Moral of the story? If a 401 rider is ever inclined to test that bash plate’s strength on the rough stuff, they’ll have all the grip to back them up, except in deep sand or mud. Everywhere else, they’ll fly along, even on tarmac. That was the reason why the 401 lightened its front end in the first two gears, the rear digging into the tarmac under hard acceleration.
When it came to handling, the compact 401 was nimble and fun. However, perhaps it was just the wire-spoke wheels playing on my mind, but I thought I felt some flex while braking and cornering hard. In any case, it wasn’t distracting, just something to ride around by being smoother at the controls. And I could sit right up against the tank to ride it supermoto style or move back to ride it like a sporty motorcycle. That’s the kind of versatility that lends itself to fun no matter the conditions or the mood. And whatever I did, the 401 was a picture-perfect example of how carefree a motorcycle can feel when it’s given enough power, stability, braking force and grip. Just like the bike it’s based on, then — just with a bit of whimsy thrown in instead of razor-sharp focus. And I quite like the idea of such a motorcycle.
Just as I liked the fluorescent detail on the tank extensions also replicated in the TFT screen. Now, I did think that the 401’s visual personality is a bit sedate, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Husqvarna, of all things. I also thought the finish was off in a couple of places, though the fit was as solid as you’d want on a proper-fast bike. Also, on one occasion, the front tyre picked up a part of the gravel I was riding on and lobbed it at my visor. It was a reminder of why proper scramblers have high and adequately long front mudguards. It was also an event that filled the air in a valley with echoing expletives.
Anyway, that fun-filled motor and those bones borrowed from the Duke are surrounded by parts that identify this motorcycle as the Svartpilen 401. It’s built by Bajaj, is available at KTM showrooms, and running/maintenance costs will be reasonable. Is it a scrambler? No, but it is a fun street bike that wears very good hiking boots. And it will handle the everyday off-roading that goes on in our lives. In the end, it was also a bike that provoked me to ask one last question — what’s Swedish for ‘duke’? Hint: The answer is the headline!