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The Indian motorcycle market seems to be in a happy place at the moment. From motorcycles to motorcycle essentials, lots of manufacturers are launching heaps of products and we are running around trying them on for size. It’s almost hectic but this is the life we chose and love. This particular piece though is about something that we have been looking forward to for a while. If we had to cut to the chase, the new Huskies are here. The introduction of the Vitpilen and the Svartpilen is a tad odd but we’ll get to that. For now, the good news is that the Svartpilen 401 is here!
Before we talk about the bigger Black Arrow, let us address the oddity. So Bajaj has refreshed the Husqvarna lineup in India with a new Vitpilen 250 and the Svartpilen 401. We have no idea why the Vitpilen was left out when the new 399cc mill seems to have made the Svartpilen 401 so much more exciting! We may get it later on but still, it is a tad odd. The new Vitpilen 250 is bigger and there are a fair few changes to it. But we only rode the Svartpilen 401 and so, that is what we’ll be talking about.
Talking about the Svartpilen 250; it was a unique motorcycle. The Indian market had seen nothing like it. As is always the case, radical designs often come with unique problems. The quarter-litre Black Arrow was too tall, too small, and a little rough around the edges. Those are characteristics that people who buy Huskies love but ours is a sensitive market. Bajaj took the feedback and decided to make some changes to the Svartpilen, in addition to the engine that is.
The good ol’ Svartpilen 250 from back in the day
The motorcycle is now bigger. You can tell simply by looking at it. The fuel tank has grown from 9.5L to 13.5L which makes the whole motorcycle look bigger. The seat is roomier and not just for the rider. The seat height is down from 842mm on the 250 to 820mm on the 401. And despite all of this, it is just 5 kg heavier than the Svartpilen 250 which is a mean feat. The Swedish design philosophy necessitates keeping proportions in check so the round headlamp has grown as well. All of this seems well and good but has the compromise dulled the tip of the Black Arrow?
To be honest, the Svartpilen 401 is still quite a unique-looking motorcycle. It is just not as radical as before. It can be seen everywhere. The whole ‘fuel tank is the bodywork’ seems a little less dramatic on the 401. The tail section is also more conventional with the ‘hugger has it all’ giving way to an extended fender which has the turn signals and number plate holder. The pillion grab rail doesn’t look too ‘lagom’ (Swedish philosophy of just the right amount) either. The old round display has been scrapped for a stunning new 5” FT which we found to be fantastic with all the animations and such.
If you read the last paragraph in a predominantly negative light, let us fix that for you. The Husqvarna Svartpilen 401 still retains its scrambler vibe and among those in the class, it still stands miles out. It is still a beautiful machine and it still screams Husqvarna all around. It is just that we put it under harsh scrutiny because the 250s blew our minds when they were launched and compared to those, the new Svartpilen 401 looks a little mild-mannered. Compared to the rest of the crowd, the Svartpilen 401 is still a uniquely handsome motorcycle.
Now, the biggest (and the most unsurprising) change; the engine. The new Black Arrow is powered by the 399cc mill from the new-gen 390 Duke… exactly the same engine. 46 horses, 39 torques, and tons of character. Though we’d have liked it to have been a bit more tailored to the scrambler theme of the Svartpilen, the engine on its own is a proven gem. It is a rev-hungry engine that we have come to expect from KTMs but it is more tractable than before, as we found out while riding the new 390 Duke. Most importantly, it makes the Svartpilen 401 a bloody quick motorcycle.
Give it the beans and the Svartpilen 401 gathers speed at a terrifying rate. The combination of a potent high-capacity single-cylinder engine and a lightweight motorcycle means that the Svartpilen 401 is hugely exciting. There is some buzz from the engine in different parts of the rev-band but it seems more like an accentuation of the character than a deal-breaker. Off the tarmac, you really have to give it the beans and if you do with the rear ABS off, it is quite a fun motorcycle on some light trails and that is all you should be doing here; light trails.
While the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs and the whole scrambler theme make it look like it can rule the roost off the tarmac as well, Bajaj states that this is a hardcore street bike and not an adventure tourer. Even without that clarification, we’d not have mistaken it for one. The ergonomics are a giveaway before anything else. The riding stance is more like a roadster with a slight reach to the handlebars. So saddling is not something that comes naturally on the Svartpilen 401. While the ground clearance is significantly improved and the bashplate is retained, it is still a far cry from conventional off-roading motorcycles.
Continuing with the ergonomics, we’d like to point out that the new Svartpilen 401 is a fair bit more comfortable than the old one. It is bigger, roomier and more accommodating for a much wider variety of riders this time around. Despite spending a lot of time in the saddle, we never felt too tired to take it off the tarmac every once in a while to explore some hidden gems in Pune. Overall, the Svartpilen 401 is a comfortable motorcycle that you can spend a lot of time riding but if you are looking to ‘stand and deliver’ on some beaten trails, it limits that particular prospect a bit.
In the handling department, there are a few quirks. The Svartpilen 401 shares a lot of parts with the new-gen 390 Duke and therefore, you get the same chassis components including the main frame, the swingarm, and the adjustable suspension. These make the Svartpilen 401 a hoot to ride on some winding roads. The tubed-spoked wheels and the Scorpion Rally STRs take some getting used to though. The tyres and wheels are heavier than the 390 Duke and it is unsprung mass too so do not expect the new Black Arrow to be a corner-carver like the 390 Duke. Despite the relatively (and slightly) heavier steering, the Svartpilen 401 can take what most riders can throw at it if you find yourself in the mountains looking to get your lean on.
Off the road, the tyres come into their element. We took the Svartpilen to some really treacherous roads, especially the one where we found the mud to be like quicksand. Yet, the tyres powered through with relative ease. So in terms of capability, the Svartpilen 401 can be taken off the tarmac but it is not meant for that express purpose. Other than that, the chassis package still means that you have an excellent read on what the motorcycle is doing and that makes it more manageable off the tarmac than it should be.
In terms of features and electronics, the Svartpilen 401 gets switchable ABS and Traction Control but not the IMU that the new 390 Duke has. So it misses out on the lean-sensitive variations of the aforementioned rider aids. Launch control, riding modes, and Bluetooth are missing as well. Riding modes and Bluetooth we missed, launch control, not so much. It is INR 20,000/- cheaper than the 390 Duke so that makes up for it somewhat. The question then is, does the Svartpilen 401 make sense?
It does, a lot of it. While it shares a lot of parts with the 390 Duke and still misses out on some cool bits that the Orange Baddy has, it is a very different motorcycle. The 390 Duke is a thrilling motorcycle but its over-the-top persona is not for everyone. The Svartpilen 401 is classier and more like a gentleman (a rugged one). Moreover, the changes made to the Black Arrow are a result of Bajaj listening to the people and giving them what they want. The result is a more accessible and easier-to-live-with motorcycle that is still just the right amount of Swede. That counts for a lot.
As always, whether you should get a particular motorcycle or not depends on you more than what anyone else has to say. So give it a try at your nearest KTM showroom and figure out if the Svartpilen 401 is something you want. About the nitty gritty, the Svartpilen 401 gets a big thumbs up from us.