Interview: Maxime Thouvenin, Husqvarna Motorcycles
We speak with creative lead for the brand's new bikes
The oldest running motorcycle brand (established three months before Harley Davidson) Husqvarna started as a rifle-maker in 1689. Their logo—which often gets mistaken for a crown—is a gun sight at the end of a barrel. Declining in sales pushed them to produce motorcycles in 1903. It was the release of the brand's 1955 Silverpilen (Silver Arrow) that epitomized their Swedish form and function style. The pioneering model, built for off-road use, was a lightweight two-stroke that just about anybody could ride. Although Husqvarna ceased making the Silverpilen to focus on their motocross offerings, it remains a pillar of their design heritage. Husqvarna's Vitpilen and Svartpilen (White Arrow and Black Arrow respectively) are also nods to that linage but are in a class all by themselves. First unveiled at the 2014 EICMA(Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori) as concept bikes, these bikes were different, but the perfect answer for the world's growing motorcycle market and a testament to the brand’s future.
"What is fascinating for designers working for Husqvarna is that they are the oldest of brands; they have heritage and history, but they also are a huge pioneering brand,” says Senior Designer at KISKA and Creative Lead for the Husqvarna street bikes, Maxime Thouvenin. "Our goal with the Vitpilen and Svartpilen was to capture the essence of the past, but done in the most modern, progressive way."
“On the one hand, the motorcycle market went towards high-tech, aggressive-looking motorcycles, but lots of people didn’t recognize themselves in that,” Thouvenin explains. "So, the classic trend got bigger and bigger.”
Because of growing nostalgia surrounding motorbikes, many manufacturers made traditional-looking bikes that lacked technical and design elevations. Husqvarna wanted to offer an alternative to that yet appease both ends of the spectrum. This is the paradox of Husqvarna Motorcycles that makes them so admired: the ability to fuse heritage with modern innovation. It’s a highly sought-after aspiration in the world of motorcycling, and one Husqvarna aims to fully realize in their new street bikes, the Vitpilen 401 and Svartpilen 401.
Husqvarna gave their designers rare carte blanche with the street bike project. "We started the design from scratch before we got anything from engineering,” says Thovenin. “But we also worked hand-in-hand with engineering to figure out the best geometry and best package to design the bikes.”
The Svartpilen 401, Vitpilen 401 and 701 all have single-cylinder, four-stroke engines, offering more than ample horsepower for fun on the streets and more than comparably sized bikes. They also feature inverted forks, a rather forward design element that is often missing from the nostalgia bikes that other brands offer. The Svartpilen and Vitpilens feature ABS, four-piston front-disc brakes, a slipper clutch and all the modern comforts, but for anyone to say that Husqvarna just made a modern bike with classic stylings would be missing the point. Sure, there are some subtle nuances that seem vaguely familiar, but on closer inspection, the Pilens are in a class all their own.
Images courtesy of Husqvarna