Almost 40 years after introducing the original, Suzuki has relaunched the iconic Katana for 2019. But what was it that has made the original so memorable? Insidebikes investigates…
A sci-fi styled Katana (named after a traditional Samurai sword) was shown as a prototype at the start of 1980 and it caused quite a stir when a production version was launched at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in 1980. The angular lines and metallic silver paint gave the new Suzuki flagship a futuristic feel, even if it was largely a typical UJM underneath the shiny bodywork.
German company Target Design had been commissioned by Suzuki to give the GSX a more European feel and while the eyecatching Katana wasn’t to everyone’s taste, it became an instant classic and was voted as MCN’s Machine of the Year in 1981.
The 1074cc inline-four was lifted from the regular GSX1100 (the X designated a 16 valve motor, while the GS1000 made do with two valves per cylinder) and put out 100bhp, good for over 140mph.
Even for its time, the Katana (pictured above left, with the new-for-2019 model) was pretty long and heavy with a 1520mm wheelbase and nigh on 250kg to haul around before any fuel was even in the tank but it handled and stopped well enough by 1981 standards.
The angular fairing and heavily sculpted seat were said to give the big Suzuki its Katana-like shape, although the aerodynamics were, ahem, something of a double-edged sword. Period reports suggest that while the fairing aided top speed, the bike could weave at speed and was sensitive to cross winds.
Capitalising on the success of the name, Suzuki created a family of Katanas in the early 1980s. A smaller bore GSX1000S was built to homologate the Katana for production racing while the unfaired GS550, and shaft driven GS650, did little more than splash a dash of silver and red paint on the work-a-day middleweight models. Perhaps the most interesting of the Katanas was the GSX750S of 1984.
Most of the 750s stayed in Japan, although a few made it to the UK. The 750 took the styling concept to another level, with monoshock rear suspension, gold painted frame and an even more futuristic popup headlight.
Unfortunately the Suzuki’s reign was shortlived. The 1100 gained a few more horsepower and offered more traditional liveries alongside the striking silver as it tried to wow more buyers but, by 1985, the Katana’s days were numbered. Kawasaki moved the superbike game on with the GPZ900R, while Suzuki’s own GSX-R and Yamaha’s FZ series started the race rep revolution that was to become big business in the 1990s.
Suzuki continued to stick the Katana name on everything from 50cc scooters to its unloved middleweight sportsbikes in America (known here as the GSX750F) but the big daddy GSX1100S Katana remains the best of the breed and an icon of early Eighties motorcycling.
Like the original, the rebooted Katana is largely a revamped version of a more mundane model. The 2019 Katana is based on the GSX-S1000S, but with new bodywork and a number of detail changes. Suzuki has taken its time but, finally, the Kat is back!