Reforging the katana
by Andy Bryenton
The use of the name ‘katana’ for Suzuki’s 1980 range of new, sporty motorcycles was a bold one. The Japanese manufacturer would have been fully aware of the implications. The katana was the legendarily sharp form of sword used by the ancient samurai, a symbol of Japanese engineering excellence. Anything less than a masterpiece would have been a public relations disaster.
Thankfully, the team at Suzuki had two things on their side when it came to living up to the name. The first was a clever, compact new design aesthetic developed by Target Design in Germany. The second was a hot 16 valve engine that made the
GSX 1100 Katana the fastest mass-production bike on the street when it launched. Victory, and positive sales, came because they sweated the little details, such as offsetting the fuel filler cap to allow a tidy centre weld on the fuel tank.
Little snips to cut out weight, lower the rider’s seating position and increase agility paid off. It meant that the compact Katana four-pot beat Honda’s wide CBZ six-cylinder.
Classic Katanas are hard to come by now, but there’s good news from Suzuki. A new, fully reimagined Katana is available for those who want to experience the next generation.
They’ve started with a street-tuned version of the GSXR-1000 engine from
the mid-2000s, then added that menacing semi-fared ‘shark’ look of the original bike. Moreover, they’ve gone further, as well.
You can tell the engineers are serious when they claim they have shaved three per cent of the weight of the pistons and rings.
They’ve also precision-tuned the cam profiles and tuned the exhaust system like a symphony instrument for better, low-down kick. It’s all to do with pressure waves in the tubes, but all we know is that it sounds perfect.
Suzuki’s homage to the Katana could have been a cheeky bit of retro-nostalgia taped on over a common-or-garden street bike for born again riders. Instead, it’s a fully formed masterwork in its own right, just as a katana should be — simple, sharp and light, with a classic profile that is instantly recognisable.