Motorcycle correspondent Patrick van Sleight takes another trip down memory lane as he recalls the original Suzuki Katana more than twenty years down the line.

Patrick van Sleight takes another trip down memory lane as he recalls the original Suzuki Katana more than twenty years down the line.

Suzuki currently has two bikes that it brands Katanas in certain markets, the GSX600F and the GSX750F, both comparatively low-budget, low-technology sports-tourers far removed from what the original Katana stood for.

With its brand and logo inspired by the ceremonial sword of the traditional Samurai fighter, the original Suzuki Katana caused quite a stir when it was unleashed onto an unsuspecting public in 1981. Revered more for its looks than its performance, with styling far ahead of its time, the bike still looks fresh today and is one of the few bikes after-market cosmetics can't enhance.

The opposite is often true as, in a bid to individualise their machines, owners often wreck the crisp lines accentuated by the silver colour. Its looks were outrageous and daring, especially for a manufacturer that had always produced the so-called Universal Japanese Motorcycle – a derogative term that referred to the similarity of looks and performance among the Japanese marques.

Certainly, the Japanese established and cemented their reputation for copying designs from each other. Suzuki then commissioned a German-based studio, Target Design, to come up with a design for its new bike. The company already had a very capable series of two-year old, double overhead cam 16-valve engines, but it was possible that not everyone was noticing them in the bland-looking GSX roadster.

The early eighties saw an unprecedented boom in motorcycle sales, and manufacturers were locked in a power race (like today!). Bikes were becoming cheaper (unlike today!) and faster all the time. Suzuki realised it needed something different to stand out and attract buyers, hence the Katana was born.

Jan Fellstrom and Hans Muth from Target Design established a reputation in the automotive industry for their radical designs (they also designed the landmark BMW R90S, almost a decade earlier), and Suzuki gave them a clean sheet to start with.

Fairings were reserved for racing and expensive road-bikes until then, so the appearance of bikes had been functional so far with the clocks, tank and saddle forcing that dreaded similarity in looks. Target Design turned this notion around by not only popularising the bikini-fairing, but integrating it with the tank and saddle in one sharp, diagonal slash. The bike appears shark-like (helped by the silver-only colour option) and positively intimidating in a rearview mirror. This is in part thanks to the dropped clip-on handle bars, giving it a low-slung, aggressive riding position – another feature usually reserved only for race bikes of the time.

The common absence of a fairing and upright riding position of the powerful bikes of the era made fast riding tiring because of the lack of wind protection. This means the Katana, with its windtunnel-designed small fairing, had more usable performance than its (naked) rivals. The tiny cockpit area resulted in the most stylish speedometer and rev-counter unit ever to adorn a motorbike; in order to fit into the small space, the two units overlap in a very creative manner. If any criticism could be laid on the looks of the bike, it is the front indicators that are too big, and positioned at the wrong place, as they spoil the otherwise clean look of the minimalist fairing.

Original article from Car


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