Words Iron & Air Images Suzuki
By the late 1970s, Japanese motorcycle design had reached a stagnation point. In order to shake things up, Suzuki commissioned a design exercise that led to a concept presented in 1979. The public reaction was so positive that Suzuki ended up producing the motorcycle that changed modern motorcycle design: the Suzuki Katana.
From Iron & Air Magazine Issue 033’s article “Japanese Bikes We Love,” Michael Jordan writes, “The 1981 Suzuki GS1100S Katana successfully modernized motorcycle styling. Suzuki hired Target Design — ex-BMW motorcycle design chief Henrik Muth, joined by Jan Fellstrom and Hans-Georg Kasten — to create a hyper-European look that evoked not only motorcycle road racing, but also pure art. Against all expectations, the Katana became a raging success. It helped that the motorcycle beneath that angular bodywork was very good, an evolution of the era’s best superbike, the 1978 Suzuki GS1000. The Katana had the right kind of hardware: a structurally rigid frame with sound geometry, compliant high-quality suspension, and a powerful, yet tractable, 100-horsepower engine with a 16-valve cylinder head. Suzuki’s cadre of ex-GP development riders dialed in the performance on the company’s aging (but daunting) Ryuyu test track.
We now appreciate the design-conscious Katana’s accomplishments as well as the missteps it inspired, most notably the 1988 BMW K1, 1986 Ducati Paso 750, and the 1982 Honda CX500 Turbo. The Suzuki GS1100 Katana remains contemporary, not just in its wind tunnel-tested aerodynamics and solo-rider configuration but also in its equally modern balance between street-specific refinement and track-ready performance. And let us not forget that a couple of close encounters between a Katana and the pavement led Nick Ienatsch into writing one of the best-ever books about riding technique, Sport Riding Techniques: How To Develop Real World Skills for Speed, Safety, and Confidence on the Street and Track (2003).”
In honor of one of the most legendary Japanese motorcycles in history, Suzuki unveiled a new version of the Katana in 2020. Like the original Katana, Suzuki hired an independent designer, Rodolfo Frascoli. Wanting to create a contemporary version while at the same time recognizing that Suzuki is a company that values tradition, Frascoli stuck close to many of the characteristic features that Muth’s crew created forty years ago. The changes that are there — adjusted angles on the front, the fairing and the rear section — are so minimal they’re hardly noticeable on the overall more compact design.
While the new Katana is built on the GSX-S1000 platform and doesn’t bear the ‘fastest production motorcycle in the world’ title, it’s 148-hp engine and 474-lb curb weight still makes it lighter and faster than it’s original namesake.