GoogleCustom Search

Suzuki Katana

When Suzuki decided to have a go at the European market for real men's bikes, it chose to do so with a bike names after a sword, the Katana. It was a riot to ride then and it still is today.

As the 1970s drew to a close, Suzuki's big bike offering was the GSX1100, a machine so ugly its owners constantly found themselves on the defensive, forced to point to its blistering performance and bulletproof reliability.

Taking the GSX1100 as its base, the Katana was conceived as a Japanese riposte to more handsome European real mens bikes like the Lavarda Jota and Moto Guzzi Le Mans. Its makers wisely enlisted the assistance of Anglo-German agency Target Design to take the West on at its own game.

Although not 100% true to the agencys designs (for example, Target didn't specify a flyscreen and suggested a flip-up headlight and a more rounded seat), the Katana 1100 was a sensation when it appeared in 1980. Its futuristic lines still grab the eye.

Your motives for owning a Katana will inform your choice of which bike you buy. If your main objective is to enjoy riding a big, fast classic with the capacity to scare you witless occasionally, the originality isn't such a big deal. You can happily ignore non-original aftermarket exhaust systems, repaired or recovered seats and the odd cracked panel. These items are unique to the Katana and new-old-stock replacements aren't exactly crowding dealers shelves. And when good originals do appear on online auction sites such as eBay they tend to provoke a bidding frenzy that suggests their like will never be seen again which isn't far from the truth.

If, on the other hand, you want a Katana thats pretty much as it left the factory, buy as complete and original an example as you can afford. That will save a lot of time, money and heartache later.

Given that it has become such an iconic Japanese motorcycle, it's ironic to think that the prime movers were two German and one British veteran of the bike industry. Hans-Georg Kasten is the owner of Target Design, the firm behind the Katana's styling. He left BMW to set up Target in 1979 at the behest of Hans Muth, who had close business links with Suzuki. Jan Fellstrom was the British draughtsman who penned the Katana's lines.

Muth had been asked to restyle Suzuki's GS550 and 650 to make them better suited to the European market and asked the other two if they wanted to get involved. Suzuki was so impressed with Target's efforts, presented late in 1979, that it asked them to have a go at the GSX1100, and so the Katana was born. The reworked smaller bikes appeared in 1981, a year after the Katana 1100 was launched.

Kasten spent a fortnight in Hamamatsu in 1980 working with Suzuki's engineers and designers. But the Katana that eventually appeared differed in a number of details from the signed accord Kasten had with Suzuki. Apart from the flyscreen, headlight and seat being different there were more serious differences. The wheelbase was at least 50mm longer than Target had specified and a four-into-one exhaust system had been replaced with a four-into-two. To this day Kasten suspects that Suzuki simply used the existing swingarm and exhaust from the GSX1100.

Kasten remains proud of the Katana: It was a completely new approach to motorcycle design and there has never been anything like it since.

You will have seen Target's design in other bikes too. It was behind the BMW R100GS and the Sachs Beast.

5 Reasons to buy a Katana;

  1. Exclusivity. You won't see one in every pub car park.
  2. You'll feel like a cross between Mad Max and Dan Dare.
  3. It's a reminder that the 1980s weren't all that bad.
  4. Modern sports bikes won't expect a race.
  5. You'll gain respect from anyone following you through tight bends.

5 Reasons why you don't;

  1. You'll worry about writing off your original exhausts in a low-speed tumble.
  2. One day you'll forget and expect the handling and brakes to match the engine performance.
  3. You'll find yourself hunting out a period paddock jacket.
  4. You'll grow a mullet and start going to Run Wot U Brungs at Santa Pod.

A ride on the Suzuki Katana gives you an intense example of what superbikes were all about in the 1980s.

The Katana is very much a product of its time, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its aggressive power delivery. With an engine from the days when power was all and the only way to get it was more cylinders or more capacity and often both, the Katana makes every straight a dragstrip.

Departing the motorway to put the big Kat through its paces on twisty B-roads the bike becomes an engaging and entertaining prospect. Engaging because as it bucks past the apex and through the exit of every bend your senses are focused on what the bike will do next. It's entertaining , because for all it constantly demands your attention, the Katana never really threatens to get properly out of shape.

You’re delivered to corner entries at almost rude velocities. Braking is efficient enough, but it leaves it late and requires a Herculean squeeze that rules our any notion of feel. A 5ft wheelbase and all that mass means you have to boss the bike through tight turns, but it excels in fat sweepers.

Clip-on bars and rearsets stretch out the riding position and that flyscreen might look like a triumph of design over function, but it's effective.

There's a perverse sense of achievement at the end of every ride on a big old bike from the 1970s or 1980s, spiced with the odd burst of terror. Why else would the Katana have such a strong following.

1980 - GSX1100S Katana launched.
1982 - 1100 Katana dropped in many markets
1983 - Mk2 launched with different wheels, paint and footrests
1984 - GSX1100EFE takes over as Suzuki's big 1100
1990 - Suzuki marks its 70th anniversary with a batch of 200 Katanas built to exact 1980s spec
1991 - Suzuki releases another batch of 200
1994 - Full production of the 1100 resumes
2001 - Katana production ends and is marked with a special edition


  • Top Speed - 143mph
  • Power -111bhp
  • Torque - 70.9ftlb
  • Standing ¼ mile - 11.63s @ 121.1mph
  • Weight (wet) - 246kg
  • Fuel Consumption - 38mpg
  • Price new - £2650
  • Wheelbase - 1520mm
  • Seat height - 775mm
  • Fuel capacity - 22 litres
  • Engine/transmission - air-cooled, dohc, 72 x 66mm bore x stroke. 9.5:1 compression ratio, 4 x 34mm Mikuni (standard bike), five-speed, chain final drive
  • Chassis - tubular steel duplex frame, front suspension four way adjustable preload forks with antidrive; rear suspension twin Kayaba shocks
  • Brakes - 2 x 74mm discs (front); 274mm disc (rear)
  • Wheels - cast tyres 3.50x19in (front); 4.50x17in (rear)

Watch out for;


Suzukis from this period had a reputation for burning out alternators, although this was usually the result of rectifier trouble. Early Katanas had one of the alternator leads connected to the headlights so if the bike was run with the headlight off it cooked its attendant alternator coils. The best fix is to reroute this to the rectifier. Honda Superdream regulator/rectifiers are better than Suzuki originals.

Exhaust System

Original systems command silly money these days, even ropey ones. The most popular replacements are Marshall Deeptone, Lazer and Harris systems. Have the carbs set to match.


As the cogs wear they start to whine. Fifth gear (top) is the one to listen to for early warning signs of impending gearbox woes. With the bike at idle, pull the clutch lever in and out and listen for excessive rattle. Too much noise here could mean a worn clutch basket and/or centre and plates.


Target Desig originally wanted a flip-up headlight but Suzuki decided against it, not fitting one until the 1984 750 S3. Finish is typical of 1980s Japanese bikes (not great). It's not easy to find a good colour match, but Nissan silver comes close. Unless it's so scruffy can can't live with it, best get used to the patina of age.

Forks, Yokes, Wheels

Suzuki fitted all its anti-drive system to the forks. Brake fluid pressure closes a valve in the forks to make them dive less; in practice, the oil froths and it doesn't work. The Katana's yokes give 29° of rake, 1° more than the GSX1100. Unlike the GSX100 there's no leading axle, so the wheelbase is 0.75in shorter. Cast wheels are old so check for cracks and rim damage.

Engine and Frame Numbers

Don't panic if frame and engine numbers don't match they never did. A GSX1100S will however have GS110X on both frame and engine. The rare GSX1100S has GS10X for frame and engine. If considering a 750 Katana, look for European GR7A1 prefixes more powerful than Jananese market models (GS75X).