Suzuki Katana

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This article is about the 1980s motorcycle, for the scooter see Suzuki Katana AY50
Model Year: 2006 (Final), Designation: GSXF-K6

The original Suzuki Katana was a then-novel sports motorcycle designed in 1979 - 1980 time frame by the southern Bavarian firm of Target Design at the request of Suzuki Deutschland specifically for their market needs.

The Katana name was later applied to a range of sports-touring motorcycles in North America through the 2006 model year (also offered in Europe but without the Katana moniker), and starting at the change of the millennia to a line of 49cc/50cc scooters in Europe.

Design history

The three-man Target Design team consisted of Hans Muth, Jan Fellstrom and Hans-Georg Kasten. Muth penned the original design sketches used (NB this is in fact completly incorrect the original sketches which were used were drawn by Jan Fellstrom. A court case resulted as a result of Muth's claims to have done the sketches but the original sketches were produced which had in fact Fellstrom's signature on them Muth has always tried to take credit for the Katana but in fact played a very small creative role in the project the revolutionary styling of the bike was completely down to Fellstrom) , and is still active in the motorcycle industry, building custom motorcycles under his own name, as well as have done design work for the likes of BMW motorcycles (such as the R90S, R100, R35 and R65 models) and the original BMW 2002 model. Hans-Georg Kasten was still with Target Design as of 2003.

The design worked through several variations, with the public being allowed to see the ED1 and ED2 versions.

This original design was a 650 cc model called the ED-1 (European Design 1).

The ED1 design featured a forward nose and a shaped, blended fuel tank with a merged fuel tank-to-seat arrangement at a time when squared off fuel tanks and flat-faced bolt-on accessory fairings were the norm. The design also incorporated favorable aerodynamics, with an special emphasis placed on high-speed stability, and was repeatedly wind-tunnel tested in Italy. The same generalized design "forms" had already been used early in 1979 for a one-off MV Agusta from the same design team, which never saw production [1].

When the first production Katana hit the street, it was the fastest mass-production motorcycle in the world, ensuring the new looks were matched by unprecedented performance levels. So radical was the design departure from previous mass-market cycles that most major motorcycle magazines of the era thought the design would not appeal to the masses. Nevertheless it was a sales success, and the motorcycle had a lasting impact on motorcycle design. Portions of the design ethos are still visible in many current sport motorcycles, including the faired-in aspects of both the seat and the tank.

In 1980 at the Cologne Motor show came the ED-2, an 1100 cc version based on the Suzuki GS 1100. Today, the only katana-prototype outside Japan stands in Austria's "Motorradmuseum Eggenburg" 100 km northwest of Vienna. This was followed through in 1981 with almost no changes to the production version, which is often seen as the Katana, as the design was so distinctive. The design was so successful in its basic form that these additional components were never made, apart from a small wind deflector screen. The unusual overlapping dials on the instrumentation were the result of arranging the mechanical components to fit as closely together as possible to reduce weight and costs.

The petrol filler was offset from the centerline of the tank to allow for a clean continuous seam weld. This design philosophy was applied to all areas of the bike's design, thus reducing the costs, weight, and number of components required.

Suzuki produced a 750 cc version, visually almost indistinguishable from the 1100 cc, and a 1000 cc version intended for racing.

The air cooled GSX family, of which the Katana was a member, gave way to the equally revolutionary oil-cooled GSX-R series in 1985. Some enthusiasts feel that the GSX-F series was the true follow-on to the original Katana series, and in several markets the Katana name was retained for the revised GSX-F series from the end of the 1980s through 2006. Five basic models split into two general eras: the 1988 - 1997 GSX600F and GSX750F, the 1988 - 1993 GSX1100F, followed by the 1998-2006 GSX600F and GSX750F, both of which were heavily restyled for the 1998 model year). Disparaging fans of the 'original' Target Design Katanas are known to refer to the GSX-F models as 'Teapots' due to the profile of the faired-in design. It is worth noting that these same models were offered in Europe, but without the Katana name affiliation; that the Katana name was absent in Europe from 1986 until the 1999 arrival of a 49cc/50cc line of Suzuki Scooters.

The original design ethos reappeared at the 2005 Tokyo Motorcycle Show, when Suzuki rolled out a concept bike called the Suzuki Stratosphere[2], which heavily incorporated many facets of the original ED1/ED2 designs, although tied in a new transversely-mounted narrow 6-cylinder engine. [3]. Suzuki has subsequently confirmed in August 2007 that the Stratosphere will enter production [4].

The original Katanas appeared over the years in various sizes, the early versions came out as 550, 650, 750 and 1100 cc versions. Versions were added to conform with 1000 cc production bike racing rules, these bikes had round slide carburetors as opposed to the CV types and hotter camshaft timing to allow for a lack of cubic capacity. A special 1100 cc variant of significance running variations on the brakes, clutch, camshafts, wire spoked wheels and slide carburetors has become something of a legend and is now very collectable and was considerably up in power on the standard 1100 cc model. This was the E27 model also denoted by the suffix SXZ. The 1990s saw a renewed enthusiasm for the Katana styling and 250 and 400 cc versions were sold in large numbers in Japan. Even the 1100 cc was reintroduced with very minor differences from the originals, even running early 80s narrow tyres.

An one off model appearing in 1984[5] was the Katana 750SE with a pop-up headlight, still using an air-oil cooled engine. These were very popular even when their performance was easily out done by other competitors at the time. Not as radical as the early bikes but still very different from anything else at the time.

Features used by the design team for the original Katana can be seen in many motorcycles of the 1980s through the present, from the XN85 Turbo bike to subtle markings on the RG250 2 strokes. The fact that modern sport motorcycles generally have fairing and seats that visually merge into a sloping-at-the-rear fuel tank is directly traceable to the original Katana ED1/ED2 design series.

In popular media

  • In the 1983 anime Genesis Climber Mospeada, the VR-52 MOSPEADA (Mobile Operation Soldier Protection Emergency Aviation Dive Armor) Ride Armor that is worn over a Riding Suit, when transformed into a motorcycle, takes its design inspiration from the Katana. [6]
  • The GSX1100S appears in the PS2 games, Tourist Trophy and Riding Spirit.
  • The GSX1100S appears as a protagonist's bike in a segment called Point of No Return! in Shohei Harumoto's 1987 manga Kirin.
  • The GSX750SE appears in the film Shame (1987) as the heroines bike. The bike is featured heavily and is used in several key scenes.
  • In the 1999 movie, The Chill Factor, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich are aboard an ice cream truck and being chased by antagonists riding two all black Suzuki Katanas.
  • In the Japanese cult anime Boogiepop Phantom, the main protagonist Nagi Kirima rides a GSX250S. It is prominently featured in the opening as well as several scenes in the anime.
  • The Suzuki Katana motorcycles have appeared in many races and the most popular is the Castrol 6 Hour Races.


Telelphone & Email interviews with Hans-Georg Kasten, Target-Design GmBH (Marc Glasgow, Oct 2003, for book-research).

External links