History of the Suzuki Katana

Written by chris gilliland Google
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History of the Suzuki Katana
(Jim Simonson)

The Katana is a line of sport-touring motorcycles produced and sold by Suzuki Motor Co. Originally designed as Suzuki's flagship sportbike, the Katana redefined the sport bike image and offered race bike replica performance.


The Katana was a development of Suzuki's popular GS-series motorcycles, which were touted as incredibly fast and manoeuvrable machines within their respective classes, but failed to visually thrill riders. As motorcycles must be visually appealing to customers, Suzuki set out to change the appearance of their motorcycles. Suzuki teamed with Hans Muth, Jan Fellstrom and Hans-Georg Kasten of Target Design to produce a shockingly different type of motorcycle that would draw attention to Suzuki. Target Design's team incorporated key elements from an earlier project, an unproduced one-off design for a MV Augusta, such as a forward-slanted front fairing and a sculpted fuel tank that merged with the seat. These styling cues were in stark contrast to the current styling of flat-faced fairings and squared fuel tanks. After undergoing two complete revisions, the final product was unveiled at the 1980 Cologne Motor Show. This motorcycle was the GS1000 Katana.

GSX1100SX Katana

The GSX1100S Katana was a radical departure from the usual sport motorcycle formula. Named after the sword used by the Japanese Samurai, the Katana featured a sharply angled front fairing, clip-on type handlebars, and a fire-breathing 1074cc air-cooled inline-four cylinder motor. The new Katana offered riders a race bike type experience with its wind-tunnel formed aerodynamics, stretched riding position and higher, more rear set foot peg placement. As the new model drew the attention of the attendees at the show, Suzuki announced that the Katana would be produced and included in Suzuki's 1981 model line-up. The production GSX1100SZ featured a number of small revisions to the original Target design, changing the exhaust layout, lowering seat height and altering the front fairing. The GSX1100 Katana would prove incredibly popular, despite mixed feelings towards the sharp lines of the motorcycle and would be produced until 2002.

GSX1000S and GS750S Katana

Suzuki produced a litre-class variation of the Katana to meet racing homologation requirements, the GSX1000S from 1981 to 1983. To meet the 1,000cc limit for the class, Suzuki engineers decreased the engine's cylinder displacement to 998cc by reducing bore by 2.6 millimetres. The racing-focused Katana was produced in small numbers with only 3,000 units available.

A 750cc Katana model was also made available in 1985. The smaller bike featured the same sharp styling as the other Katanas but incorporated smoother lines. The front fairing now featured a pop-up headlight and a new "fully-floating" monoshock rear suspension set-up.

Role Changes

Although the Katana was intended to be Suzuki's primary racing vehicle, the introduction of the ground-shaking GSX-R series in 1985 left the Katana in second place. Suzuki relegated the Katana series to a sport-touring oriented purpose, releasing the newer line as the GSX-F series, which kept the Katana moniker in North America. Available in a range of displacements from 600cc to 1100cc, the new Katana series strayed away from the original design by Target, incorporating rounder full fairings. The majority of GSX-F line up was discontinued in 2004. However, the GSX-650F continues to be sold by Suzuki.


Undeniably, the Katana has a reputation for high-performance, especially when ridden in a straight line. The original GSX1100's 1074cc motor already produced a respectable 111 horsepower, but could be modified easily to produce even greater power. Many drag racers, such as Terry Vance--of Vance and Hines fame--were propelled to success and continue to campaign them to this day.

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