Suzuki is, in some ways, the motorcycling equivalent of Steve Urkel, the comic-relief character of 90s sitcom “Family Matters” fame – seemingly doomed to always get big schemes wrong, but failing in a way that is strangely endearing. In being so seemingly incapable of grasping the current motorcycling scene Suzuki is almost charming. Almost.
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Last week, the good and the great of Suzuki’s motorcycling side – including company president Toshihiro Suzuki – gathered at Intermot for the unveiling of the its new retro-styled Katana. Standing near the stage before the company’s presentation, I found myself surrounded by a fleet of dark-suited Japanese dudes – executives. They were quietly bouncing with excitement and pride at the thing occupying center stage, hidden by a silken sort of cover.
This unveiling, you could tell, was a Very Big Deal for them. This, you imagined them thinking, was the moment when the company would finally throw itself onto the right path. After more than a decade of twisting in the wind, growing evermore irrelevant to the motorcycling world, this would be the bike to reignite the imaginations and open the wallets of young European and Western riders. This was it. The glory years were set to return as soon as the cover was whipped away.
Or, well, that was what was supposed to happen.
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After several minutes of perennial pitch-man Steve Parrish attempting to be enthusiastic about other utterly unexciting and wholly un-new models, then a stilted speech from Toshihiro Suzuki-san himself, a video aired of a blindfolded samurai slicing wildly in the air. Interspersed with his staccato movements were images of the new Katana being ridden with enthusiasm, the soundtrack building in intensity all the while. The video concluded with the blindfolded samurai now turning toward the camera, raising his sword menacingly, and taking one final deathblow swipe just as the music reached maximum THUMPTHUMPTHUMP-ness. At that exact moment, little air jets located on or near the bike hissed and…
Nothing happened. The sheet did not dramatically fly off as it was clearly supposed to. Instead, a woman in a skimpy Suzuki outfit quickly ran up, smiled uncomfortably, and pulled the sheet away.
It’s hard to miss the unintended analogy here: a blind symbol of Japan’s past dances about, huffs, puffs… and whiffs.
The original Katana was launched in 1981 and was at the time the fastest production bike made. It was also stable and comfortable, thereby helping to usher in the sport touring genre. Designed in Germany, the bike was a hit in Europe.
Almost four decades later, Suzuki is completely out of new ideas and has fallen into an awkward cycle of doing the same thing over and over and over and wondering why people aren’t responding as positively as they used to. So, it brought in Italian designer Rodolfo Frascoli and asked him to create a new Katana that looks like an old Katana.
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The new bike is effectively a GSX-S1000F in retro styling, using the same frame, more or less the same tech, and the same old detuned GSX-R1000 K5 engine (from 2005). The bike’s four-cylinder powerplant puts out 150 hp at peak (10,000 rpm), which certainly isn’t disappointing but is a far cry from claiming the fastest bike in production title (which, I think now goes to the roughly 240hp Kawasaki H2).
LED lighting is the only real advance from the GSX-S1000F that was released three years ago, with the Katana also promising fully-adjustable front forks, a rear shock adjustable for rebound damping and spring preload, Brembo front brakes, and Bosch ABS. A three-mode traction control system can be turned off.
Along with retro styling, the Katana gets a one-piece seat that looks more accommodating of passengers than the padded DVD case found on the back of the GSX-S1000F. Could this mean the Katana will be the sport tourer the GSX-S1000F is kind of supposed to be? Don’t know. I can’t find any info in Suzuki’s media release that suggests the rear subframe has been bolstered to actually be able to support luggage.
If you live in the UK and want to be underwhelmed in person, Suzuki will be displaying the new Katana at Motorcycle Live next month. It is expected to arrive in UK dealerships in spring.