Words: Mikko Nieminen, Editor, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine
Re-imagining iconic bikes of yesteryear is no new thing. Among others, we have seen the Kawasaki Z900RS nod in the direction of the Z1, and Triumph recently launched a new Speed Twin to resurrect the famous moniker. The latest bike to get a modern makeover is the Suzuki Katana, an ’80s bike that left its mark firmly in motorcycle design history.
Just like the majority or modern retro bikes, the 2019 Katana is not a carbon copy of the original bike. It’s heavily based on the Suzuki GSX-S1000, but takes styling cues from the original. Classic Katana features such as the sharp lines and the rectangular headlight are an important part of the new model, but it also benefits from a highly modern tail unit, thanks to a licence plate hanger, single shock and a four-into-one exhaust with a stubby little end can rather than the big twin pipes of the old Katana. The family resemblance is there, but this is definitely the new generation.
Apart from the looks, there are not many differences between the new Katana and the GSX-S1000. The engine in both bikes is the K5 version of the GSX-R1000 four-cylinder 999cc powerplant, although with a different tune and more mellow setup. It was first bolted on Suzuki’s flagship sportsbike in 2005, and has proved to be both effective and reliable. Power figures are good too: 148bhp at 10,000rpm and 80lb-ft of torque at 9500rpm. For a bike with a wet weight of 215kg, those are healthy figures.
The frame, suspension, brakes and wheels are also shared between the bikes, although the suspension settings have been changed for the Katana. As the seat has moved forward 80mm and therefore more weight has transferred to the front, Suzuki has stiffened the forks slightly. Adversely, the rear suspension is slightly softer. The old rims get brand new rubber on them in the form of Dunlop Roadsport 2.
Also derived from the standard streetfighter is the three-stage traction control, which can also be switched off. ABS is non-switchable.
The differences, apart from the looks, are mainly to do with the riding position which has been made more relaxed by keeping the pegs where they are but lifting the seat 15mm to 825mm to give your knees a bit more relaxed angle. The bars are also slightly higher making the rider sit more upright – looking cool doesn’t have to come with a back ache.
One victim of the styling exercise was the tank, shrunk down to 12 litres from the GSX-S1000’s 17-litre tank.
As you might expect, riding the bike is not entirely unlike riding the GSX-S. The riding position is relaxed, the engine smooth, the brakes good and the whole package works effortlessly.
One instant discovery was the improved throttle feel. If you have ridden the 2015 GSX-S1000 you probably remember the initial throttle opening being rather abrupt. But fear not: the geometry of the throttle cables was changed for the Katana making the power transfer less abruptly when the throttle is first opened. Power still builds quickly as the throttle is opened further, but the snatchiness is almost entirely gone and the little that is left is easy to ride around.
The gearbox on the test bike was a little stiff, probably just because it was so new, but changes were accurate and although the bike doesn’t come with a quickshifter you can easily get away with clutchless shifts.
Overall the ride quality was good, with a stable and predictable feel to it. The K5 engine is a real peach, delivering plenty of power in a silky smooth fashion. And the chassis, although not the most agile around, makes the ride feel effortless.
At the end of the day, this is a very capable bike in its category, and it’s probably just a matter of whether you like the looks or not if you are deciding between the Katana and something like the Honda CB1000R. The old Katana divided opinion, and the new one is bound to be pretty Marmite too.
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Suzuki Katana (2019)
Engine: 999cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, inline four
Power: 148bhp (110kW) @ 10,000rpm
Torque: 80lb-ft (108Nm) @ 9500rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, chain final drive
Frame: Light alloy, double sided beam
Suspension: (F) KYB fully-adjustable 43mm inverted telescopic fork, coil spring, oil damped; (R) KYB link type, coil spring, oil damped shock, preload adjustable
Brakes: (F) Brembo radial monobloc 4-piston calipers, 310mm floating discs; (R) Nissin single-piston caliper, 250mm disc. Bosch ABS
Tyres: (F) 120/70ZR17M/C (58W); (R) 190/50ZR17M/C (73W)
Fuel tank: 12 litres (2.6 gallons)
Seat height: 825mm
Kerb weight: 215kg
Service intervals: First service 600 miles, then 7500 miles
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited mileage
Recovery: 1-year roadside recovery and home start
Colours: Silver or black