BIKES: Suzuki releases retro-styled Katana

Many Japanese motorcycle makers are coming out with retro-styled bikes these days. Kawasaki and Honda have made modern versions of the Z1 and CBX respectively, and now Suzuki has joined the fray. However, whereas Kawasaki and Honda referenced bikes of the 1970s, Suzuki has taken inspiration from the aggressively styled Katana of the 1980s.

When the original Suzuki GSX1100S Katana hit the market in late 1980, it looked like it had been left behind on Earth by aliens — ones who needed to go very, very fast. Its sharply angled design fit in perfectly with the sleek and futuristic Eighties, leaving the mustard-hued Seventies in the dust.

Think about what street bikes looked like at the time, and then look at the Katana. Instead of a large single round headlight, it had a square beam surrounded by a short but sharp, beak-like cowl. Rather than a flat-sided fuel tank, it had a sculpted unit that seemed to integrate from the fairing to the seats. Speaking of which, it didn’t have a puffy saddle laid atop the frame but a sleek, two-tone seat that actually contributed to the bike’s overall lines. Chrome was kept to a minimum, opting for a black exhaust and headlight bezel.

These weren’t just design flourishes, but functional as well. They helped the Katana slice through the air and maintain high-speed stability. As a result, it became the fastest mass-produced bike in the world.

Named after the legendary swords wielded by samurai, it soon became a favorite among motorcyclists. It was so beloved, in fact, that in 1990, to mark the company’s 70th anniversary, Suzuki reproduced 1,000 bikes in their exact 1980 form. Reportedly the entire run sold out on the first day.

In the intervening years, many motorcycles adopted styling cues introduced on the original Katana. The new 2019 Katana is a throwback to this legendary design, but not a direct copy. Rather than updating the design literally, it updates the concepts behind those choices.

It has a menacing, forward-leaning stance. Its fairing is even more pointed and intimidating, and looks as if it’s peering down at the road. Its tail is short and thin, accommodating a giant triangulated swingarm below. One distinct nod to the past, however, is the old “Suzuki” font, printed again in the same red, on the fuel tank.

Though based on the current Suzuki GSX-S1000, it uses a engine derived from the fan-favorite inline-four found in the 2005 GSX-R1000. Suzuki says it makes 150 hp at 10,000 rpm, and 80 lb-ft of torque at 9,500 rpm. Mystic Silver is the only color available in the US, but videos of Japanese versions show sinister-looking black one as well.

When retro styling is done in cars, they all tend to hail from the 1960s and early 1970s, an era associated with great design. However, the 1980s had its own unique visual language, and it’s high time companies start drawing from this decade. We should have known that Suzuki would be the first.

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