Air/oil cooled, four stroke, transverse fourcylinder, DOHC, 4 valve per cylinder.
Bore x Stroke
78 x 59 mm
4x 34mm Mikuni CV
Ignition / Starting
Electronic ignition / electric
136 hp 99.1 kW @ 10000 rpm (rear tyre130.7 hp @ 10000 rpm)
112 Nm @ 7000 rpm
Transmission / Drive
5 Speed / chain
Telescopic, oil damped, spring preload fullyadjustable
Full Floater rising-rate monoshock, 5-waypreload and 4 way damping adjustable
2x 275mm discs 2 piston calipers
Single 275mm disc 2 pistoncaliper
244 kg / 256 kg
Braking60 – 0 / 100 – 0
14.4 m / 41.8m
10.7 sec / 205.0 km/h
Step aboard the bigblue time machine, a bike which repackages a great concept, onceabandoned, in 1988 parts.
Trip time: 00:00.Place: Reno, Nevada. Destination: Westlake Village via Lake Tahoe,Yosemite National Park, Mammoth Lakes, and the Mojave Desert. Roadconditions: In the northern section, two-lane blacktops huntthrough a changing topography and rip across scattered flatlands;to the south, long mindless interstates cut the scenery withunswerving resolve.
Since 1986, this kindot ride would have you reaching for any kind of motorcycle but aSuzuki. But in 1988 the new GSX1100 Katana plugs a hole left inSuzuki's lineup since the exit of the GS1150 two years ago. The GSwas a classic Superbike in the sense of a true all-rounder:comfortable, civilized, with a full repertoire of handling andpower. Since the departure of its GS series, Suzuki has launched along procession of enticing motorcycles—Spanish-galleon Cavalcades,designer-jean Intruders, hot-spark GSX-R sport bikes-each tuned toa narrow short-wave channel in motorcycling, but all lacking thewide-band-broadcast appeal of the GS1150.
Now, at last, Suzukiengineers have rustled through the parts bins and drafting tablesto recreate the GS in contemporary technology. The Katana propelledon 16-inch wheels by a bored and-stroked GSX-R1100 engine wrappedaround a steel perimeter frame and bubble-packed in aerodynamicbodywork. That's irony enough: the name of the very stylingexercise that first drew the GS away from the vision of anall-purpose, big-bore performer six years ago—Katana—now hails this1100's return to the Superbike fold.
Trip time: 00:30.Place: The high desert outside Reno, just an earache away from athousand jangling slot machines. The Katana feels like a crossbetween Yamaha's FJ1200 and Honda's CBR1000 Hurricane. Slippingthrough Reno traffic, the new Suzuki seems lower, more compact,more maneuver-able and far lighter than the Honda. (Actually theGSX would later check in at 591 pounds wet, nine pounds heavierthan the CBR.) This bike launches from stoplights with theslightest blip of the throttle, pressing its rider deeper into asaddle that already feels six inches thick. The engine barely takesnotice of these rapid departures; it murmurs nonchalantly, the tachparked below 5000 rpm and the full force of the Katana's 11,300-rpmengine awaiting a road with space to run. Approaching the outskirtsof Reno, the rider settles into the luxurious cockpit, alreadycomfortable and at ease for the ride ahead.
Unlike the GSX-R1100,the Katana cradles its rider in luxury. Large analog instrumentsthe speedo calibrated to 170 mph, the tach turning red at 11,300rpm straddle a digital clock and fuel gauge, fairing dash panelshide wiring harnesses and bracketry, the handlebars poke out frombeneath a seamless plastic cover. The mirrors, though they showmore elbow than we prefer, give a broad rearward view. Footpegs andmedium-rise bars are perfectly positioned for a neutral,comfortable riding posture. Much of the Katana's exceptionalcomfort comes from its seat; this long, wide, soft saddle providesexcellent long-haul support and plenty of room to stretch.Passengers report similarly supple seating from thepillion.
The Katana's ABSplastic fairing, pressed up tight against the upper frame rails,measures only 19 inches wide. Yet cutaways in the fuel tank givethe rider room to squeeze inside the bubble for full-bodyprotection against the cold. The GSX's air management withducts to draw cooling air into the engine bay and airbox, andheated air out, away from the rider—is effective. Even duringcruising through warm, mid-town traffic, not a trace of engine heatspills into the cockpit.
What sets this fairingapart from run of-the-mill aerowork is Suzuki's new Power Shield, aretractable windscreen operated by a handlebar-mounted controlswitch. Push the button and the shield raises as much as threeinches from its fully retracted position. Using essentially thesame mechanism as automobile power windows, the PS employs a pairof plastic ball-chains—the left side driven by a sprocket from asmall Kioto servo-motor, the right by a drive shaft—to articulatethe shield in push/pull fashion.
Although raising theshield extends the envelope of still cockpit air and shrouds therider's chest and shoulders from the blast, helmet buffeting andwind noise at 60 mph actually increase when the shield is in itsfully extended position. Not until 80 mph and faster does thisair-spill become less turbulent. In the high-desert chill, wesettled for earplugs and ran at a law-abiding 60 mph with thewindshield full up.
In keeping with the1100's long-distance character, Suzuki tuned the Katana suspensionhighway plush. Up front, a non-adjustable 41mm fork with softerspring and damping rates than the GSX-R strokes through half aninch more travel. Out back, a new Full-Floater system usesarticulating links rather than the eccentric bell-crank found onlast year's GSX-R, to provide more progressive action and smootheroverall response. Like the fork, the 1100's rear spring and dampingrates are tuned soft. The Katana inherits the GSX-R's remote,hydraulic spring preload adjuster and four-way rebound dampingadjuster, and it's a good thing: At standard settings, the GSX'ssoftly sprung rear suspension squats under acceleration, andbottoms over medium-sized bumps. Stiffening the shock withnumber-four spring preload and damping settings serves to buoy upthe Katana's rear end, yet the bike's highway ride remainscompliant and supple.
The only compromise tothe Katana's long-distance comfort comes from engine vibration.Floating the non-counterbalanced engine on rubber mounts would haveundermined chassis stiffness, so Suzuki gave the GSX engine elasticmounts in front only. Rubber-mounted handlebars and footpegs arevibration. Certainly, the GSX isn't as silky smooth as Honda'sCBR1000—at virtually all engine speeds, vibration courses throughthe Katana fuel tank. But the GSX has a sweet zone for cruising: At60-75 mph in top gear, vibration, though still present, is muchless annoying than elsewhere in the powerband.
Trip Time: 03:00.Place: Carson Pass, south of Lake Tahoe. Road conditions: Fast,sweeping curves and long, desolate straights climb the High Sierra,then plunge 5000 feet down to Jackson, 60 miles away.
After hours ofdoddering through Lake Tahoe traffic, the Katana finally quoiasrush past like posts on a picket fence, wind blast tears at theedges of a riding jacket. Tucking in just slightly pulls you intothe silence of the fairing's still-air pocket. Even at this speed,the engine is loafing, half-way to redline. But Carson Pass is notthe place to explore redline in fifth—a calculated 170 mph.Instead, you run in third and fourth with the tachometer in itsupper register, where the Katana puts triple-digit horsepower inyour hand.
The GSX-R 1100 madespeed with low mass, but the Katana trades on raw power. At thedyno and on the drag strip, the GSX1100F is the fastest, mostpowerful motorcycle Suzuki ever produced by 1988, period. Freshfrom its little tour in the mountains, our Katana ripped off a10.91 -second, 123-mile-per-hour quarter milealmost dead even withHonda's potent CBR1000. On the Kerker dyno, the Katana pumped out106 horsepower at 9000 rpm, which puts it behind the 113-horsepowerCBR and 122-horse-power FZR1000, but stronger than the FJ1200, lastyear's 1000 Ninja, and Suzuki's previous earth-shaker, the101-horsepower GS1150. The GSX-R1100 puts the Katana's power intoperspective: At peak, the GSX pumps out a whopping 17 horsepowermore than the GSX-R, yet both bikes share the same basicpowerplant. Why?
The Katana'sfour-into-two exhaust system offers more volume, greater flow, andmore latitude in exhaust tuning than the GSX-R's single mufflerpipe, and the change is evidenced by further alterations on theexhaust side of the Katana's cylinders: an increase in exhaustvalve size up from 25mm to 26mm a cleaner combustion chamber andresculpted exhaust ports to take advantage of the increased flow.On the intake side in the cam profiles, inlet valves, 34mm Mikunicarbs nothing has changed.
Big Katana power meansa bigger engine. With a bore and stroke of 78 x 59mm, the 1127ccGSX engine gets 75cc more displacement than the GSX-R from pistonsenlarged one millimeter, and a two-millimeter increase in strokenetted by moving the crank pins outward. Boring the existingcylinders to fit larger pistons would have resulted in ultra-thinliners, limiting overbore and inviting heat-induced distortion, soSuzuki cast a new cylinder block to accommodate thicker, strongerliners. Inside, new short-skirt, slipper-type pistons, tapered anddrilled around the wrist-pin boss, reduce reciprocating mass.Suzuki's new digital ignition, capable of plotting a curve in125-rpm increments, gives slightly more ignition advance than theGSX-R 1100.
On its way to pickingup 17 extra horsepower, the Katana engine also gained weight:stronger crankcases, and a revamped SACS oil-cooling system thatboosts capacity from 5.0 to 5.8 quarts with a deeper sump andtaller oil cooler, circulated by a higher-output pump. Smaller,lighter helical gears in the Katana's primary drive reduce weightsomewhat while raising the gearing slightly and quiet the engine aswell.
It's interesting that,through the GSX-R's low-mass approach and the Katana'shigh-power/high-weight strategy, both bikes end up with almostidentical power-to-weight ratios.
Trip time: 06:00.Place: Highway 49, North of Sonora, the night's destination. RoadConditions: Tight, roller-coaster roads, curling unpredictablyalong the path of least resistance serious sport-bikecountry.
Half a mile intoHighway 49, the Katana sticks a footpeg into the pavement for thefirst time on the trip. Five miles later, both footpegs and thecen-terstand have felt the grinding touch of asphalt, but, evenwith solid parts throwing sparks, the Katana stays rooted to theroad. That's premium rubber at work: Not since the '83 XN85 Turbohas Suzuki ventured outside Japan for OEM tires, but the Katanarolls on fat, sticky Metzelers, a 120/80 Laser front, and 150/80ME-99A rear, both wrapped around 16-inch wheels. These boots areCling City.
The choice of 16-inchhoops for the Katana, rather than the 18-inchers found on theGSX-R1100, reflects Suzuki's goal to keep the Katana as low aspossible. The GSX-R achieved agility through lightness, but theKatana, at 591 pounds wet—88 pounds heavier than the GSX-R—gets itsbackroad moves from strategic weight placement. Ironically, the newsteel frame serves both cause and cure in the Katana weight game:Tipping the scales 38 pounds heavier than the GSX-R's alloyframe—over twice as heavy—the new frame adds poundage, thencounters with a solid basic layout and excellentgeometry.
Huge rectangular mainbeams, wrapped tightly around the cylinder head rather than overthe top of the engine as in the GSX-R, position the weightycontents of the Katana's fuel tank and the steering head aswell considerably closer to the ground. On paper, theKatana's chassis geometry wheelbase, steering angle, etc.readlike a carbon copy of the CBR1000, yet on the road the two feelentirely different: The Katana lacks the CBR's top-heavy feeling,and this makes the Suzuki easier to maneuver on tight roads. Its16-inch front wheel helps too, giving fairly light steering, andbetter snap-roll agility than the CBR
But despite theKatana's low-effort handling, for a serious backroad romp mostsport riders would choose the CBR. With its softsuspensionespecially the non-adjustable fork—the Katana simplylacks the poise and unflappable stability of the CBR: Hit a bumpmidturn, and the Suzuki mashes down on its suspension, robbingcornering clearance and steering precision.
In hard braking aswell, the CBR gets the nod: Unlike the GSX-R1100, which puts tenlive pistons at your command two in back and a pair offour-piston calipers up front bearing on huge 310mm discs—theKatana uses smaller 275mm front discs and Suzuki's old-styletwin-more lever travel, and less stopping power—123 feet from 60mph—than a big, powerful motorcycle like the Katanadeserves.
Trip time: 24.00.Place: Yosemite National Forest. Road conditions: Gentle sweepers,climbing to 10,000 feet.
Park Rangers carrychainsaws in Yosemite, and they don't take kindly to speeders. Thelimit is 45 mph, and the Katana purrs along happily at that speed.Apart from two stops to soak up scenery along Tioga pass—a placewhere even the birds wheeze from oxygen deprivation—the Katanarolls from one end of the national park to the other, all in topgear. Top gear? How much power is this thing packing?
At low revs, thisKatana's power curve towers over other Superbikes': At 3500 rpm,the GSX-R falls six horsepower short, the CBR is down four horses,the FZR1000 down nine. Apart from a dip at 6000 rpm, where the CBRhas a seven-horsepower advantage, the Katana runs stronger down lowthan anything save Yamaha's now-defunct FJ1200.
But the Katana'sbiggest advantage comes in the form of a mid-range wallop: At 7000rpm, the Katana's horsepower is up 16 percent over the CBR, 27percent over the GSX-R, and 30 percent—23 horsepower!—over theFZR1000.
Big numbers down low,and crisp, immediate throttle response give the Katana the grunt toflatten 10,000-foot passes in top gear.
This combination alsomakes for impressive full-throttle roll-on performance: From 45-70mph in the top three gears, the Katana absolutely smokes the CBRand GSX-R, and nips the FZR and FJ1200 in third gear as well,though the two Yamahas inch ahead in the top two gears.Nevertheless, the Katana's broad-ranged power lets this supple,long-legged Superbike run with the most potent engines in all ofmotorcycling.
The Katana's halogenheadlight bores through the gloom of a moonless Mojave night, thesoft yellow glow of its instruments lighting the cockpit. Sinceyesterday, 600 miles have rolled beneath this motorcycle. Wholevistas, the twinkling lights of distant cities, pass in darkness.No need to stop: The Katana's 5.5-gallon fuel tank has no reserve,but at a steady 60 mph you'll cover this last 250 miles before thecarb throats run dry.
Trolling at midnight,hours from home with nothing to see, you run on autopilot. Twothings can happen: You might focus on problems with the machineuntil even minor nits grow into major annoyances. Or you might castback to daylight and reflect on the revelry of the ride. Times likethese, the Katana is the kind of motorcycle that leads youbackward, to pleasantly reminisce, because it doesn't leave youmuch to pick on: the exhaust note could be quieter; the enginecould be smoother; and operating the centerstand requires too muchmuscle. Details.
After 20 hours oftearing down tight winding roads and vaulting high-mountain passesand rolling down endless highways in perfect comfort, you realizethat never once did you wish you were riding something else. Sure,the CBR 1000 Hurricane handles better and stops harder at speed,but even though the CBR has a sporting edge over the Suzuki, itcan't match the Katana's plush highway ride, fairing protection,low-speed agility or low-end snap.
Which bike you pickdepends on where you place your priorities. With the GSX1100Katana, Suzuki has produced its finest all-purpose Superbike, andoffered you the choice. ■