By Ron Lieback
The naked sportbike craze continues to garner attention from the Big Four OEMs, especially on the liter-bike side of things.
High horsepower combined with comfort is a simple but genius design concept, and it makes for easy marketing. This is evident on the streets; take a look around and you’ll notice these nakeds are owned by a huge demographic—from millennials to riders in their 60s.
The other element that makes these bikes top sellers is the price tag. All of this reliable Japanese-engineered technology mentioned above is available for under the $13,000 mark—the lowest being the base GSX-S1000 at $11,299 (MSRP).
With all this positivity arrives one conflict—appearance. Some love the styling of the modern Japanese naked sport bike, and some hate it. I’m with the latter. Except for the CB1000R, the boxy and Transformer styling of these bikes doesn’t appeal to me. I never once thought about ownership.
Suzuki has changed my perspective with its new 2020 Katana, which Suzuki Chief Engineer Satoru Terada designates as a “streetfighter.” It playfully mates a slightly tweaked GSX-S1000 with the styling concept of the original 1981 air-cooled GSX1100S Katana created by revolutionary designer Hans A. Muth, who happened to be behind the legendary BMW R 90 S ten years earlier. The Suzuki motorcycle’s name derived from the Katana Japanese sword that features a single-edged curved blade with an extended grip for one-handed use by a samurai soldier on horseback.
Ahead of the test ride, I visited Suzuki Plaza—the corporate museum of Suzuki Motor Corporation in Hamamatsu City. When you enter the first of the museum’s three floors, an original 1981 GSX1100S Katana is on display. The sharp body lines quickly explain why Muth used the Katana name. This lives on in the new Katana, although my initial impression of the bike was anything but strong.
Upon first look when the motorcycle was released at Intermot Motorcycle Show this past November, I assumed this was just a restyled GSX-S1000. But it’s far from it. The 2020’s design came from Frascoli Design near Milan, whose Rodolpho Frascoli was behind the looks of the Moto Guzzi Griso, Breva, Norge, and Stelvio, as well as the Triumph Speed Triple and Tiger 1050.
Frascoli’s first sketch of the reborn Katana dates back to the autumn of 2016. He unveiled the Katana 3.0 Concept at EICMA Milan motorcycle show in 2017, and Suzuki took notice. “The great attention of the public at the Milan show convinced Suzuki that the time had come to re-purpose the legend of the past,” Frascoli said.
Within 14 months, Suzuki designers and engineers took Frascoli’s concept Katana and slightly massaged it for more comfort and performance.
When I first viewed the bike in person at Suzuki’s homeland in Japan, I was impressed; photography doesn’t do this design justice.
I then put the motorcycle through some testing in southeastern Kyoto, and this time the specs also didn’t do the 2020 Katana any justice.
The styling is the perfect hybrid of vintage meets modern, with just enough of each to make me rethink my idea of naked sportbikes. The engine’s performance is more than enough for serious sport riding, though soft enough for the everyday commute. The electronics are minimal, with the Katana having three-level traction control and ABS. You won’t find multiple engine maps here.
After gawking at the machinery in the museum, Suzuki provided a tour of the Suzuki Hamamatsu Plant, a Japanese sword maker, and the Nijo-Jo Castle in Kyoto—a place once protected by real samurai who had no clue they would be the inspiration for one of Suzuki’s most iconic motorcycles.
Samurai Styling, Comfortable Ride
Just as a samurai can’t survive without his sword, a passionate rider can’t survive without a motorcycle. Suzuki views its Katana in this same way, and the rider very similar to a samurai, a word that represents all that is considered noble for the Japanese: honor, courage, humility, and loyalty.
“The Katana owners are like a samurai,” Suzuki describes. “They belong to a separate class of motorcyclists who see the motorbike as a technological piece of art, pleasing not only to ride, but also to admire.”
The styling is beyond pleasing. Most of the design from Frascoli’s original concept is here; Suzuki only improved upon it by adding some Japanese flavor, which includes a rework of the front fairing—a 3D shape that looks as if cut from a sword—and a redesign of the swingarm-mounted tail section that includes the license plate and turn signals.
The latter was implemented due to government regulations. This is also the case for the headlight, which needed to be larger than Frascoli’s design.
Its is the first-ever remote-style license plate on a Suzuki and, although the wheels are from the GSX-S1000, they reflect the Katana name, mimicking the curved design of the Katana sword blade.
Suzuki’s task was to create a high-performance machine that offers modern-day comfort and, although the testing consisted of just three 30-minute sessions, discomfort was never an issue. I expected less comfort based on my time with GSX-S1000F. The biggest issue with the GSX-S was the seat, which is wide near the tank and simply didn’t work for me.
The Katana’s seat is much slimmer up front, and this made all the difference for me, as did the wider handlebar. That said, though the motorcycle is built on a Suzuki GSX-S1000 chassis, some dimensions were tweaked for more comfort.
What are the major differences between the 2020 Katana and GSX-S1000? The Katana’s…
- Length grows 0.4 inches to 83.6 inches
- Handlebar width stretches 1.4 inches to 32.6 inches
- Seat height rises 0.6 inches to 32.5 inches
- Weight gains two pounds to 474 with all fluids (non-California version)
- Wheelbase remains the same at 57.5 inches, which aids in the sharp handling
These revisions provided no lack of comfort for my nearly six-foot body.
K5 GSX-R1000 Engine Perfection
Suzuki wisely choose its K5 GSX-R1000 engine, which was used in the GSX-R lineup from 2005-2008. This engine produces 150 horsepower at 10,000 rpm and 80 ft/lbs of torque at 9500 rpm. The rev limiter is set to 11,750 rpm.
This engine was tweaked for 2018, and that includes lighter pistons, a reduction of internal friction in the engine due to the cylinders undergoing Suzuki Composite Electrochemical Material (SCEM) surface treatment for smoother contact with the pistons and better heat dissipation, and a revised fueling system for smoother power delivery.
This engine does not let down. The older K5 engine was somewhat sluggish after 6000 rpm, but this edition revs quicker and continues to build power linearly up and past 10,000 rpm. Due to the layout of the section of Arashiyama Takao Parkway, which was closed down for the journalists—thankfully because riding on the left side of the road at pace has some psychological challenges—I was able to either keep the engine in second gear when riding a spirited speed. This allowed the engine to scream between 6000 rpm to redline. Or I could ride in third and let the engine lug, where power remained torquey enough for fun, but easy to control.
The sound of the stock exhaust trumps most aftermarket designs today, especially around 10,000 rpm. The Katana’s engine breathes through a four-into-one Euro-4 compliant design that dumps exhaust into a single chamber, and then a single silencer. Unlike every other Suzuki I have ridden or owned, I would not change the exhaust; it’s that good from both performance and sound perspectives.
As expected of the K5 engine, I never experienced one hiccup. The Katana’s throttle feel is smoother due to some simple geometry changes of the throttle’s mechanical modulator and throttle cables. The engine doesn’t accelerate abruptly when initially opening the throttle, a character that will make stop-and-go commuting more enjoyable. The Katana also arrives with a low-rpm assist that revs the engine a bit to ease taking off from a standing start, provides an extra feeling of confidence when pulling from a stop, especially on steep inclines.
To keep costs low, Suzuki uses a cable-actuated clutch. For some reason, it’s comforting seeing a cable-operated clutch, which psychologically creates an analog experience of riding for me—one that brings me back to the great sportbikes that I fell for at the turn of the century.
Modern riders are spoiled with hydraulic clutches, and for those of us who like a more analog-feeling ride, there’s something about the look and feel of a cable-actuated clutch. This clutch felt hydraulic, though; it had a light pull and presented zero issues when blipping the throttle to match engine revs to wheel speed while riding at an aggressive pace.
Minimal Electronics, plus Performance-Bred Brakes and Suspension
The other somewhat analog portion of the Katana that I enjoy is the lack of fancy electronics. The motorcycle features a three-level traction control system that is switchable on the fly via an intuitive switch on the left controls. In the early sessions, which were damp and rainy in some sections of the road, I used level three—the most intrusive setting. I had zero grip problems and only felt the system intervene when picking up the pace.
By the afternoon, when the road dried and the pace picked up, I used level one. The system only intervened once when getting hard on the throttle on a bumpy portion of the road. As expected of Suzuki, I had full confidence in the TC. For additional fun on one wheel, the TC can be switched off with minimum input from the left controls.
I wish the same could be said about the Bosch ABS. The ABS is not switchable. I felt it more than I wanted to during the sessions at a quicker pace, though in typical riding situations most will only feel the intervention under emergency braking.
Another wise decision from Suzuki is the use of the GSX-R1000’s Brembo braking system. The Katana uses 310mm discs up front, and a single 250mm out back. These brakes provided an even feel whether trail braking, slowing normally, or aggressively braking from triple-digit speeds.
The 2020 Katana uses Kayaba suspension—a 43mm fork and a single shock attached to a swingarm borrowed from the 2016 GSX-R1000. Both units have spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustability. This suspension, paired with the twin-spar frame that also derives from the Suzuki GSX-R1000, is perfectly set up from the factory for my 175-pound body.
I was able to read the road conditions while riding quickly, and enjoy the scenery with zero body aches while riding at a leisurely pace. Once planted in a corner, the Katana holds a steady line just as a GSX-R1000 would on the track. The Katana’s chassis setup provides a sporty 57.5-inch wheelbase that aids the chassis’ quick turn-in for sharp corners.
Also attributing to this planted feeling were Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II tires specifically developed for the 2020 Suzuki Katana. The tire combination—120/70 and 190/55—warmed up rapidly, allowing me to push the motorcycle harder than usual during the first few miles when cold tires can cause devastation.
With warm tires and some long, decreasing radius turns that allowed me to lean the motorcycle far over, I expected the long curb-feelers on the pegs to scrape. I experienced zero scraping, even when riding lazily and not leaning off the bike. Suzuki said these are designed to contact tarmac when the tire’s traction limits are near; I was hauling and never experienced a touch down, which explains just how good the chassis and suspension are on the Katana.
2020 Katana – Not Just a Restyled GSX-S1000; a True New Streetfighter
Yes, Suzuki used the GSX-S1000 as the base for the 2020 Katana, but that doesn’t mean this is merely a GSX-S with some retro-styled body work and new badges. The tweaks to ergonomics and the chassis may sound minimal, but sometimes the smallest changes have the most drastic difference.
Speaking of the Katana, Suzuki says it features “an elegant design and cutting-edge technological content, without losing the characteristics that have made it a myth for over 30 years.”
This is evident in the styling, especially when donning the Metallic Mystic Silver paint (Glossy Black also available). And, after one my test ride in Suzuki’s homeland, though short, this sentiment also speaks the truth for comfort and performance.
Suzuki’s upright streetfighter masterfully mates superbike performance with comfort for everyday use, something that many OEMs continue to struggle with. Suzuki sliced through these challenges and skillfully connected performance with comfort and style—a combination that would please any modern-day naked sportbike cravings.
Suzuki has yet to release prices and availability, but I’m personally anticipating that info. If the 2020 Katana is priced around the $12,000 – $12,500 mark, I’ll easily become a motorcycling samurai devoted to a new streetfighter of choice.
- Helmet: Shoei GT-Air
- Jacket: Alpinestars Core
- Gloves: Racer Gloves Guide
- Undersuit: Alpinestars Summer Tech
- Jeans: Alpinestars Crank Denim
- Boots: Alpinestars SMX-1R
2020 Suzuki Katana Specs
- Type: Inline-4
- Bore x stroke: 73.4 mm x 59.0mm
- Displacement: 999cc
- Compression ratio: 12.2:1
- Maximum power: 150 horsepower @ 10,000 rpm
- Maximum torque: 80 ft/lbs @ 9500 rpm
- Valvetrain: DOHC, 4 vpc
- Fueling: Fuel injection
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 6-speed constant mesh
- Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
- Front suspension: Fully adjustable 43mm KYB fork
- Rear suspension: Linkage-assisted shock w/ adjustable spring-preload and rebound damping
- Wheels: Cast aluminum
- Tires: Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart II
- Front tire: 100/70 x 17
- Rear tire: 190-/50 x 17
- Front brake: 320mm floating disc w/ Brembo two-piston floating caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 57.5 inches
- Rake: 25 degrees
- Trail: 3.9 inches
- Seat height: 32.5 inches
- Fuel capacity: 3.2 gallons
- Wet weight: 474 pounds
2020 Suzuki Katana Colors/Price:
- Metallic Mystic Silver/TBD
- Glossy Black/TBD
Source: Ultimate Motorcycling