I clearly remember the day I saw a Suzuki Katana for the first time. It was in 1981 in my parent’s driveway. Three of my friends, who were still in matric, had bought new motorcycles and had come to show off their new toys to me. Mark was on a dark blue Kawasaki Z1000J, Claude was on a black Suzuki GS1000 shafty and his brother Roland rode the very newly launched Suzuki Katana 750. Thinking back to that day, if I had been asked to choose which machine I preferred, I would have chosen the Kawa before the GS, with the Katana a distant third. To my eye the Katana did not look like what a motorcycle should look like and seemed to have too many plastic parts. Boy was I wrong! The Katana 750cc and 1100cc sold in large quantities both in South Africa and internationally. Every superbike produced from then until now and into the future carries elements of Katana styling.
In 1979 Suzuki commissioned a German design studio to design a radically new looking model. The Katana was the first production motorcycle to be aerodynamically designed using a windtunnel. Until then motorcycles had a separate and distinctive seat, tank and fairing. The Katana’s fairing flowed into the tank which flowed into the seat section, a feature common to all modern superbikes. First shown in 1980, it was launched in 1981 to the market. The model which changed my lukewarm feelings for the Katana into burning lust was the launch of the very rare high performance, 1000cc spoke-wheeled Striker version. Spoke wheels were installed for their lightness as these were to be the production race bikes. The combination of space age looks and old school spokes was fantastic. I would like to own a Katana Striker today, but almost all these bikes have found there way to Australia.
Although radically customised, our feature bike remains easily recognisable as a Katana because the distinctive fairing and tank remain unmodified. Just about everything else on this motorcycle is custom made by the owner Johan. It started life as a 1981 Katana 750cc before it became part of Johan’s dream to build the ultimate Katana. He installed the 1100cc engine and has been chopping and changing this motorcycle for thirteen years and he says he/it is finished except for….
The photos out describe my words but the features to look out for are the 360mm wide back tyre, TD04 turbocharger hanging out the side with all it’s intricate plumbing, Hayabusa front mudguard, ZZR 600 front wheel and Fireblade seat and rear end. The swingarm which surrounds the massive rear wheel was hand fabricated by Johan and the hugger was made by him out of fibreglass using the tyre as a pattern. Very few components, like the imported rear wheel and rear sets were not custom made or modified by Johan. Even the spraypaint was applied by him. This is an out and out showbike; created to be admired by many and carefully scrutinised for the tiniest flaw by the judges.
There are two ways to build a showbike. The first is to import all the components from the many custom part manufacturers internationally, paint and assemble. This way requires a big chequebook. The second way is to manufacture as many of the components oneself, as Johan does, purchasing only what you cannot make or have made locally. This is the cheaper but far more time consuming way. Both ways produce amazing showbikes.
After twelve attempts and disappointments, Johan achieved his goal this year of winning the Overall Best Bike on Show trophy at the annual Ink and Iron Show. He says he is considering retiring the Katana from competition to focus on his next project, a Honda Fireblade, but this seems unlikely.
A motorcycle like this is never finished and Johan intends extending the swingarm even further and exposing the back wheel by fabricating his own tailpiece. Johan is quick to mention how much his family has supported him in his quest. He is especially proud of his son’s support. Showing the Katana is always a family outing. If this was the Katana which pulled into the driveway back in 1981 I wouldn’t have noticed the other two motorcycles!