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A Ute-Load of Kats

(Travels with Guido #259, November 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Suzuki Katana 1100

Should you swap your Katana for a ute?


“See you, mate,” said Kesting. Eh? Yours etcetera was baffled. Was it something I’d said? Possible.

We were at the palatial Calder freeway fuel stop – which boasts both kinds of road food: Maccas and Subway – and he had made up his mind. “I’m off home with the Katana and I’ll send you the papers for my ute,” which was parked nearby.

“Fuggin what?” Not the most intelligent answer, but it was all I had. Clearly I hadn’t been in his head for the previous hour and he had, so we had some catching up to do.

“It’s easy mate,” he explained, as if to an idiot (fair call), “I ride home now, you take the ute. Here are the keys, and we’ll sort the rest out later.”

This wasn’t how I’d pictured the day panning out. Some hours earlier we had embarked from Chateau Conrod on a then current model Hayabusa and a 1981 Suzuki Katana proddie race version (the SXZ), aka Kate the Katana, with the lovely Ms Elle the photographer and Mr S the video bloke in tow. The plan was to develop a multimedia extravaganza on how things have changed for Brand S hero bikes over 30 years. It did not involve acquiring a Commodore utility. No matter how red it was.

“Would you like to stop a minute for a coffee? Are you hungry?” I desperately asked.

Young Paul Kesting, a mechanic by trade and one of the few folk on our trust list when it comes to test bikes, finally relented. “It’s okay, mate,” he offered, “But this thing (pointing at the Kat) is lovely.

“It’s like riding an old Ducati, without the reliability issues.” He was smitten.

It’s a truck. Really. The set up is typical for the era. Be liberal with the throttle and pray the impending mix of noise and attitude works out the way you hoped. It comes on song, but you need patience and dedication to get it.

Even when the engine produces, you’re on some 250kg monster that has a very limited range of options in its handling book. You have stability…err, that’s it really. With manners akin to a Kenworth, it rewards early decision-making.

Braking? Well, that’s another of those things you get if you plan ahead.

Don’t get me wrong. Dinosaur-wrestling is one of my favourite occupations. But please don’t try to tell me these things are under-rated performance tools. They’re not. Big, happy, clumsy and appallingly fast pretty much sums them up. And I have a sneaking suspicion other reviewers will be talking about Hayabusas in the same terms in another 30 or 40 years.

Paul knows all of this and, still, he’s trying to make me an offer I can’t understand.

Sometimes you have to let someone else into your world to appreciate what you have – or at least get a fresh perspective. To me, the Katana is a clumsy dinosaur. Albeit a quick one if you’re brave enough to explore the outer reaches of the tacho. While it has developed a collectable status beyond its real worth, it will never be featured in the pantheon of great performance motorcycles.

To him, it is a workable classic that talks to his riding history. The ride position has a bit of old-school Ducati about it, while the lazy steering is from another age. Meanwhile it shares the reliable electrics and bullet-proof mechanicals of past mounts from (more often than not) Japan.

On the other side of the negotiation, I briefly toyed with the idea of the ute-bike swap. A man could use a late-model red utility. But, no matter how hard you drove it, there wouldn’t be the same thrill as tipping into a corner with a mad and angry Kat.

See more Travels with Guido columns



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