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That old thing

(by Guy Allen - Travels with Guido series, MT #233, circa April 2010, updated 2020)

Lusting after something for the best part of 20 years can get you into all sorts of trouble…

suzuki katana

It was one of the more uncomfortable moments in a marriage which, despite everything, has lasted a couple of decades. Ms M snr returned home from the motorcycle school where she teaches part time and said a colleague had been reading my latest blog. He asked her what she thought of the ‘new’ Katana.

Her response was, “What Katana?” Now instead of clamming up and running away – which would have been the honourable course to follow – Bob, or whatever his name is, buried me by blurting out all the ugly details for her edification. Thanks, mate. How about I go around to your house and update your wife on your unsupervised activities? I’m going to find out who you are and cancel your subscription, for starters…

So this is how we arrived at the awkward conversation. Ms M opens with, “Bob at work tells me you’ve bought a wire-wheel Katana. You’re not still after one of those things, are you?”

“Not any more,” was the truthful reply. Almost got away with that, but she’s awakening to my minimalist gambit when caught in a tricky conversation.

“You haven’t bought one, have you?” Bugger.

Out of sheer habit I lead the case for the defence with lyrical descriptions of its rarity, its prospects of gaining in value over time, how lucky we are to have one etcetera. She was unmoved. “I can’t believe you’re still on about those things,” was the response as she headed for the liquor cabinet.

She has a point. I was probably waffling on about the damned things when we met. Genuine wire-wheel Kats are hard to come by. There were two models made: a 1000cc version with slide carbs for international race homologation; And an 1100 with CV carbs for production racing – mostly in South Africa and Australia. Only 500 of the 1100s were made and the 1000s seem to be even more rare.

The 1100s had a patchy competition history. While they did well in some races, they never quite made it in the legendary Castrol 6 Hour. Suzuki dominated the event (first second and fourth) in 1981 with the more conventional GSX1100E, but in 1982 the best a Kat could manage was fifth, a lap down. That was up against a horde of Honda CB1100Rs, which took first through the fourth. A certain Wayne Gardner was riding the lead machine, partnered by Wayne Clarke.

Next year (1983), race teams found themselves scrambling for 1000cc Kats, as the rules changed to allow a max one-litre capacity. However Honda took the event again, with the VF750F, while the lead litre Kat had to settle for third.

So the 1100s really had only the briefest of competition careers, while the rest of their reputation has relied on the spectacular looks, penned by Hans Muth of Target Design. They’re not terribly comfortable and I’m pretty sure the1100E I owned years ago was a better road bike. Then again, if practicality were the sole measure of value, 916 Ducatis would cost $1.50. (Now there’s another one worth owning…)

Mine ended up in the shed after a casual conversation with a reader, Paul, up in Sydney. In some respects it’s typical Suzuki for the period, with a bulletproof engine and good gearbox, contrasting with some wonderful folly – such as locating the battery in a place where replacement requires you to effectively remanufacture the bike.

There are a fair few fakes out there, though the real engine IDs are easy enough to find. Mine, almost inevitably called Kate, is number 67 of the series and, now I’ve got hold of it, I’ll have to think of something new to chase for the next couple of decades…


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