Class of ’84: Suzuki Katana 1100 v. Kawasaki GPZ900R
I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was 13, when getting my hands on a copy of Shaven Haven was a more important literary task, so my memories of Orwell’s famously pessimistic look into the future are scant. Perhaps younger students with fresher memories will be able to tell me whether George predicted the arrival of the watercooled four-stroke motorcycle engine or the 16-inch front wheel. I certainly hadn’t seen them coming because my first sight of a Kawasaki GPZ900R left me reeling.
One day while riding along the Thames embankment I stopped next to an unfamiliar red Kawasaki. Almost all bikes left my MZ of the time standing but this Kwacker seemed to disappear into thin air when the traffic lights changed. Shocked, I visited my local Kawasaki dealer and organised a test ride on the new GPZ900R. Everything about it was incredible: its power, its handling, its brakes.
I knew that I had ridden the future and I couldn’t afford it.
The GPZ900R that we have here is absolutely stunning, despite having 43,000 miles on the clock. It’s still a good looking bike; solid, purposeful and subtly aggressive. And totally different to the Suzuki GSX1100 Katana that joins it in this battle of the eighties’ giants. But then the Katana is different to everything that came before or since.
If you want to learn the development history of the Suzuki Katana, then first warm yourself up with a simpler task like mastering mandarin Chinese, because the Katana story is complicated with various different engine sizes and appearances of particular bikes.
The most excellent Katana Central website tells us that no motorcycle company had used an outside design house to pen one of its bikes and that Suzuki, in commissioning German crayon meisters target DESIGN, was the first. Not strictly true because Ducati asked car designers Bertone to design a bike in the early 1970s, the result of which was one of Ducati’s ugliest ever bikes, the 860 GTE.
Suzuki launched the GS1100S Katana in the UK in 1980 when bikers tucked their trousers into their boots and still folded white socks over boot tops; the BMF rally was massive and Belstaff made kit for bikers rather than toffs with shotguns. The Katana came as a bit of a shock and left most people rather confused.
Numerous Katana-style models came and went during the 1980s, including 550s, 650s, 750s and including, in 1984, the GSX750 S3 Katana with a pop-up headlamp. Surprisingly the 1100 Kat we have here wears a W-registration which means that it was registered in 2000. I didn’t know they were made that recently but Katana experts will have already observed from the black engine that this bike is one of the 1100 Japan-only limited edition GSX-1100SYs built in late 2000.
With less than 4,000 miles on the clock it is in as new condition.
Bike nostalgia takes several forms. First, there’s the bikes you dreamed about as a kid like my Kwacker H2. Then there’s the bikes that you want because you owned one in your youth and you want to recapture those days long before grey pubes and having to stop for the loo before needing petrol while riding a Ducati.
And lastly there’s the nostalgia for bikes from an era that you missed out on that was obviously a hoot. Which is why young Urry is mad about 350LCs even though he had yet to learn to pee standing up when the Elsie made its debut in 1980.
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