One of the best superbikes to ever to come from Japan is the legendary Suzuki GSX-R1000 K5/K6. Why is that you ask, and so you should? Well, it was always one of the most reliable, if not ‘the’ most reliable superbikes to ever venture onto the track, or road for that matter, seeing as many were indeed seen on the road. No over-complicated electronics, hypersensitive chassis components, or an unnecessarily uncomfortable riding position were its virtues, and still are. They’re still sold and sought after even in 2019 and, due the strong motor, many engine tuners absorbed the infinite tuning possibilities, including the good ol’ turbo conversion.
So why would you want to discard such a proven platform, which is what the Suzuki engineers agreed on? Instead of offering an ‘outdated’ superbike, which would be ridiculous due to their, and currently my favourite superbike, the 2018/9 GSX-R1000, use it for something else. Enter these two; the Katana and GSX-S1000A, identical platforms, with different body parts, but surprisingly so dissimilar to ride.
Now obviously the new kid, or old kid to be more precise, is the new adaptation of the iconic Katana name. I actually owned the original 1100 way back in the early eighties, so I was more than excited to grab a handful of throttle on the 2019 option. Now let’s just clear one thing up here; the 2019 Katana isn’t a ‘retro’ aimed bike like Kawasaki’s z900RS’ for example, or Triumph’s slightly boring parallel twin range. It is a powerful 2019 naked bike with eighties derived Katana bodywork, so it fits more into the z1000, KTM Super Duke, Ducati Monster, MV Brutale, Yamaha MT-10 type bracket, right?To point a finger towards these, and others, this pair need to have horsepower, which they do. Suzuki claim 150hp from their robust 999cc, in-line, four-cylinder engine, slightly down on the K6 GSX-R by clipping high-end rpm. So we lobbed them both on the dyno and both came away with an impressive 137hp at the wheel and 98Nm of torque. Enough for most power-mad junkies and both variants will pull massive wheelies when the traction control is disengaged, in true eighties wild man fashion. Of course dramatic, grin-inducing, 10-second quarter-mile aggressive acceleration comes as a standard feature. Top speed is over 270km/h, fast enough for you? Not to mention the gorgeous air-box induction noise as the rpms rise, so I won’t. And the smooth perfectly fuelled seamless power delivery, and one of the best and most precise gearboxes ever made, so I won’t.So performance-wise, there’s nothing between them but the riding experience is a different story. The Katana sits you high (825mm), on its thickly padded two-tone seat with matching high and wide ‘bars. The large oblong digital clocks are from the current GSX-R1000, placed above the wide fairing which holds a very special LED headlight. The tank is also wide compared to the S model and only holds 12-litres (17 on the S). Now many moan like hung-over politicians who missed breakfast, but not once did the 12-litre issue bother me. If the fuel light comes on, fill it up, simple. A bit from over function but Suzuki wanted a ‘silhouette’ Katana so that’s what you get. On the other hand the S sits you ‘in’ the bike and feels sportier, because it’s thinner and your knees slide under the tank. The seat on the S is 810mm tall and narrower at the tank end, again adding to its feeling of being a smaller motorbike. Its clocks aren’t as posh either with a simple older style digital pod, which still relays everything you need to know though.So physically they’re diverse animals but with the same chassis components and suspension from Suzuki’s best and longest allies – KYB. Fully adjustable both front and rear so it’ll be easy to fiddle for both road and track antics. But strangely, when I swapped between the two, the Katana was set harder for the road when the S was a bit soft and mushy, the opposite of what one would think. Still this trait can be dialled out, or in, with a mere screwdriver. Maybe it’s because the Katana is heavier at 215kg and the S is 207kg, so it needs a bit more in the springy department? Either way the chassis is a pure K6 GSX-R, which means the handling is, well, like a GSX-R with high ‘bars, meaning zero complaints.Meanwhile in the electronics department there’re (thankfully) no power modes just ABS and traction control, which I always turned off for wheelies and spinning the back tyre. Childish yes, and fun yes, but this pair are so easy to ride and live with I had no other option – honest (lie). There’s also an easy start thing that lets the rider press the starter just once instead of holding it down until it fires up. Thanks for that Suzuki, my thumb is a happy digit and less fatigued. And there’s low rpm assist to stop the bike stalling, which I never felt because a ‘big-handful’ was too addictive. There’s also the usual slipper clutch if you have the disability of a 30kg left foot, or enjoy fast bend entries.Ok got it, so are they the same price for basically the same bike? No far from it, the 2019 Katana is R186,750 and the GSX-S1000A only R161,550 which makes the S the best value-for-money, large capacity naked bike in SA, and I’ll defend that anyplace, anytime. The 25k difference will buy some nice tasty parts for the S as well; Yoshimura pipe springs to mind and even a set of cams to add at least 15hp.
For some though the attraction of the Katana will ‘blinker’ the new buyer from anything else in the big naked bike class, and it would be my choice over everything else. It’s just so cool to look at and rides superbly on all counts and the price is right. On the other hand the S (also has a FA brother for 10k more with full fairing), is remarkable value for so much engine and a very, very reliable one at that.
Go to www.suzukimotorcycle.co.za to view the 2019 range and dealer location.Images by Chris Kuun