Wallflowers: Suzuki GSX600F and GSX750F Katanas

Suzuki's oft-ignored, yet highly capable, 600 and 750 Katanas

Suzuki's GSX600F and GSX750F KatanasBlake Connor

Talk with any sport rider and it's likely he or she will be able to extol, chapter and verse, the virtues of all the newest, sexiest machinery. In fact, don't sport riders have the reputation of draping themselves in this year's brightly colored pelts before literally embracing the latest technology out on the twistiest tarmac the local mountains have to offer? A quick look at the sales figures of Suzuki's Katanas explodes portions of this myth.

While enthusiasts may lust for a supermodel, when the time comes to get hitched, when they really pause to consider the care and feeding expenses-not to mention the entry fee-of such exclusivity, the girl next door begins to look pretty darn attractive. After all, hasn't she stuck around, relatively unchanged while you went looking elsewhere for what you thought was the real thing? Still not a believer? Well, chew on this: The Katana 600 has been among the top three best-selling sportbikes from 1990 through 1997. How about more than 40,000 units sold in the U.S. market? The 750 follows the 600 with more than 17,000 units sold since 1990.

The design team wanted to make the Katanas more curvaceous and appeal to the low retail price.

So when Suzuki decided to update the venerable Katanas, the engineers took on the roles of beauticians and personal trainers. The new hair style and body sculpting came courtesy of 36-year-old Product Planner Yoshiaki Fujieda, whose inspiration was drawn from sleek underwater critters like sharks, stingrays and whales. A nod also goes to the automotive world and its rounded bodywork trend, a style thrust into the mainstream by the Ford Taurus. While the design team was focused on making the Katanas more curvaceous, it also had to ensure the bikes' most appealing feature-a low retail price-didn't get overly updated.

Since beauty is more than skin deep, we'll ponder the epidermis before poking around in the internal organs. The aerodynamic shape of these two bikes bears more than a family resemblance. Both the 600 and the 750 incorporate the same bodywork which, well... works well-and saves money. The elements are effectively kept at bay while riders avoid the engine-heat-induced, seared-leg syndrome once suffered by pilots of machines from which the Katanas trace their lineage (such as the older GSX-Rs).

The bee-stinger taillight generated the most responses from motorcyclists and the general public.

Motorcyclists and members of the general public had mixed feelings about the bikes' looks. The bee-stinger taillight generated the most responses. However, opinions about styling were slightly modified in a positive way after a few potential pillions said the Katanas' shape and colors (red for the 600 and maroon for the 750) were "pretty." When actually riding (and not trolling) only a few riders in the six-foot-tall range complained about a windscreen-induced, helmet-buffeting problem.

Supporting the shapely new skin, the steel perimeter frames are essentially the same found on previous Katanas (more money saved). The suspensions attached to the frames are updated, though. Both bikes sport a 41mm fork with four-position rebound adjusters. In the rear, the 600 utilizes a single damper with seven adjustments for spring preload and four for rebound. The 750's shock sprouted a remote reservoir and is now fully adjustable. Sadly, while taking a step forward in damping technology, the shock's preload adjuster moved back to the threaded-collar design. Get out your hammers and punches, boys and girls.

Connecting the revised suspension to the ground, Suzuki fit Katanas of both displacements with 3.5-inch front and 4.5-inch rear wheels (an increase of one-half inch and one inch, respectively). The 17-inch-diameter, cast-aluminum wheels are shod with radial rubber Dunlop 205s on the 750 and Michelin Macadams on the 600, for user-friendliness in a variety of situations. Both bikes incorporate the same triple discs for braking duties. The dual-piston front calipers grip 290mm discs, while the single-piston rear caliper does its duty with a 240mm rotor.

The 17-inch-diameter, cast-aluminum wheels are shod with radial rubber Dunlop 205s on the 750 and Michelin Macadams on the 600, for user-friendliness in a variety of situations.

Generating the speed that the brakes scrub off, both the 600 and 750 engines employ the same basic design as the previous generations' air/oil-cooled engines. However, these engines have been hitting the gym for a little more muscle mass aimed at providing more power and improved ridability. The cylinders sport improved pistons and rings for a better seal. The rods gained better lubrication. The cylinders breathe through reshaped ports with valves operated by new camshafts for more low- and midrange power-right where street riders need it. The 600 and 750 engines feed the fire through 32mm and 36mm Mikuni carburetors, respectively. Both employ throttle-position sensors to help the black box determine the appropriate ignition curve. Spent gasses exit via new 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust systems, instead of dual mufflers. Beefier clutches transfer the increased power to the transmission on its way to the 530 chain and the rear wheel. Other less-noticeable changes include silent cam chains, more-powerful charging systems and antitheft ignition circuitry.

Thumbing the starter button to the cold engine of either bike elicits little more than coughs unless full choke is applied. Once out on the road, both bikes display their less-than-cutting-edge technology when the throttle gets turned. The 600 suffers from an off-idle flat spot that makes powering away at stoplights more of a clutch-slipping affair than it should be. (EPA-mandated lean jetting is the most likely culprit in this circumstance.) Rolling on the throttle in the midrange ups the ante a bit, but despite the engine modifications directed at the low- and midrange power delivery, the 600 doesn't kick in until the top third of the rev range. Riders whose speed sensors have been recalibrated by the current crop of hyper 600s may find themselves thinking there's no there, there.

The 750 delivers on Suzuki's claim of improved bottom-end power. Carbureting cleanly through the entire rev range, the big Katana doesn't pull like the more hard-core machinery-nor was it (or the 600) designed to. But the more-pronounced grunt through the bottom half of the tachometer reduces the effort required to ride the 750 around town quickly when compared with the 600. In the powerband, the 750's fun factor increases with the rpm.Riding the Kats in an era when 1000s have shrunk to the proportions of 600s puts the Suzukis' riding positions in an interesting perspective. First, keeping the rider's torso fairly upright suits the Katanas' mission of being a multipurpose mount. Racking up long sport-touring days would be easy on either bike. However, the riding position also reflects the age of the Katanas' platform. The reach to the grips on the 600 and the 750 feels long by today's standard of compact cockpits, with the 750's reach feeling longer in spite of its 0.2-inch-shorter wheelbase.

The only characteristics that might impinge on extended Katana fun are the tendency toward an annoying level of vibration in the grips and pegs.

In lean-over mode, the Katanas steer fairly quickly with only moderate effort-a surprise when you consider both have one degree more rake (25 degrees) and wheelbases considerably longer (3.2 inches were added to the 600 and the 750 was extended by 2.6 inches) than Suzuki's own top-shelf 600 and 750 GSX-Rs. But longer wheelbases beget stability and stability translates into rider confidence. So, Katana riders won't feel shortchanged. Once the pace climbs into the neighborhood of pure sport machinery, however, the feedback from the tires becomes vague and the ride less solid. In the realm the Katanas were designed to reside in, the suspension works well, addressing most road imperfections. The brakes do their job in a workman-like manner. In fact, the only characteristics that might impinge on extended Katana fun are the tendency toward an annoying level of vibration in the grips and pegs (A problem Suzuki is obviously aware of, why else would there be bricks mounted to the underside of the 750's pegs?) and the aforementioned helmet buffeting experienced by taller riders.

So, what does all this say about the prettier, buffer Katanas? They look good and work well, and are the type of bikes you could take home to meet the parents. With a retail price of $6199 for the 600 and $7199 for the 750, they warrant close inspection. Also, if you look around, you might see these bikes popping up in the most unlikely places-like being ridden by the girl next door. And they do look better, now that the braces are off and they've filled out a little....

What's not to like with the Katanas? They look good and work well.

GSX600F Katana

  • Suggested retail price: $6199
  • Engine type: Air/oil-cooled, transverse,
  • in-line, four-stroke four
  • Displacement: 599cc
  • Bore x stroke: 63 x 49mm
  • Carburetion: 4, 32mm Mikuni BSR
  • Rake/trail: 25 deg./3.9 in. (99mm)
  • Wheelbase: 57.9 in. (1471mm)
  • Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal (20L)
  • Wet weight: 491 lb (223kg)

GSX750F Katana

  • Suggested retail price: $7199
  • Engine type: Air/oil-cooled, transverse,
  • in-line, four-stroke four
  • Displacement: 749cc
  • Bore x stroke: 70 x 49mm
  • Carburetion: 4, 36mm Mikuni BSR
  • Rake/trail: 25 deg./3.9 in. (99mm)
  • Wheelbase: 57.7 in. (1466mm)
  • Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal (20L)
  • Wet weight: 516 lb (234kg)

This article originally appeared in the August '99 issue of Sport Rider.

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