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Gladius Not Cutting it? How About a Sharper Katana?

Oberdan Bezzi Design

You’ll rarely hear “classic” in the same sentence as “’80s Japanese motorcycle” when you’re sitting around the Sunday morning breakfast table with your riding buddies, but that’s a shame, as some iconic shapes rolled out of the Home Islands in that period. The Honda Interceptor, Suzuki GSX-R and Honda Magna stand out as some serious eye-candy, and although some of the metric cruiser designs from the days of Reagan and Iacocca make me want to throw up in my mouth a little, they demonstrated the Japanese factories had original thoughts and ideas and weren’t just in the business of making cheap, bland copies of “real” motorcycles.

The Old Katana

But we forget that Suzuki was one of the first companies to hire an outside design firm to style its motorcycles, ushering in an era of stylish mass-market machines. In 1980, Suzuki showed off the ED-2, styled by German firm Target Design (according to the Wikipedia entry, there is still debate as to who actually penned the original sketch). Hans Muth, who also designed the BMW R90S and R65LS is usually credited, but Hans Fellstrom, who did other work for Suzuki, also had a hand in the pot as one of Target’s founders).

Based on the existing GS1100 superbike platform, the simple, aggressive styling set the stage for the sportbike revolution that still rages today. It had a small fairing that flowed into a modern tank shape, topped off with compact instruments and a tiny windscreen. It looked great, but perhaps the true appeal of this bike is the idea of elegant design married to brutal power and speed. The production machines, the GSX series, was sold under the “Katana” name. A katana is the deadly sharp sword carried by Japan’s Samurai warriors, sparking a trend of naming other Suzuki models for edged weapons like the Madura cruisers (Madura being a traditional knife carried by natives of the Madura islands) and the new Gladius standard (the sword carried by Roman soldiers).

The original Katana’s sleek looks must have struck a chord with MD’s friend in Italy, designer Oberdan Bezzi. This sketch is his concept of a modern-day SuperKatana 1000, based on Suzuki’s latest GSX-R1000. With well over 150 hp at the back wheel, along with Suzuki’s own B-King, this would be the most powerful and fastest naked on the market, but it would be light and nimble like the Ducati Streetfighter. Let’s hope that the Ducati is successful enough to encourage a little craziness from Suzuki’s product-planning department.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • Yes I agree with the title, the Gladius doesn’t cut it for me. And evidently not for a lot of other folks either. When I saw it I went out and tried to find a leftover SV-650 to buy. No luck. Apparently I’m not the only one who can’t see the wisdom of making the new bike fourteen pounds heavier than the one it replaces. As for the Katana, well yes I do like it. I like it a lot. But to be honest I wouldn’t own it if it were my only bike. On the subject of practicality and insurability, I seem to recall a very similar Motorcycle Daily article years ago discussing a Suzuki concept bike called the “Boost King”. You’re probably too young to remember that article, or the reader feedback. As I recall lots and lots of your readers drooled and begged Suzuki to build it. The comments included things like I’ll sell my wife, I’ll sell my Gixxer. So why did the Boost King, or rather, the B-King only last two years? The Katana concept looks good, but the market for it would be strictly a small, small niche. Robert
  • You’ll rarely hear “classic” in the same sentence as “’80s Japanese
    motorcycle” when you’re sitting around the Sunday morning breakfast table
    with your riding buddies” – ha. Two off the top of my head – Ninja
    (including the long-running 250, not updated until 2008!) and V-Max.
    Sheesh, you youngins….

    That said, the Katana proposal looks great – Suzuki, do one in 600 or 750,
    por favor…. Tim

  • Your article on a sharper Katana is erroneous when it says the 1st Katana was based on the GS1100 platform it was the GS1000 for the initial one. Mike
  • OMG! That brings back memories! I owned an ’83 1100 Katana that I put 130K miles on before selling it to another enthusiast. Currently I own an ‘05 GSXR1K for Sunday’s and Track Days and an ’05 FZ1 as my daily commuter and touring bike. I have often wondered during the last several years what a great bike a GSXR1K would make with real world every day ergos thanks to its light weight and monster motor ( I particularly like the bottom end grunt of the ’05-06 motor). Mr. Bezzi’s design is sheer beauty. If Suzuki made it I would gladly dump my FZ1 for one. After all, look at the popularity in America the Mustang has had since they restyled it after the iconic 70’s body style. Chrysler followed with the Challenger and now GM with the Camaro.Perhaps Suzuki is worried GSXR sales would plummet if they made such a bike. I sure know a lot of people who would love to have a bike like this. Fred
  • Get rid of those pipes, add a fully adjustable suspension, and you have
    a winner. MPT
  • Funny you should write this article, I was just thinking the other day
    about the worst motorcycle styling jobs I’ve ever seen, and the GS1000
    Katana ranks solidly in the top 5 for me. So needless to say, I don’t
    find the idea of revisiting this design very appealing. And then, in
    the 1st paragraph you mention 2 other bikes in my top 5, the V45
    Interceptor and Magna as being eye candy! Fascinating how we can look
    at the same bike and see very different things!
    Maybe you think its time to take another look at the RE5 Rotary too? Bud
  • Wow – totally modern but unmistakably vintage Katana!
    One suggestion for Suzuki – if you decide to build it, don’t give it a “re-tuned power curve for the street”. Let the thing breathe fire like the GSX-R1000! Christopher
  • As a SV650 rider, I would like to see this bike with both the 650 and
    1000 v-twin motors. The gladius – do they really think a 696 clone is
    the path of leading the pack? Ufda. Steve
  • WOW! Call in all of your markers and tell them to build it! That
    would be the coolest thing Japan has had to offer in a long time. Bob
  • This is what the B-King should have looked like. Even better, the Katana series should have never walked so far away from the original design. Richard
  • Let’s face it, the Gladius is a dog. It’s the ugly fat girl who’s best friend is smoking hot.
    Other than to cut costs, why would Suzuki replace the awesome everyman’s bike, the
    SV650, with such a bland, absent of excitement, bike? Heck, the Gladius is a whole
    lot uglier and less exciting than the Honda CB599, which didn’t sell well enough to
    bring back. So who thinks the Gladius is going to be in the Suzuki US lineup for
    more than 2-3 years?
    Bring us the Yamaha XJR 400 and 1300, bring us the Honda CB400, 750, and 1300,
    bring us back the Kawasaki ZRX, and the Kawasaki W650… bikes with excitement,
    and personality.
    Why the Katana? it looks like an updated version that was floating around back in
    the 80’s, but this time with better parts … Tony
  • I read your article, but didn’t see any info to support the headline, what about some info on the gladius why doesn’t it “cut it”? Troy