Down an alley off Main Street in Willoughby, Ohio, stands an innocuous, two-story brick building. Inside lies the culmination of one man’s 35-year obsession with a unique and groundbreaking motorcycle, Suzuki’s incredible Katana.
The obsession began in 1982 when Ken Edgar, then just 14 years old, first laid his eyes on the then-new and radically designed Suzuki Katana. The name, borrowed from a Japanese samurai sword, made the new bike’s mission clear. Edgar was thunderstruck.
And while many teenage boys develop an attachment or fascination with a particular motorcycle or car, with the passing of time the attraction and excitement fades. In Ken’s case, however, it just got stronger. After four summers of working landscaping, scrounging and saving, Ken bought his first Katana. It was used and not in the best of shape, but it was his – finally – and it became the starting point for a unique and comprehensive collection of this milestone motorcycle.
In the late 1970s, Suzuki’s GS750 and GS1000 4-cylinder models were very capable motorcycles. Like the Honda CB750, Kawasaki KZ900 and other 4-cylinder bikes of the day, they were among the UJMs, or Universal Japanese Motorcycles, so named for their seemingly universal application of almost identical technical specifications. Looking for a new direction, Suzuki-Germany marketing director Manfred Becker initiated the idea of a completely new and attention-grabbing motorcycle, retaining the services of a newly created firm, Target Design, to produce the first concept studies of a new design based on the production GS550 and GS650 models.
The three partners in Target Design, Hans Muth, Hans-Georg Kasten and Jan Fellstrom, had been lead designers with the BMW Motorrad studios. Target Design’s proposal for the GS550/650, known as ED-1 (European Design 1), was enthusiastically approved by Suzuki-Germany, and subsequently by Suzuki Japan, which assigned Masao Tani as the project manager and engineer. In fact, this first design was so well received that Suzuki asked Target to work on another prototype concept study based on their production GS1100.
With the acceptance of the first prototype, Target felt they could push the envelope a bit further with a second design. Known internally as ED-2, this is the design usually associated with the Katana. As with the GS550 concept, the GS1100 design presentation included numerous sketches, scale renderings and a full-size model. The ED-2 concept Katana was first shown publicly at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in the fall of 1980, and the mission of bringing significant attention to Suzuki was accomplished, as motorcycle magazines around the world published photos and enthusiastic commentary about this unique and groundbreaking new design. Love it or hate it, it couldn’t be ignored.
The production Katana came to the U.S. in 1981 as the GS1000S Katana, the 1,100cc engine getting a 2mm bore and 1.2mm stroke reduction for a displacement of 998cc to slot into AMA Superbike racing, which had a 1,000cc limit. In 1983 the U.S. model evolved into the 1,100cc GS1100S found worldwide.
Ken’s Katana obsession
Ken’s first sighting of the Katana was at the very beginning of its worldwide introduction, and his focus on this iconic design never wavered. After high school, Ken went to college in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and he often went by the Suzuki dealer to look at and sit on the new Katana, and imagine owning one.
Returning to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1988 to start his career, Ken’s interest in the Katana continued growing, and he started collecting bikes as he could, over time acquiring pristine, low-mileage examples of every Katana model sold in the U.S., including the initial GS1000S and GS1100S, as well as several of the 550, 650 and 750 variants. Ken’s bikes are all very low-mileage machines, and many have near-zero miles. All of the production Katanas in Ken’s collection are in original, showroom condition, handsomely displayed with banners, marketing posters and other period pieces highlighted with museum-quality lighting.
After acquiring all of the production U.S. Katana models, Ken began searching for unique Katanas with special histories, in the process acquiring the original Katana GS1000S race bike piloted by Wes Cooley. It came in as-raced condition, with all the modifications made by the Suzuki/Yoshimura team in campaigning the bike and still wearing track dust and oil stains. On display in Ken’s museum it looks like a warhorse, waiting to storm back onto the track.
He then acquired a new, in-the-crate Katana GS1000S from a dealer in London. A U.S. model, the English dealer had bought it from the same Suzuki dealer in Ft. Collins that Ken used to visit while in school. In all likelihood, that very bike was in its crate in the backroom while Ken was sitting on another one on the showroom floor. Last, and perhaps most importantly, a friend in Europe told him that a unique Katana was coming up for auction at a Bonhams sale in England. Perusing the auction catalog, Ken realized that this was more than just simply a “unique” Katana: It was Target Design’s original ED-2 prototype. Ken was able to acquire this most significant Katana as the capstone to his collection, and it occupies a special place of honor in his museum.
With the quality and extent of these acquisitions, Ken always envisioned an environment conducive to displaying the results of his 35-year quest and he has accomplished this masterfully. The building housing his collection has been beautifully restored, an eight-year project completed to Ken’s high standards. As a tribute to both the Katana’s milestone design and the quality of Ken’s collection, the Guggenheim Museum’s Art of the Motorcycle exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, featured one of Ken’s examples of the initial GS1000S Katana.
In keeping with Motorcycle Classics’ Ride ’Em, Don’t Hide ’Em mantra, Ken has several nice, street-able Katanas that he rides on a regular basis. In addition to the aesthetics of the design that first captured his imagination, Ken enjoys the Katana’s aggressive riding position and the freight train GS engine, which really comes to life on back roads at 6,000rpm-plus. More than with many bikes, on a Katana you feel like a part of the machine, and you look for the next sweeping turn to come at you at extra-legal speeds. And when he finally pulls over for a break, there is a natural tendency to take a few steps back and just admire what Suzuki and Target Design created with their unique design and their commitment to the mission of creating an iconic, milestone motorcycle. Ken likes to think he’s honoring their commitment through his own commitment to preserve the legacy of their efforts.
Suzuki produced variations of the original ED-1 and ED-2 Katana designs worldwide until 2000, with the Final Edition GS1100 SY Katana. Although the 1,100cc version is the most well-known of the Katana line, there were also 250, 400, 550, 650 and 750cc derivatives, all sharing the distinctive Katana elements. Even today, the original design still looks innovative and distinctive, a fact that has driven demand and prices for well-sorted examples well into the five-figure range. MC
Katana redux: Suzuki revives the past
Suzuki first hinted at a revived Katana at the 2017 EICMA show in Italy when it teased the public with a Katana concept bike dreamed up by Italian sport bike magazine Motociclismo. Last October, Suzuki made the concept a reality when it debuted the 2020 Katana at the 2018 Intermot show in Cologne, Germany.
Looking strikingly similar to Motociclismo’s 2017 concept, the new Katana’s bodywork takes its styling cues from the late, great GS-based Katana, last produced in 2000. Based on the current Suzuki GSX-S1000F, the new Katana features that bike’s twin-spar aluminum frame and 148 horsepower, 999cc fuel-injected double overhead cam four. As such, it boasts features owners of original Katanas could only dream of, including ABS and a three-mode traction control system. Suzuki hasn’t announced pricing, but the new Katana, which is set to go on sale in 2019, is expected to slot in close to the GSX-S1000F, which lists for $11,299. It will be available in any color you want, as long as it’s Metallic Mystic Silver.