Motorcyclist Archives 1981: Suzuki Katana; How To Lace Wheels; Vintage Motorcycle Ads

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Motorcyclist Magazine December 1981

1981 Motorcyclist Magazine cover
The "Starship Katana" on the December 1981 cover of Motorcyclist.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

"This Consummate Café Racer is Controversy Incarnate"

Vintage Porsche Design motorcycle helmet
Who's got one of these now-vintage Porsche Design helmets stashed in the garage? It was advertised on the inside cover of our December '81 issue.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
Suzuki Katana
The precursor to the modern sportbike, the 1982 GS1000S Katana. A razor sharp sport-oriented machine that began the Suzuki charge into sport specific motorcycling.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

1981 Suzuki Katana GS1000S Review
Described in this article as the "drastic café," the 1982 Suzuki Katana GS1000S was a departure from the norm of any production motorcycle in its time and looking back, one of the first modern sport bikes. This was an especially large leap in styling for Suzuki which was known for mass appeal, not show-stopping design. When Suzuki started this project they knew this would not be a do-everything bike but one built for a purpose.

Although its angular lines, fairing mounted headlight, and aggressive riding position set this bike apart from anything seen before there was plenty of internal sexiness. Much of the engine and design elements were based off of the GS1100.

1982 GS1000S fork tech
The Suzuki anti-dive forks linked braking to suspension to reduce compression damping under braking and improve corner entry and exit.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
1982 GS1000S specs
Specs for the 1982 Suzuki Katana in our December 1981 issue.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Engine Specs
* Same basic 1100 cc motor, reduced to 998 cc (from 1076 cc) - not coincidentally, allowing it to compete in AMA Superbike Roadracing
* Smaller diameter alternator rotor for reduced flywheel inertia
* Same diameter wrist pins and connecting rods yet, built a "little beefier"
* Relocated a few case bolts for increased strength
* Same clutch, stiffer clutch springs
* Strengthened clutch support
* Same gearbox and final drive ratio
* 5° of advanced intake cam timing
* Tougher piston alloy (also, 2.6 mm smaller)
* Upgraded valve seat material to handle the increased heat of aggressive riding
* The Twin Swirl Combustion Chambers are slightly reshaped to develop more power
* Mikuni constant velocity carbs include velocity stacks in the common airbox that claim to increase intake charging efficiency by 5 percent
* Ratcheting shocks with softer springs than the GS1100 and higher nitrogen pressure which make the Katana's softest spring rate 14% stiffer than the hardest setting on the GS1100
* Frame based on the GS1100 with a smaller, lighter backbone and sturdier welds which produce a stiffer ride.
* Slight change in rake which helps to add an additional .6" of trail (to 4.65")
* Anti-dive forks which work in concert with the brakes to restrict compression damping under load
Other Features
* Fork-mounted aluminum clip-ons
* Same wheels, swingarm, and Bridgestone tires
* Self-cancelling turn signals
* Two-toned seat skinned with a synthetic suede (dark blue rider, light gray passenger)
* Oil cooler brackets are installed but but the coolers are not standard equipment. (Elsewhere in the article it mentions that Suzuki didn't feel the bike ran hot enough to need oil cooling)

Riding Impressions From 1981
The Katana is well set up to do one thing, aggressively sport ride. It is so well set up for this purpose that it does not do anything else really well. The stiff springs are great at racing speed but the bike becomes unresponsive to small bumps and ripples in the pavement. The vibrations between 3500-4000 RPMs are agonizing and are exactly where you will be cruising at highway speeds. Your wrists take a beating, shoulders tire quickly, and some riders complain of wind blast so bad that it causes headaches. The range at highway speed is directly proportional to the riders ability to stand physical discomfort. Highway comfort is mentioned by the author since it was felt that every rider will have to endure some interstate to "find the local curvery".

1981 Suzuki ad from Motorcyclist
Nothing over $3K in this 1981 Suzuki ad!Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
Vintage 1981 Yamaha ad
A razor sharp sport-oriented machine that began the Suzuki charge into sport specific motorcycling.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
Suzuki ads from 1981
With the '82 Katana on the cover, Suzuki stepped up big time with several pages of ads including these two four-color spreads.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

At slow speeds the throttle response and driveline lash can be “lurchy” in the corners until the rider becomes accustomed to it. Although not small, the tucked riding position and neutral steering make it feel compact and responsive. The anti-dive braking system helps keep the bike settled in the turns but has one negative byproduct - The braking system which is linked directly to the forks is a little spongy. Also; when hot from use, the lever comes within an inch of the handlebar and requires the rider to use all fingers for braking. Not to fear though, although a bit spongy and close to the bar, the braking does not fade when hot and was tested on a road course and at the drag strip and proven to continue to satisfactorily function.

Final quote from the article: “It sets a new standard of sporting performance for the one-liter class that nothing we’ve tested so far can approach… Few motorcycles can out-perform the Katana and no one can overlook it.”

Kerker exhaust ad from 1981
Kerker pipes were quite popular back in the day!Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
How To Install Wheel Spokes
Wheel Lacing: You have nothing to fear but fear itself.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

Wheel Lacing (By Dexter Ford)
Wire wheels have been around for more than 100 years, which was a good stretch longer than motorcycles had been in 1981 when this article was written. There are many advantages to them. They are lightweight, cheap to construct, repairable, and strong. It was predicted that we would see them for a long time to come - so far, quite true.

wheel lacing tech
Dexter Ford's step-by-step guide to lacing motorcycle wheels.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives
Winston cigarette ad
Tobacco companies paid the bills before ads like this from Winston were banned.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives

The first time you true a wire wheel might require a little extra time and some conviction but if you follow Dexter Ford’s basic tutorial, anyone can lace their own wheels. When you’re done, you will have gained three things. A new wheel laced exactly the way you want it, the money you would have paid someone to do it, and the knowledge you picked up along the way that might bail you out at the track or trailside some day.

Let’s assume you are starting with the right hub, the right nipples,a properly drilled rim, and the right spokes for the project. If this is the case, the photo tutorial will guide you through the whole process.

1981 Kawasaki ad
The Last Page, and a Kawasaki ad on the inside back cover of the December 1981 issue of Motorcyclist.Photo: Motorcyclist Archives