SUZUKI KATANA 600/750
In a market place full of motorcycles at all imaginable extremes of the spectrum, Suzuki's Katana 600 and 750 duo stick out as a minority: they are simply designed to be practical, versatile, and inexpensive. That's okay, but are they fun?! Read on...
Suzuki's new 600 and 750 Katanas are totally identical except for the 750's higher clip ons, upgraded rear suspension, and bigger bore motor.
First impression is definitely stolen by the bulky styling quite unlike anything else; I think Suzuki tried too hard to make the Kats look distinctive, but I won't comment further about it because styling is subjective as hell, and this test is for riders, not designers.
Both bikes start and warm quickly, but they still have those bothersome chokes that make the engine race when cold; but luckily are not needed for long. Light action clutches complement superb shifting; an definite upside to Suzuki using old GSXR technology!
Around town the 600 feels extremely flexible and smooth while snicking through the gearbox at low rpm. It's very easy to accelerate adequately from rest in second gear, low gearing helping the Katana's roll on throttle performance. If you want to be lazy, a lot of urban riding can be done in top gear; at 20-25 kph, the 600's top gear throttle response is completely friendly, unintrusive, and even superior to the majority of bikes I've tried.
The 600 has nasty buzzing vibes around 6000-7000rpm, which disappears further into the rev range, but is very bothersome because that range is where the engine spins most frequently during sport riding, and at 130kph on the highway. Worse, at 8000rpm the motor flattens out, strangled for air, while the 750 revs much more smoothly, and with genuine authority in its top end. The 750's nowhere near a GSXR, but it's not too shabby either, and its power and torque are plenty in the real world, as opposed to the 600, which frankly feels a bit anemic at times.
Specific output of both bikes is almost identical, at 111bhp/1000cc for the 750 (83 hp in total) and 114bhp/1000cc for the 600 (68hp in total). However, the real difference is the 750's torque advantage, which, expectedly, is around 25% better across the range. Together with a similar horsepower advantage, the 750 just stomps all over the 600. Comparos like this one are what lead people to believe "bigger is better", and, correspondingly, when bikes are in the same state of tune, as these two are, bigger usually is better.
Chassis and handling manners match engine performance well, being smooth, stable, and unintimidating. I found both bikes had identical handling manners, save for the superior feel and confidence I got from the 750's Dunlop Touring Sportmaxes over the 600's Michelin Macadams.
The Katanas steer quickly, effortlessly, without a trace of instability under acceleration, cornering, rough surfaces, or two-up. Even feeling much less bulky than they really are. One thing I didn't like were the mushy footpeg rubbers. On both bikes they were too soft, and very slippery in wet weather, needlessly compromising feel while cornering aggressively.
Ground clearance is adequate, but despite grinding the 600's footpeg blob right off the end of peg, I could still barely keep up to a well ridden RZ350 (that hadn't grounded a thing) around a series of expressway ramps and corners. Increasing rear preload would have given more clearance, but already the Michelins were giving telltale squirming - warning that enough is enough! Gimme the 750's Dunlops!
Suspension is on the soft side, but adequately damped, so it passes unnoticed under the reasonably hard cornering and braking the Katanas are capable of. Violent last second braking and extreme lean angles do not apply.
Interestingly, despite riding to the limits of the ground clearance two-up on several occasions, the 750's more sophisticated and adjustable shock (bound to be helpful as the suspension ages) didn't feel any different to me than the 600's basic version.
Brakes on both bikes are identical and work very well. Good weight distribution that allows for a little rear wheel lift under maximum deceleration helps a lot, and unsurprisingly the lever feel, power, and controllability is faultless... Everyone will like the multi-adjustable lever.
Despite ground clearance limitations and the 600's tires, I still found both bikes were great fun exploring unknown sweeping backroads, where safety dictates a gentler pace compared to familiar roads or racetracks. The Katanas' excellent steering and flexible power delivery made unfamiliar roads more fun than a more serious sportbike would have, where it's high performance design would be wasted. Both also had enough go and carving ability to keep things more than interesting when the pace inevitably picked up...
The 750's higher bars suited the otherwise identical Katana ergonomics better; you sit more upright, the extra wind blast you take is offset by the more relaxed posture, and the bike is more comfortable than its little brother just about everywhere.
The passenger seat is comfortable, plush, and spacious. A point of note here is the fact that the Katanas corner and steer well two-up, without any of the unpredictable steering gremlins and screwed chassis geometry that many sportbikes can suffer from two-up.
A downside to both of these practical, relatively simple machines is the fact that build quality is, well .... rather cheap. Rearsets, passenger peg hangers, footpegs, and welds all seem a bit economised on, although they don't affect performance much (except those footpegs). The fairings don't quite bolt up as neatly as other bikes either, but aren't far from the marketplace average. Paint quality seems great, and apart from the several cheapo components, the Katanas will probably look much the same in five years time as they do now.
As versatile, reliable, and inexpensive motorcycles, both Katanas offer solid, excellent value for money. The Katana 600 is perfect for a novice who just wants a new 600 with low running costs, insurance, and unintimidating power. $8,849 for the 750 buys you a bike that can sport tour, commute, and do track days at a moment's notice. With simple and inexpensive modification, it would improve significantly in any one of these roles.
Neither bike has glaring defects, but the 750's solid performance advantage, comfort, better stock tires and more adjustable chassis are definitely worth the $400 price difference between the bikes, and makes the Katana 750 the logical choice for a motorcyclist with any experience.
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