Part 11. Styling the big Kat

Do a Google image search of Katana and you’ll end up with an array of pictures that you’ll barely believe started life as the same model. It would appear that the Katana attracts more than it’s fair share of “keen modifiers” – you can make your own judgements if you think some of the results end well…

The bikes I tend to like are all a bit more race orientated, which isn’t surprising I guess. Minimalist, purposeful, sleek – and with wheelbases somewhere near the original dimension and definitely less than that of the school bus…!!!

What I naturally wanted to do was to make something unique, something classy, something memorable and also with a consistent theme.

That theme is to recreate a bike that never existed! What if Suzuki raced a Katana in the also non-existent World Superbikes in the early 80’s? Although the big Kats raced all over the world in everything from the AMA to the Castrol 6 hour in Australia, there wasn’t anything I would describe as a “Team Suzuki” Katana.

There are lots of raced Kats that look like they left the showroom and got hopped up – being based on the OE silver paint. But that’s not what I’m after. So, if there is a “works Suzuki” styled Kat, I haven’t seen it, and I’ve done enough hours on Google to be confident I would have!

I think we should make one of them then.

If it existed what would the styling cues be taken from?

  • Suzuki corporate colours
  • Period Factory finish on the parts
  • Period fittings where possible
  • Function over form (with the odd bit of bling)
  • Simple understated colour palate.

These ideas ended up with me making a Photoshopped image based on a nicely modified Katana from Japan. This one modified picture has shaped the direction of the build from very early on. I’m really glad I did this image – it provided support to my ailing enthusiasm in the darker hours of the build and also kept me on track to keep selection and presentation of parts in line with producing a bike that looks like this one.


So, starting with the things I always wanted to get into this build

The period Yoshi pipe.

It’s long, it’s low angled, it’s very quiet and with the frame mods we’ve made it’s also a pain in the arse to mount (it’ll need a new link pipe) BUT – it looks sooo 1982, it almost makes the rest of the build easy, just build a bike that looks like it should carry around that exhaust. It also has a very lovely rising line which follows the uplift angle of our seat and tail.


I could get a more modern pipe, it would probably make more power, it would certainly make more noise, it would probably look less dated. All good reasons to stick with the Yoshi! More power = extra heat, more noise = extra grief, modern looks = unwanted. Simple.

Something nice for the dudes who aren't quite as quick as us to look at. And the ones that are lapping us too...
Something nice for the dudes who aren’t quite as quick as us to look at. And the ones that are lapping us too…

The Lucky7 space

That gap between the carbs and the back wheel – full of electrics and airbox on the Katana that left the factory, totally empty on Steve’s Lucky7 bike (see below)


To facilitate that look means moving the clutter away from the gap, and somewhere hidden – that hidden place is under the seat.

Steve supplied me with 2 custom made aluminium trays that fit in the space and provide home for all the bits and bobs we need to move.

On our bike that will be 2 batteries, a fusebox, a rev limiter, a starter solenoid and maybe some sandwiches in case we end up stranded at the back of the circuit away from catering outlets.

Clutter gone, space created, the bike looks 25% lighter for this one simple modification. Lovely.

Hard Grey Anodising (or recreating the appearance of it…)

I already confessed in another part of the blog that hanging around with Motocatman gave me the habit of wanting everything dark grey.

Always being within touching distance of the 80’s factory parts he carves his living from, meant I was exposed to hard grey anodising for hours on end. Crankcases, carbs, swingarms, fork legs – almost everything that’s bare metal from an RG500 (that’s the racer, not the roadbike) wears this finish.

It has a matt, toothy and sullen surface that just looks mean – it says nothing about show and everything about go. It’s anti-bling, it’s function over form and it’s also the perfect finish to counter-pose against brighter and shinier parts.

Even though I have made vast swathes of the Katana adopt this flat grey anodised look, not a single thing aside from the AP Lockheed variable ratio master cylinder actually have it as a finish.

AP Lockheed Master Cylinder - grey anodising barely shown.
AP Lockheed Master Cylinder – hard grey anodising barely shown.

The crankcases were made grey quite early into the project, with inspiration coming from the paint on an engine on the XJR1300 owner’s club stand at the Stafford show in October. The freshly painted engine sat twinkling it’s slightly metallic, flat, dark grey finish at me. I was drawn in immediately and asked the willing owner what the paint was. The answer, happily, for a bloke as frugal as I was £7.50 a tin Halfords VHT Metallic black. Wow.

Halfords Metallic Black VHT paint. Great finish, rubbish adhesion. Even after curing. Interestingly, not black at all. It’s grey.

Well, the good news of the price and availability of this lovely paint was eventually to be tempered by it’s lack of adhesion, even after curing.

I jumped at the chance to get the same finish on my engine, so once we’d cleaned and prepped the crankcases, they got treated with this – it covers well, dries quickly and looks bloody great. We gave the cases a light cure on the plates of an electric oven once painted – too hot to touch, so not a trivial amount of heat. So far so good.

What I hoped; it would cure into something petrol proof.

What I got; it didn’t. It really didn’t. At all. 🙁

What I had to do; get Steve Mann at MTS to cover the engine in satin lacquer.

Satin lacquer finally does the job curing couldn't do.
Satin lacquer finally does the job curing couldn’t do.

The result; it’s finally 100% petrol proof, but I’m £150 lighter for the pleasure. Once again, being a cheapskate in concert with a badly timed bout of wishful thinking has created me a problem. Testing it before it became a problem would have been a really sensible thing to do.


So, learn from my mistake – want the real way to get to a factory hard grey finish without anodising? Well, it’s a fluoropolymer coating called Xylan.

Xylan is amazing stuff, based around similar technology to PTFE non-stick coatings, starting life as an industrial coating used to prevent corrosion on offshore installations, it is now available in a wide variety of different colours suggesting it’s gone “mainstream”

It is akin to a very very thin powder coat, it’s very hard, it’s got a very flat finish and it’s smooth in a satin kind of way. It’s not cheap either, but as learnt from above, it’s not always cheap that ends up cheapest…

I plumped for Xylan on fork bottoms, both yokes, the swingarm and may potentially also use it on the rearsets, which are still in production as I write.

Xylan on the fork legs, unknown gold stuff on the Slabby anti-dive.

If I’d known about it, I’d have used it on the engine casings too.

Grey paint on the frame

We have a frame, we painted it grey. Oh. We matched the grey to the vinyl we used on the seat. Always thinking see. It also matches the engine pretty well.

Grey overload? Not a bit of it!
Grey overload? Not a bit of it!

All that glitters…

I like Gold stuff on motorcycles. Not excessive, just a bit. We’ve got a colour palate in mind on this build that is predominately monochromatic, and is also largely satin in finish.

That provides the perfect canvas for adding a bit of bling – and is there anything more bling than gold? I could try and explain this, but check out this picture. It says everything…It’s probably the one concession to modern materials and modern parts – let’s call this the “twist”

This picture encapsulates everything about the use of flat grey and shiny gold together. I love it; do you?
This picture encapsulates everything about the use of flat grey and shiny gold together. I love it; do you?

The seat

Steve Adams at Lucky7 is no stranger to creating decent trim. There are several years worth of Aston Martin production that carry the fruits of his upholstery skills, and he recovers seats for all kinds of motorcycle – usually highly doted specials.

I knew exactly what I wanted, thanks largely to the original photoshopped image. There’s a line on the Katana frame when viewed from the side which follows a line on the seat, I wanted to pick that out, and a little slice of grey does just that. The back of the seat then is covered in a textured black vinyl.

Katana seat meets Satruday night fever - the use of white isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea!
Katana seat meets Satruday night fever – the use of white isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea!


My paintjob was relatively simple – pearly white, a little gloss black, a little satin black and some Suzuki period flashes as stickers, made using the machine I use to make rebranding labels for V2 miniSponges! I also knocked up some OE replica Katana sidepanel stickers using gold and grey instead of the original white and dark red.


The aim with the paint on this build is to make the original Katana design look a little bit shorter and lighter, without actually making it any shorter, and only a bit lighter! What I’ve done is to push the bulk of the white up front, extending back only as far as the front section of the saddle. Then, the white stops. Visually aiming to make the bike look stubbier. After the front-loaded white, there is a fillet of grey. Then, it just turns black. The seat and tail section bodywork are both satin black and it “hides” the length of the Kat, which can look a bit long if the entire bike is painted the same colour (in my humble opinion).


I’m not going to go into much more detail, preferring instead to keep my powder dry for the big reveal some point later on. I hope you’ll agree the result is worth it!