So, the first major step for the Katana bits and bobs I’d scooped up from eBay was to turn the 32 year old bendy frame into something ready to attack one of the World’s most challenging racetracks.
With upwards of 130bhp expected from our motor, we’d imagine the OE hinge in the middle of the frame could cause us a bit of grief. So, that meant if we wanted to avoid 4 hours of tank-slapping trauma, we’d better go and get some serious frame bracing.
The frame was pretty rusty so before anybody did anything, I treated it to a clean up along with the similarly rusty tank. A&C Soda Blasting near Aylesbury were nearest to me, so my jaded bits and I made a visit.
I’ve never had anything soda blasted before but I’ve been keen to try it for ages. Carey Joslin, boss and master-blaster of A&C proved the perfect choice. Being an ex bike mechanic (which I didn’t know at the time) he identified it as a Katana from his first glance at the bare frame. I’ll be honest, I found that really comforting.
His second glance was at the lower left hand frame rail. I’d been warned about this. Water can get into the frame, runs to the lowest point (which is this very rail when the bike is on a sidestand) then rots it out from the inside. Carey deemed mine to be sound – Happy days! He also reckoned the surface rust on the frame would prove to be easy meat for the soda blasting process. He was right.
After a few days I was collecting a frame (and tank) that had none of the 32 year old “patina” left, just fresh, white metal. Nobody likes working on dirty stuff. It cost £90, but it proved to be well spent as the guys working on the frame downstream of this point flew through their work with ease, not to mention clean hands!
The minty-fresh frame then got shuffled across to Lucky7’s Steve Adams to handle the bracing. Although he doesn’t do the sparky bits behind the mask, he does commission them to a spec he knows and trusts, and imparts his own high standards onto the execution of the work. Steve takes up what happens to the frame himself separately at the bottom of this post.
Once braced, it was collected and admired before it went straight off for painting by Steve Mann at MTS Classics in Hanslope, between Northampton and Milton Keynes. Steve is one of those calm yet brilliant people that ooze knowledge and skill on all aspects of restoration. Using him for just paint is a bit like having Leonardo Da Vinci in to gloss the skirting boards, but up until now it’s all I’ve needed from him!
I chose a grey to match the seat cover I’m having made, finally also deciding to make it satin finish and not gloss. Shockingly, in a world where nothing ever seems to happen fast enough, just 2 days later it was done!
The frame looks divine, the satin grey finish is just right, I picked it because (even with the gorgeous bracing) the frame isn’t such a beautiful piece of architecture that it deserves a prominent role in the looks of the bike, I want it visible but hidden, if that makes sense.
The very biggest thing about the frame is simply this; it’s the first major part that is actually finished. This made me think about the way that made me feel.
You know that first warm day in spring? – When it’s obvious the days are getting longer and the air is soft on your skin? The first of many long-held hopes I harbour for this bike has actually been realised, and it’s cradled my mood exactly like the first thought of a warm summer does from the crisp aspect of winter’s end.
That’s just the feeling I’ve got from a finished frame, imagine what it’ll be like when it’s all done.
I. Cannot. Wait. Aren’t motorbikes fabulous?
Steve Adams of Lucky7 talks Katana frame bracing
If you’ve been around bikes for a while I’m not going to blow your mind by revealing that there was a period in Japanese motorcycle development when handling was not, how should I put it? – Top priority.
The late 70s and early 80s saw the big four locked into a fierce power battle that left the heads of the chassis departments twiddling their thumbs or playing golf.
There are some notorious bikes from that period that maybe do deserve the ʻwidow-makerʼ tag but the Katana really isnʼt one of them. It was always a pretty stable bike with a 19”cart wheel at the front and thanks to the long wheelbase and lazy steering head angle it didn’t have a lot of what the kids nowadays call “flickability”; More tourer than racer really. The chassis was capable-ish and the motor probably only chucked out at best 90 horses at the back wheel on a good day.
Fast-forward 30 years. Lets bin that huge front wheel, jack the back up, steepen the head angle, up the power output by at least 50% and throw some big sticky radials on there instead of cross-ply tyres (ask your Dad)….. anyone see a problem?
Now while this Katana is never going to be a feather-weight point and squirt tool there are some things we can do to help keep the rear wheel behind the front.
Paul has some regs he needs to adhere to so the mods open to him as far as the chassis goes require historical provenance. The weak areas in the GSX range of frames are well documented so we are following a tried and tested formula going all the way back to the Yoshimura racers of the early 80s. Basically corner bracing and some headstock beefing up.
I enlisted the help of Glyn Poole on this project of C&M Fabrications in Northampton. He’s a demon welder and fabricator, and by all accounts not a half bad hill climb racer.
Glyn started by chopping off all the brackets we don’t need. He uses a thin cutting disc to carefully remove the Lions share of the waste then grinds and linishes to a smooth finish, minimising the risk of hacking into parts of the frame we need intact.
The triangle of tubes that normally hold the pillion foot pegs, plus other unwanted bits like the side-stand tab and steering lock were also consigned to the scrap bin.
Next the new braces were made using my road going Katana as a guide; this had the same treatment a few years ago. All the corner braces were fabricated individually from sheet steel and the curved tubular brace near the back wheel was bent by hand. Glyn’s work is top-notch; the job was done on time for the price quoted and with no dramas.
So now we have a braced Katana frame, any weight reduction we gained by cleaving off parts is negated by the new and not insubstantial bracing but at least now that weight is doing something of benefit.