1996 Suzuki GSX600F Katana from Norway
Practical sports tourer with all the performance you need on public roads
One ignition coil died after a spark plug cap cracked and sent sparks everywhere but to the spark plug.
One carb diaphragm split and needed replacement.
For whatever reason, cylinder #4 refused to come into synch with the other 3 cylinders, no matter how it was adjusted. As a result, idle speed was a little erratic, and revs took a bit long to go down.
While my bike was made in 1994, it was first registered in 1996. The differences between the two are negligible; the most important change for an owner to know about is that the 1996 model and later uses different spark plugs.
The bike had almost 46,000 kilometers (around 28,000 miles) on the dial at the time of purchase. Mechanically it seemed to be in good order, with the rear tyre showing off the most wear, with only about 1/3 left of its life.
I was also skeptical about the dramatic forward lean required to reach the low clip-ons, particularly since I've done most of my riding on “standard” bikes with much more upright riding positions. My skepticism was completely unfounded, though, because the bike was beyond comparison the least tiring bike I have ever ridden.
The seating position wasn't comfortable the moment I sat on it, though. My legs were severely folded in order to fit on top of the high placed pegs, and the reach to the bars was quite substantial (for the record, I'm 180 cm (5'11”) and 90 kg net (200 lbs) with short legs and a long torso). It wasn't as dramatic as a pure race replica, but it was a lot closer to that than a Gold Wing, to put it like that.
However, the seat was expansive and allowed quite a bit of fore and aft movement. In addition, it felt natural to move the feet around on the pegs, and also adjust the angle of the torso along with the weight placed on the hands. The result was that I, at least, never got stale or sore on the bike. I never suffered a sore bum or a stiff neck, or any other discomfort while riding on the bike; a first for me after riding for 25 years and having owned 18 bikes previously at the time of ownership. I still will not say it was a comfortable bike, it's just that I didn't feel any worse after 5 hours on the road than I did when jumping on board.
The most annoying part was the windscreen. It was too steep and cut at the wrong height. The end result was annoying turbulence that manifested itself as painful noise inside the helmet at speed. Trying to creep down behind the fairing only made it worse; sitting as upright as possible with only the fingertips on the handlebar grips made it tolerable. Standing upright on the pegs made for serene cruising for the ears, but wasn't very practical.
Another cause for minor irritation was the mirrors. They shook a little at all speeds, but not enough that it became difficult to see what's behind. Unfortunately, they were spaced so narrowly that only about 1/5 showed the road behind, the rest wasted on arms and torso, neither of which holds much interest in traffic situations.
The engine did indeed buzz. It was worst in the lower gears in the mid range between 5,000 and 8,000 RPM. In top gear, when cruising, the buzz wasn't too bad. But if I hustled the back roads, using 2nd and 3rd gear and playing wild with the throttle, my fingers quickly went numb. The tendency to grip the bars harder when charging probably accentuated this, but it's still unpleasant. When revs were kept above 8,000 RPM, the engine was glassy smooth. This is also where it felt happiest and made the most power.
Top gear acceleration was very good, especially when considering its size and state of tune. But unfortunately there were some jetting problems with the carburettors. It's running too rich just above idle, and burbled powerlessly below 3,000 RPM unless the throttles were opened up significantly. Then it became progressively leaner as the revs climbed, and anything above half-throttle makes the bike accelerate slower. There was also a drop in torque around 6,500-7,500 RPM. From then on, things began to become right, and it started to scream above 8,000 RPM, and carburetted perfectly from there all the way to the limiter cut in at 12,700 RPM (all RPM figures are readings off my tachometer, which probably is a bit optimistic, since the rev limiter should make its presence felt at an actual 12,000 RPM according to the manual).
So how on earth can I claim it had good top gear acceleration? Because if I held the throttle half-open, the Kat accelerated from 60 to 120 kph (about 40 to 80 mph) in 10-11 seconds in top gear. This is on par with magazine test results, despite me being heavier and larger than the typical test rider (I've added 10% to the speedometer readings while performing these tests to adjust for expected optimistic instruments).
It would also reach the rev limiter in 5th gear in approximately 600 meters from a standing start, which calculates to 210 kph (130 mph), again indicating a healthy engine. I haven't tried to see if it will accelerate further in 6th gear, because the straight wasn't long enough (in fact, both all-out and top gear acceleration nearly matched that of an acquaintance's Triumph Daytona 900 triple, as long as there were no hills to climb or strong winds to fight).
Getting to the carburettors and valves is some sort of a pain, with a lot of bolts and screws to undo. For instance, getting the valve cover and the carburettors off required the undoing of 70 screws.
Handling was good despite a bit soft suspension, although softness doesn't always equal comfort. The front fork was the worst offender, wasting more than 2/5 of its total travel sitting static with me in the normal riding position. The natural consequence is that it bottomed out well before maximum braking was achieved, increasing the risk of premature locking of the wheel.
The rear shock was also quite soft, despite sitting on maximum preload already. With a heavy passenger and some luggage, it didn't take much provocation to bottom, but it coped adequately with a passenger of average weight.
As it was delivered, the damping was set to the #3 out of 4 positions. The ride was comfortable, but slightly bouncy over big bumps. Upping the damping to maximum increased control with a slight deterioration in comfort; an acceptable compromise.
Steering was light and quick, at least for an old bloke like me used to standards from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was also precise, although if I moved my butt to the inside of a corner and let my torso follow in the same general direction, it's like it gained power steering and it became harder for me to place the wheels accurately.
Cornering clearance was abundant. Hitting the brakes mid corner didn't upset the bike, with only a trace of standing up felt. Also, letting off the brakes in a corner left the bike completely neutral. I could also let go of the handlebars at any speed, or even while cornering, without any disturbances.
The front brakes were full four finger jobbies. You really have to squeeze in order to lock the front wheel. But if you like a two-finger brake, look elsewhere. The rear brake was also perfectly controllable and powerful if used alone, but could lock a bit easily if the front was used close to maximum.
The gearbox shifted smoothly apart from the 1st to 2nd up-shift, which was noisy and would miss all together if shifted above 8k RPM. Drive train lash was well controlled, and the bike was easy to ride without jerky moves.
In conclusion I will say that this was a sensible all-rounder with the ability to go faster than any prudent man or woman ever should on the road. If you are left behind while riding this motorcycle on public roads, you are probably riding with a group that doesn't care about living long and well.
And if you want more power, the Bandit 1200 engine will fit in the frame.
Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 20th October, 2012
That was an extremely concise & accurate review, which was well written, covering most areas of concern!
I recently bought a '96 600F, which had sat for several years (11,000 original miles), and aside from a former owner losing many bolts, dumping it (scratched + broken fairing), and losing the keys, it started with new gas.
So far my only problem has been getting the carbs clean & functioning correctly.
It has been a great project bike, as well as one of the best street bikes - responding well and fast, even though it is a bit heavier than similar bikes.
So - despite its age and being neglected, I love the bike! I give it an 8 out of 10, agreeing with everything written in the review by the gentleman from Norway.