Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Community Compass: Father of Katana shines in Taiwan

By Yen Hung-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

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The Suzuki Katana motorcycle, which has gained vintage bike status since its creation in the early 1980s, was the result of the dreams of a German industrial designer. Although production ended seven years ago, fans in countries including Taiwan are still eager to add one to their collection.

The bike made headlines in Taiwan when it played a major part in apprehending the robbers involved in the hijacking of a money transport vehicle from Cathay United Bank in Taipei in 1982.

The first thing one of the robbers, Yu Jung-chia (游榮佳), did after the hijacking was to take NT$600,000 out of the NT$14 million (US$424,400) loot to buy an 1,100cc Suzuki Katana. His inability to account for the source of the money became key to police cracking the case.

Taiwanese fans of the bike have organized a Katana Club, and a few days ago they made a surprising discovery: They found that John Geiger, a member of the original design team, is now a teacher at Dayeh University in Changhua County.

Geiger married a Taiwanese, Ke Chi-hui (柯啟慧), last year, and lives in Changhua. Geiger and his wife both teach in the industrial design department at Dayeh University.

When members of the club first requested a meeting, the couple thought they were dealing with a fraud ring, but as soon as the word “Katana” was mentioned, they agreed to meet the club members.

On Dec. 20 last year, 12 fans, including one from as far away as Keelung, roared up to the university on their Katanas.

Liao Wen-cheng (廖文成), who has been driving big motorcycles for 20 years and has four of them in his collection, said the Katana would forever be his motorcycle of choice.

“It’s as if I have seen God,” Liao said after his meeting with Geiger.

Geiger said the Katana had been a result of Suzuki’s wishes to make inroads into the European market.

To do so, Geiger said, the company contacted a team that specialized in design work for BMW and said they wanted a Japanese motorcycle that European bikers would find attractive. The result was the Katana, which maintained a clear Japanese style with its pointed body reminiscent of a Japanese samurai sword.

The first Katana, which also became popular in Japan, was produced in 1981, and production of the final model began in 1997. In response to demands from Katana lovers, however, Suzuki produced a final run of 1,100cc Katana motorcycles in 2000.

Geiger himself does not own a Katana, but at the sight of a row of them lined up he could not resist climbing on top of one while he answered questions and shared his experiences over the years in motorcycle and car design.

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