Lieback’s Lounge, April 2019
After seeing the places we visit, the bikes we ride, and the new gear that seems to arrive weekly, many consider us motojournalists a spoiled bunch.
Though I concur, what many don’t see is the behind-the-scenes stuff, such as the intense work ethic among a bunch of friendly competitors, the trips when more time is spent on planes and trains than riding the actual bike, and the endless bouts of jetlag.
Speaking of the latter two points, my latest trip brought me to Japan for seven days and included the equivalent of little over two full days of non-stop traveling on planes, buses, and taxis with tablecloth-style seat covers. I was there with a few other American journalists to ride the 2020 Suzuki Katana, a bike that initially didn’t impress.
My exact time riding the Suzuki Katana during my seven-day trip? Three 30-minute sessions. Yes, 1.5 hours. Roughly, I spent less than one percent of my week-long trip riding a motorcycle.
This initially sounds strange, but it was actually somewhat relieving. Why? I was downright beaten from jetlag and was thankful I wouldn’t have to jump on a bike and ride.
During a few recent trips to Europe, I landed and a few hours later found myself on an aggressive day-long ride, sometimes a two-day ride, before immediately returning to the airport and flying home.
I’ve mastered a few biohacking techniques to counteract jetlag when traveling to Europe, such as the adhering religiously to the following while flying—intermittent fasting of all food, minimum wine, double water intake, keeping the toxic light at minimum by wearing a hat or sleeping mask, taking supplements such as GABA and PQQ to supercharge my mitochondria, and getting a bit of exercise when arriving at the hotel. I also bring coconut charcoal with me to offset the change in diet. You can’t go to Europe without overeating. That’s one thing I can’t resist.
Whereas Europe is five or six hours ahead of my Eastern time zone, Japan is 13 ahead. The gap grows to 14 during daylight saving time, something the Japanese wisely choose not to incorporate into their society. Needless to say, my usual European jetlag hacks were no match for an additional working man’s day of hours.
Suzuki knew a few of us would be traveling quite the distance, especially my West Coast compatriots who were 16 hours ahead. Some, like Rider’s Greg Drevenstedt, arrived in Japan after the KTM 790 Adventure launch in Morocco; the poor dude was home for a total of 12 hours or something before getting back on a flight and heading over the Pacific to Japan.
Once off my 18-hour flying day, I traveled some serious distance by train, including a trip from Kyoto to Tokyo on the Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen (bullet train). This experience brings you about 280 miles in just 2 hours and 20 minutes, and past the famed Mt. Fuji. It was one cool experience, not only because it tops out at the industry-agreed upon sport bike speed limit of 186 mph (300 km/h), but because it was the cleanest and most timely train ever. Down to the exact minute. And that’s the way Japan trains run all day long, every day; the engineering in that country is beyond impressive.
The fresh experience makes one forget about jetlag. And many other new experiences helped drown jetlag thanks to Suzuki, such as a tour of the Suzuki Hamamatsu Factory—a 177,000-square-foot facility where all motorcycle assembly is completed on the GSX-R1000R, V-Strom 1000XT, the SV650, and the all-new Katana. The total time of assembly for one of these models? Between 80 and 110 minutes.
In total, 150,000 of these models are assembled yearly in the Hamamatsu Plant; the other 1.47 million are built outside of Japan. Besides assembly, additional operations for these models occur in the Hamamatsu Plant, including metal stamping, welding, engine assembly, painting, and final inspection before the bikes are shipped via ship to other countries.
Suzuki further enlightened the trip with a tour of the Suzuki Plaza—a three-story museum that displays the highlights in Suzuki history, from founder Michio Suzuki’s weaving machines for silk that date back to the company’s start in 1909 to its first motorcycle that featured a single-cylinder 90cc side-valve four-stroke engine, the Colleda CO, to the iconic 1985 Suzuki GSX-R750.
Tourism didn’t stop with Suzuki-specific highlights. The journalists also went on tours of a Katana swordsmith and the Nijō-Jō Castle in Kyoto, built in 17th century and once home for the Shōgun military dictatorship.
Before I got to ride the new Katana, I spent three days in Japan experiencing one of the most hospitable cultures I have ever witnessed. Still, I only had 1.5 hours of riding. It was in the 50s there, with a slight rain when I arrived at the test location—a closed down section of Arashiyama Takao Parkway in southeastern Kyoto.
At this point, jetlag had subsided, and I was ready to do nothing but rip. And that’s just what I did on a motorcycle I can honestly say didn’t initially impress me. Things changed. And quickly. Though my time was short, the 2020 Katana changed my idea of the modern non-European naked sportbike, one I initially despised due to futuristic styling and lack of comfort. But one short ride, like 75 miles short, changed my perspective. The 2020 Suzuki Katana achieves the perfect trifecta for naked Japanese sportbike superiority—comfort, high performance, and styling that doesn’t resemble a Transformer.
It was nice to evaluate a bike with a mind totally cleared from jetlag. I wish this would happen more often, but then I and the other motojournalists would seriously be spoiled. We need to have something to bitch about while traveling the world and testing new motorcycles, correct?