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Honda CB350 Test

Honda CB 350

Motorcycle sport 1973

Perhaps it is a reflection upon the motor­cycle scene in general but our road-test machines these days seem to be almost ex­clusively those we have tried before but with small, or not so small, improvements. Take the Honda CB350. It is so much like the CB250 we reviewed last October that before we tried it we wondered what on earth we were going to find to say about it. It shares identical dimensions, even to the weight (353 Ib). The frame, suspension and wheels are the same, the tank holds 2.6 gallons of petrol, just like the 250, the steering-head angle, compression ratio (9.5 to 1), electrics, engine weight (115.5 Ib), and gear ratios are all identical. Only the internal final-drive ratio, which is 2.250, for the 350 differs. And one other small point. The bore has been stretched from 56 to 64mm, leaving the same 50.6mm stroke. How easily is a 350 born! Well, almost a 350 for it is really a 325 in spite of the 350 emblazoned upon the side of the tank. Still, Honda are in good company here: Suzuki called their 315 a 350 and Nortons have now got in on the act with an 850 that isn't quite.

Hondas do not pretend that their 350 is a completely different package from the 250, so let's not be too pressing about the similarities. Which brings us to the next question. Is the British motorcyclist ready for the 350 class yet? In the United States, everything we read sug­gests that this is the "in" class, light enough for boys, powerful enough for men. (Or is it the other way around?) We don't see how the 350 class can ever become really popular over here again as long as the law limits learners to 250 for, not suprisingly, when a learner passes his test he is going to want to add a little more than 76 extra c.c. unless ... an enterprising manufacturer offers a cheap and easy way of turning a 250 into a 350 (or so). In the case of the Honda, all that would be involved would be exchange barrels and pistons and a gearbox sprocket. Cheap at twice the price.

People in the motorcycle trade, who should know, tend to agree that the 350 class is not the most buoyant in the market, for much the reasons that we have just given. Even so, this is no reason why a specific 350 c.c. motorcycle should not be rated highly, and this is just how we came to regard the CB350 Honda. Of course, as everyone knows there are two CB350 Hondas; one has two cylinders, the other four. Honda (GB) have'chosen to make their play for the market over here with the twin-cylinder 350, perhaps taking flotice of the American press's feeling that the Four does not do anything that the twin does not do better. We'll keep an open mind on it until we get the chance to try the Four.

Readers may recall that we have twice reported on the Honda CB250. The first time we found it performed well but was unnecessa rily noisy. A year later the makers had beaten the noise problem and produced an even better 250. If there can be a criticism of the current CB250 it is that, compared with others in its class, it is not quite as lively as it could be (although, to tell the truth, we liked the Honda's lack of frenzy and willingly sacrificed the odd few m.p.h. and second or so off the standing quarter). Perhaps it is cheating a little to com­pare the 350 with quarter-litre two-strokes, but the little 350 still feels like a 250 and offers that final "bite" that was lacking in the smaller Honda.

While making comparisons, it is interesting to note that other Japanese 350s (apart from the Kawasaki, which is very much more expensive) sell for within £1 or two of the Honda, which gives an idea of how tight the market is. We do not altogether understand why the CB350 Honda, at £366, should be £28 more than the 250, remembering that little bit of meat moved from the barrel to the piston. Having made a meal of the 350/250 situation, what of the CB350 as a motorcycle? In a word, it is outstanding. Its colour, dark green, almost black in some light, gives the machine a flying start, mind you.

As a Honda, of course, it comes, well endowed with those little luxuries that make life worthwhile, like an electric starter, flashing indicators, helmet lock, steering lock, centre and side stands and a typical Japanese horn (which means useless, in my book). Let's go back to the helmet lock for a moment. For one reason or another I have never needed to leave my helmet on the machine when I have had one of these devices at my disposal until, a couple of weeks ago, I was attending a football match. Putting aside any obvious remarks to the effect that I should have kept it on to protect me from the flying bottles, let me say that I decided to leave the helmets on the machine. My "Grand Prix" was all right as it had a "D" ring sewn into the main harness but my son's helmet had its only fastening points on the detachable part. I left it there and hoped but would have felt pretty foolish to return to find he had a securely held helmet clip and nothing else. Which is a com­plicated way of saying that helmet manufacturers really ought to play ball with people like Honda who have had the good sense to make life easier for helmet wearers. Some British manufacturers are showing some unwillingness to co-operate on this, which is a pity.

The more we have to do with Hondas the better we like them. I guess old fashioned preference for a four-stroke has something to do with it ... but they are so damned reliable! This 350 engine was, on paper, as complicated as all Honda engines are. Chain-driven overhead camshaft taken, as always from the centre of the crankshaft. Adjustment of the chain is by automatic tensioner. One releases a locknut on the tensioner, waits for the tensioner mechanism to automatically adjust on the chain, and then retightens the nut. The crankshaft has four bearings, three ro ler, one ball. The 100 watt generator is on the left hand end of the crankshaft and the 120 amp starter drives the engine through a starter clutch and chain incorporated in the generator housing. At the other end of the crankshaft-is the centri­fugal type oil filter. It could easily be removed for cleaning. The contact-breaker assembly is, as usual, up top on the lefthand side. Primary drive is by double spur gear. The clutch has no fewer than eight plates. In all, this is a picture of an engine built more like a watch. Certainly one designed for high revs for the machine was intended to be revved at 9,500 r.p.m. and would do so very willingly.

The cycle parts are robust, even the welding seems to be improving. The frame, of semi double-cradle type, incorporates what Honda call a half frame at the top, a box section run­ning its length. What a pity that someone as technically advanced as Honda cannot devote a little time to designing a genuine quickly detachable rear wheel. Even though it may be part of the scene to soil one's hands mending punctures, someone has to do the job and it would help to make the job easier for them.

Although one ought to be extolling the virtues of the extra performance of this machine it is the other end of the scale that earns this reporter's first accolade. I love an engine that ticks over and this one would plonk away right down to 400 r.p.m., a tick-lock tickover that was a joy to hear—or not hear, to be truthful— for both on the exhaust and mechanically the Honda was as civilized as they come. The electric starter gave the Honda an unfair advantage with its tickover for really one didn't care if it stopped or not, one just waited until the lights changed to green again, caressed the button and away it went. Very civilized. At the other end it was, perhaps, a few m.p.h. faster than its small brother, reaching 90 without effort. It was, if anything, a mite too willing to rev, showing some enthusiasm to encroach on the red sector even with top gear engaged. Perhaps an extra 76 c.c. does not sound much but the difference it made to the feel of the machine was quite remarkable.

It was not just that it was that much more lively, it was more flexible too, pulling from 2,000 r.p.m. or so in top, and not really needing a drop in the five-speed box to set the motor alight. The gearbox: now that's another story. Like anyth ng else there are good and bad ones in the same type and al hough we did not consider 1 as year's 250 box a world-beater it didn't give us any agonies. This one did. It was notchy, slow and had a fair degree of backlash in the gears, which created a disturb­ing phenomenon at low speed. It usually occurred if one was caught unexpectedly in second and attempted to pull away from almost a standstill. A series of whirrings and graunchings gave one the impression the machine didn't like it, and a hasty downward prod was needed. This occurrence is not exclusive to our machine and we have heard it on a number of Hondas from the 500 downwards. One last grumble about the gearbox. If one was un­fortunate enough to come to a halt in fourth or fifth (and it happens to the best of us!), it was impossible to return down the box without energetic rocking backward and forward. A blot on an otherwise clean copybook.

Handling: very Honda; slightly too soft at the rear; predictable without being outstanding. Perhaps that is not quite fair. What is out­standing? The Honda did everything we asked of it, only scraped things under the greatest provocation, and held its line at all speeds from 0 to 90. The comfort was helped a little by the soft suspension but, unusually for Honda, they had apparently neglected to put adequate foam in the dualseat and one occasionally felt the base plate through the seat. Either we are getting used to large handlebars or there is a . subtle move to reduce their overall width slightly, for these bars, although reasonably wide did not worry us unduly.

Night riding on the Honda was no hardship. A 35/35w headlight, good night flashing indicators (less so in the daylight), and an outstanding rear light made reasonable speeds a pleasure.^ Perhaps good brakes are more necessary at night than in the day and the two-lea'ding-shoes front and single-leading-shoe rear combined to offer; the rider the facility to stop very quickly indeed if the need arose, while giving a delicacy of touch that only good drum brakes can give.

The Honda is, of course, a vertical twin and so it is natural that one should expect to find a certain amount of vibration. It never began to show until the tachometer was reading 5,000 r.p.m. and then only very slightly. It was certainly never enough to make life unpleasant on medium—long journeys but over longer distances one would doubtless be affected by it. One aspect of the Honda that both surprised and delighted us was its fuel consumption. We did not have to restrain ourselves too much to return 70 m.p.g. and throughout the test we averaged 66 m.p.g. Really trying, it was possible to get it down into the 50s but we would imagine that anyone succeeding in dropping into the 40s had held the throttle against the stop for the length of the Ml. Seventy miles to the gallon used to be our norm for old-fashioned 350s and we had despaired of every recording that magic figure again.

Not too long ago Honda reduced the claimed power output of their CB250/350 range. The 350 now has a claimed 32 b.h.p. at 9,500 r.p.m. Perhaps motorcycle manufacturers are begin­ning to realize that sheer performance in a motorcycle isn't everything and there are other things, too, like flexibility, reliability, economy, and even character. The Honda CB350 has all of these in good measure and if, as we suspect, the 350 class in this country has a limted future we hope this will not deter Honda (GB) from bringing in machines such as the CB350. We think that, at £366 (less a bit at some places), it is a civilized, good-looking and lively contender for a share of the market. It would be nice if they could do something about the gearbox though.

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