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
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
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
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
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
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