319,712 Sold. 319,712 lives changed forever.
Looking back on the history of American motorcycles, there are few bikes that inspired more dreams of the open road or stole the hearts of motorcycle enthusiasts quite like the Honda CB350. Full of charisma, and charm; the CB350 was perfectly placed at a time things were just a little bit simpler, and having fun on a quality motorcycle didn’t cost a fortune. In fact, what made the CB350 so appealing was the promise of not only motorcycle thrills, but unbeatable, drive it till the chains fall off reliability that was as endearing as it was useful. Sure, it wasn’t the fastest thing on the market at the time, but no one really cared. This is the magic of the CB350.
We can’t wait to tell you all about this incredibly unique motorcycle that deserves a place in the halls of history as the great grandfather of the modern superbike. Sound like a stretch? Trust us, it’s not, and we think by the end of this article you’ll be on board:
- The Origin Story
- Twin Cylinder Evolution
- Where Is It Now?
The Origin Story
To really understand where the CB350 came from, you need to look back a bit on the family tree to see when the pieces really started to come together.
What we know as Honda (the largest Japanese motorcycle manufacturer) today, started off as nothing more than a rag-tag group of engineers, and enthusiasts who were building motorized bicycles after nearly losing everything following World War II. Originally starting with a staff of 12 in 1946 as the Honda Technical Research Laboratory, Soichiro Honda took surplus generator motors from the war, tore them down, and rebuilt them for usage on standard bicycles. Once those motors ran out, Honda started to build their own engines (the Type A or ‘Blat Blat’) and in 1949, Honda went big and liquidated all their holdings to start Honda Motor Co., Ltd. From that point on, the motoring world would never be the same.
Honda’s very first motorcycle, the D- Type, was also known as the “Dream” and it was exactly that for the engineers at Honda. Features that are expected, and familiar today like telescoping front forks, double-downtube/double-cradle frame, and a teardrop-shaped fuel tank were honed on the humble D-type. Power came from a rorty little 98CC single-cylinder, 2 stroke engine, and the frame itself was not a tube frame, but rather a pressed steel chassis that was easier to produce (fewer welds) and incredibly strong. The engine was also an integral part of the frame and was technically considered a stressed component.
Ultimately, the D - type was hampered by a less-than-loved clutch system, and conflict on the world stage but its successor the Type - E would really put Honda on the map because of one stand-out feature: It was the world’s first 4 stroke motorcycle engine. We take this type of technology for granted today, but back in the early 1950s, a 4 stroke engine was unheard of in the world of small engines. This compact 148CC engine proved both powerful, and smooth - a rare combination for minuscule motors.
By the mid - 1960’s - Honda was perfecting the 4 stroke design and moved from a single-cylinder design to a parallel (straight) twin design that would continue to up the ante on horsepower, and overall performance. The CB77 “Superhawk” was arguably the world’s first, true Sportbike, and it proved to be a core foundational element of the success of not only the CB350 but every other Honda sportbike to come after it. Produced from 1961 to 1967, the Superhawk offered a combination of rideability, performance, and dead nuts reliability that would cement the Japanese motorcycle as truly world-class.
Twin Cylinder Evolution
Essentially, the CB350 was an evolution of the Superhawk concept but it brought with it a host of improvements that would ultimately make it an unabashed sales success. It continued to use the stressed-member design of the engine but Honda also built a cradling frame around the engine for further stiffness. A larger front drum brake and shorter overall wheelbase would ensure that this was a bike that could not only go hard in a straight line but also be a joy on a back road. Scrambler editions (as shown above) offered off-road-focused kit like swept exhausts and larger tires. We’d argue that not only was the CB350 a superbike originator but Scrambler editions were also the granddaddies of modern dirtbikes as well.
Although Honda was taking the world by storm with its 4 cylinder motorcycle engines, the straight twin design found in the CB350 was not only incredibly durable but brought with it some pretty serious performance for a machine that was considered by in large, fairly inexpensive. How did it achieve this performance? High RPMs and low weight.
Fed by keihin carburetors, this tiny engine was aided by a revolutionary for the time, Overhead Cam Design (OHC) to make 33-36 horsepower at a screaming 9500 RPM. Power was routed through a 5-speed transmission with gearing that offered a blend of performance and fuel economy. Weight was scant 346 pounds. Combine all this together, and the CB350 screamed its way to a 14.3-second quarter mile, and on to over 100 MPH! In something that could be purchased by nearly any person for under $1,000.
The bike was an absolute hit with riders, with well over 300,000 sold in a matter of only 5 years. This winning combination really took hold in 1972 at the tail end of the oil crisis that effectively sidelined the muscle car era and put a hefty clamp on fuel-swilling monsters. CB350’s easily got 70 MPG if you kept the revs below 7000 and was unbelievably reliable to boot. For basic, fun transportation that fit into the lifestyle of a booming generation, the CB350 just made sense.
Where Is It Now?
Today, the Honda CB350 is considered one of the most approachable classics that money can buy and as a result, they’ve seen a huge resurgence in the world of vintage motorcycle racing. Remember that legendary reliability we’ve mentioned several times? Well, that simple, tough engineering and wide availability of parts make the CB350 incredibly attractive for a person looking to hit the track for not a lot of money. Since there were hundreds of thousands of these things in the United States at some point, finding one in decent condition really is not that challenging. Bonus: straight cylinder Honda’s can easily handle extra power!
One of the most popular uses for classic motorcycles and automobiles is to completely rebuild a classic with newer componentry. The goal for builders is to give classic, vintage looks with modern doses of performance that can often embarrass modern bikes. For the purposes of creating a restomod, the CB350 has proven to be a particularly great candidate due to its flexible configuration, and again, wide availability of components.
A New American Classic
For all-out impact on modern motorcycles, you can’t deny that the Honda CB350 is one heavy-hitter. It sparked a love of hitting the road in an entirely new way and provided an entire generation of young people a sense of unencumbered freedom that was once only a pipe dream. Simple, fast, durable, full of charisma and noise; the humble straight twin 4 stroker CB350 is a great way to hit the road; even in 2021.