(first posted 5/14/2014) Although few motorcycle enthusiasts consider it to be exotic or uncommon in its sophistication, the Honda CB350 of 1968-73 was an surprise hit when new and continues to be loved four decades later. It was a top seller while in production and remains highly popular as a classic bike today, appearing in starring roles in major motion pictures then and now, all without receiving its due publicity. A chance sighting of this restored example in downtown Philadelphia jogged my memory of this model, which I have from time to time considered buying.
A very thorough article by Lee Wilcox about the entire CB350 family of street and off-road models appeared on this website in September 2012, so only a few significant details are necessary here. The CB350 was a straightforward small displacement (by U.S. standards) motorcycle using proven late 1960s Honda engineering, with a 325cc single overhead cam parallel twin engine with twin carburetors, a five-speed transmission, twin shock rear suspension, and drum brakes (with a front disc added in 1973). Performance was quite adequate, with the small parallel twin producing 36 horsepower at 10,500 rpm (!) and a 110 mph claimed top speed.
The CB350 family included the off-road oriented SL350 with upswept exhausts, off-road tires and high fenders.
Another variant was the CL350 scrambler with high-mounted exhausts, halfway between the street CB350 and the off-road SL350.
The CB350 was highly popular throughout its production run. Over 250,000 were sold from 1968 to 1973. It was the best selling motorcycle in the world when introduced in 1968, and it reached its sales peak of 67,180 in 1972. It sold well even though Honda’s four-cylinder revolution began soon after its introduction, with the 750cc CB750 debuting in 1969 and the 350cc CB350F in 1972.
Produced in large numbers, not a coveted and high-priced collectible like contemporary four-cylinder Hondas, and possessing adequate performance, the CB350 still makes an ideal basis for a custom café racer over forty years after the last one rolled off the assembly line, and it has become a popular choice for that role in the U.S. and other countries. The example above is the creation of a Parisian, based on a CB350K4 that he purchased for only 500 euros ($650). It is only one of many CB350-based customs on the website www.bikeexif.com.
The ubiquity and “everyman” quality of the CB350 have brought it prominent movie roles as the ride of outsider characters of modest means. Its first starring role was in the 1980 high school drama My Bodyguard, as a centerpiece and symbol of the life of the school outcast, played by Adam Baldwin. His troubled character has a cherished but broken-down motorcycle that he is rebuilding, and searching junkyards for parts becomes an important bonding experience in the friendship between him and the new kid in school, whom he had saved from a beating by the school’s bullies. The CB350, a common cheap used bike in 1980, was a perfect choice for the role.
Far more recently, in 2011, the CB350 again starred on the silver screen as the motorcycle of main character Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This time, the bike was a custom café racer that fits perfectly into the current wave of CB350 customs. Far more about the motorcycles used in the movie and their build process is presented here.
Despite the ongoing popularity of the CB350, Lee Wilcox’s article published here is the only substantial piece about the CB350 that I have found anywhere. The four-cylinder CB750 and CB400F that dominated the headlines during the early 1970s continue to do so today, with articles about each appearing in classic motorcycle publications in the U.K. and U.S. on a regular basis since the 1990s. The CB350’s modesty, in the other hand, has kept it relatively inexpensive, so a restored machine like the one in the first photograph remains a practical choice as an everyday ride that can be parked on the street, and a rough or basket case example is an affordable starting point for a café racer project. Having considered a CB350 in either flavor on and off for years, I hope that they remain that way for years to come.