Honda CB350 The Story
candy bacchus oliveWhere the name came from I have no idea; candy, olives and whatever a bacchus is-crazy! But that's the dark metalic green used on Honda's baby four. The name is a good metaphor for the bike, I mean you can tell it's a colour and it's probably green but exactly what shade is it? The little four provokes the same kind of head scatching. It was a 350, a four and a Honda, but where was it supposed to fit into middleweight biking?
When the bike arrived on the scene its market segment was already well covered by other Honda models and their rivals so where the big H was aiming the bike isn't immediately clear, was it an exercise in doing it simply because it could be done? Besides one or two extra cylinders what could it offer over the competition? If you had to have a new Honda four it was the cheapest game in town or if you didn't feel you could handle its bigger brothers this was the ticket but if performance was your priority you looked elsewhere. Sales never came near to those of its 350 twin cousin. In any market, the problem was price, dollar-wise it was too far from the twin and too close to the 500 four.
Without doubt the heart of the bike was its miniature four; free spinning, turbine smooth with don't-even-think-about-it Honda reliability. Every feature of the engine spelled thoughtful, careful design and attention to detail. The only negative was the power or rather the lack of it, 34 hp (claimed) and 374 lbs (dry) was no recipe for sparkling performance but having said that the power delivery was linear and the superb smoothness was a delight.
The rounded styling of the tank and side covers was also applied to the visible engine elements; the tappet cover, clutch housing and even the bulge in the counter shaft sprocket cover for the starter motor had the same smooth curves. And with typical Honda care the powerplant was proportioned to match the rest of the bike. There were nice touches everywhere; the clutch cable support bracket cast integrally with the clutch cover (classy), the pull out tool tray, the water shield on the disk, the guard on the rear sprocket to keep the chain on. The bike projected attention to detail and quality finish all over and I can't remember any obvious shortcuts taken to keep the price down except for the tyres which felt like they were made from the same nylon used for fishing lines, they had about as much grip. The only time I dropped the bike was when the front tyre tucked under whilst I was braking on a wet street, it happened so fast I never knew what happened.
I wasn't hurt just totally taken by surprise. On the ride back home it felt like the handlebars were disconnected from the forks and I knew something was broken at the front end. The impact had cracked the top triple clamp where the right fork leg was fixed. Inspecting the damage later on I could imagine the tubby little four wacking the tarmac and all its weight and kinetic energy overwhelming the cast aluminium. And of course that paint, an amazing colour, applied a mile thick and always a different hue depending on where the sun was or where you were. All finished off by four simple mufflers, unhampered by bolt on covers like the 750 or the fussy trumpet shape of the 500. It was described as dumpy looking, and there is some truth in that but I always thought it was handsome in a subtle, dignified way (had to be green though).
Perhaps the 350 Four is one of those bikes that should be appreciated not only for what it was but also for what it wasn't. It wasn't fast but it accelerated smoothly and was reasonably hasty towards the redline. It wasn't light but it was comfortable, felt solid and was beatifully made. And it had no need to show off with outrageous paint or swoopy styling, you just had to take a look at that engine to know it was special!