The Honda CB350 Four was introduced to the American market in 1972 to 1974 which is not real long in the motorcycle world. Honda's motorcycle was known for a unique combination of a world's first engine – and actually being fairly slow by 1970s standards. Still, the CB350 Four can teach us about the use of new technology and how borrowing from other bikes doesn't always end in the right combination.
Development and History
The CB350 Four's history comes from it's Honda predecessor – the CB750 which was Honda's first “superbike.” The CB750 featured a 4-cylinder engine – an upgrade from side valve engines and overhead valves, and a tight front disc brake, as well as an electric starter.. Bikes existed with all of the amenities, just not often together, and they weren't affordable until the CB750.
The Four came about because Honda felt the need to combine all of the above in a smaller bike. Americans wanted big, fast bikes and small, cheap bikes. They also wanted better than the basics including a smooth ride and proper safety.
The best part of the CB350F was its affordability. For a smooth bike, it wasn't expensive. Drivers claimed they could ride at freeway speeds all day with no problem.
Within the previous claim that drivers could motor along on the CB350 Four all day at highway speed with no problem comes an issue with the bike: While a technological marvel sporting the smallest 4-cylinder engine commercially available, the bike wasn't very fast. The bike had a rather high 10,000 RPM redline, but with all the amenities, it weighed almost 400 pounds. The result was a bike meant more for comfort than high end speed. With decent gas mileage, the 4-cylinder engine proved popular for commuters who would willingly save gas getting up to speed and then cruise for miles.
The engine was a bit too small for the bike, or at least for some tastes. With tiny pistols and four carburetors, the bike also needed more maintenance than a bike with a smaller engine. Still, it was otherwise very easy to use and felt safe with the accompanying front disc brakes.
The CB350 Four was comfortable. The suspension was a front fork telescopic and the dual shock absorbers were adjustable. It felt pretty smooth on the road at high speed. The five speed transmission had become more common and helped save on gas.
The exhaust was fairly unique in that the four header pipes pushed into four eye catching cone shaped mufflers. Unfortunately, Honda had its eye on weight issues and wanted the muffler to weigh as little as possible. The relatively thin sheet metal was known for rusting and falling off eventually.
With a strong front disc brake, stopping wasn't a problem on the CB350 Four. It had exceedingly powerful brakes compared to its own ability to speed up.
Impact on Motorcycle Culture
The CB350 wasn't around for all that long and is largely forgotten. The reason seems to be that motorcycle buyers and enthusiasts were excited about four cylinder engines, but preferred a higher end combination of performance. The weight of the bike didn't help much. It was more respected by long range riders who loved the small, smooth engine and the comfortable seat.
Honda would replace the CB350 soon after it began selling. By comparison, Honda would make a lighter version of the same bike in the 326cc CB350K, which was about ¾ of the price with two cylinders that were cheaper to maintain and run. It also tipped the scales at 1/3 of the weight, making it faster and to some, more fun to ride. The CB350 itself sold fairly well, with just over 300,000 hitting the roads in a few years. The more powerful CB400F sold less at about 70,000 units.
Today, the CB350 is more of a way to get into classic bikes because there are many available for a cheap price – they aren't very risky!
Whether or not the CB350 was successful is a whole different story. While it wasn't on the roads long, it was the first “mini” bike that included a 4-cylinder engine, and people who rode it for reasons besides racing generally loved it.