Hey! How’d you like to buy a true classic bike, in relatively unmolested condition, for under $5,000?
That’s getting more and more difficult to do, because most classics are either highly modified at this point, or expensive. Vintage Harley-Davidsons haven’t been cheap for a long time (and most older Harley-Davidsons, especially from the AMF era, are a mechanical nightmare). Classic Brit bikes (BSA, Norton, Triumph, etc.) might have beautiful looks and sweet handling, but prices are going up, and most of these tend to end up somewhat modified for practicality.
As for the sturdy Japanese machines that beat everyone else to the brink of extinction in the late 1960s and ’70s, many of them were just plain ridden into the ground. Others have been pressed into vintage racing duty, and now many are suffering horrible fates at the hands of misguided custom builders.
But not this 1970 Honda CB350! Located in Toronto, the seller says it is “pretty much all original, except the headlight, mufflers, and handle bars,” and he has the original handlebars too, if you want ’em.
So why buy a Honda CB350, when it’s not on the list of classic coveted fire-breathing four-cylinder rockets?
There are a few good reasons. First off, it’s fairly light for a classic bike (wet weight around 170 kg), and would be an unintimidating machine for a learning rider. Compare that to the 246 kg wet weight of a Kawasaki Z1 900 from the same time period, and the CB makes sense for someone who might still be a little wobbly at stops or in parking lots.
Power delivery is modest, but adequate, with claimed 36 hp. Again, that’s good for a beginner. That’s enough to keep up with traffic on most highways, although you may find the machine slightly anemic on 400-series roads. Plan your moves carefully, watch your mirrors, and you should be okay. Remember, these bikes spanked many a weedy Brit bike in their day, so they’re capable enough.
The air-cooled 325 cc parallel twin (single overhead cam, 180° crank) might not have the cachet of a Commando Combat engine, or even a SOHC CB750 four-cylinder, but it’s going to be easier to maintain than either of those motors. Compared to the 750 engine, there are only two sets of valves to adjust, only two carburetors to clean, only two exhaust headers to polish — keeping the 350 running should cost you less, and be less work. And it shouldn’t leak oil everywhere, like the Norton engine, or any other Brit engine.
If you do decide to hotrod this engine, your first step is to disregard all the cheap pod filters and other junk that most cafe racer enthusiasts espouse. Go digging in the vintage race scene instead; many CB350s were raced hard, and are even still doing track duty. Even if you don’t want to gain power, you could maybe figure out a disc brake swap for the front end (a ’73 front end should do the trick), but if it was our bike, we might not even do that. Better brakes are always a good modification, though, and you can keep the original parts on hand.
It may not be as exciting as other vintage bikes, but it’s still a mostly-original classic. Although the CB350 doesn’t have the glamour of a British bike, the swagger of a vintage Harley-Davidson or the power of a four-cylinder UJM, it was (and still is) more affordable, and perfectly suitable for general motorcycling duties. Ride to work? Check. Ride for a few hours in the countryside to take in the scenery? Check. And all at a reasonable price, then and now.
Because that’s the other thing: Vintage bike prices are climbing. Sure, the big-ticket sales of Broughs and Vincents are outside the reach of most average motorcyclists anyway, but with an ever-decreasing number of stock-condition Japanese bikes on the market, those machines are inevitably going to rise in price as well. Keep it as-is, and you likely won’t regret it. If you’re looking to build another Girl With The Dragon Tattoo cafe racer lookalike, then start with one that’s already been cut up.
Still, we could see how someone might balk at the $4k asking price. We’ve seen vintage Hondas on here go for less, in pretty good nick (this bike definitely has a bit of a patina). If that’s how you feel, there’s always the power of the cash offer. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get a deal.