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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

MD Project: Honda CB350 Cafe Racer, Part II

So you know I’ve had a Jones for a cafe racer for a year now, as I told you in Part I of my saga. But unlike many of my previous Jonses, this one has some legs, and is actually taking shape.

I truly felt committed when I drove home from Charlie O’Hanlon’s vintage Honda restoration shop with a carload of parts, including a ’72 CL350 frame, front end, wheels and the tank off a 1969 CB350.

I decided to start with the frame, so I headed to my pal Al Lapp’s garage, where we (okay, he) proceeded to slice off all the brackets I didn’t think I needed and then weld up the frame. As I mentioned in Part I, the CB’s frame is much worse than it looks. It’s made mostly of stamped mild steel, spot-welded together in an unconvincing way. This means it’s a wonderful combination of heavy and rubbery, which was probably adequate when the bike was designed, but not so good with the better rubber and suspension I was going to run with the bike. But no problem—a few hours with Al’s welding set and incredibly cool plasma cutter (no, you don’t need a plasma cutter, but nobody needs a Hayabusa, their own atoll, or the complete works of Dizzy Gillespie, either) and I had a lighter and hopefully stiffer frame.

“Inspiration”: This slick CB350 build was actually completed by a high-school shop class in New York state and inspired Gabe to use the Glass From the Past tail section and Jemco exhaust.

After our “improvements,” I took the frame back to Charlie. Since we’re going to build the bike without its stock airbox, battery tray and side covers, he needed to work his welding magic to build not just a battery tray, but also mounts for the fiberglass tail section I ordered from Glass From the Past. Run by a CB160 racer from the Pacific Northwest, GFTP has a large selection of fairings, fenders and other fiberglass parts. The $210 tail section looked nice and even came with upholstery, complete with cool tonneau-cover-like snaps. A few coats of glossy Krylon on the frame (which Charlie said we “have to talk about”) and we’re done.

Next to tackle is suspension. For the rear, I had no problem knowing what to do. If you have a dirt or street bike with twin-shock rear suspension (or any kind of suspension, really), the pros at Works Performance probably have an application. My vintage FT500 Ascot roadracer, while as unreliable and ugly as a meth-addicted warthog, was perfectly suspended with its custom-made Works shocks. Works will custom-make its shocks for you, allowing you to chose the body material, spring rate, adjustability, reservoirs and other features. The shocks are fully rebuildable and offer excellent value, starting at around $400. I got a set of the Billet Trackers ($565). Made from billet aluminum, they offer less unsprung weight than the steel-bodied Street Trackers. For the front end, Charlie dug up the fork and triple clamps from a CB400Ffor a slightly more modern design and the psychological edge I’d get from the 400’s front disc brake. The fork will go to Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuningin San Carlos, California. A fixture at West Coast racertrack events, CRST has been my choice for suspension tuning for some years. The top triple clamp would get some professional stripping and polishing for a real period look.

“Sun Rims” :Manufactured by Buchanan's since 1987, Sun rims are available in many popular sizes and can be gold or black anodized.

My last chassis-related dilemma was the wheels. I originally wanted to just use the stock wheels for a while, but when Charlie handed me the pair, I couldn’t believe how heavy they were. To put such leaden monstrosities on my feathery CB would be like making Florence Joyner run in a pair of wooden clogs. Buchanan’s Spoke and Rim in Azusa, California was my first thought, as the 53-year-old company not only builds a huge amount of custom wheels, but also manufactures spokes and aluminum rims (under the Sun brand) as well. However, the company is busy and did not respond to requests to participate in my project, so I sidled up to the parts counter at Raber’s Parts Mart in San Jose, California. There, Rich helped me choose wheel sizes so I’d have optimum tire choice and told me I’d have a finished set of wheels in less than a month. I left him my polished front and rear hubs and headed home to make sure I still had enough money in my budget for tires…

Next: Engine, electrics and exhaust.


  1. Youth says:

    CB350 had some variations: CL350 scrambler. CB360 with 6 speed transmission. And CB350F four cylinder before CB400F came out. There are many interesting bikes out there from Big 4 from those era up to ’80s. You can’t go wrong with any CB/GS/KZ/XS bikes.

    Oh a person with a 305 Superhawk.. Funny thing is Honda tilted the engine on that bike… Somehow that style was gone until ’86 when Yamaha came out with the Genesis concept on FZ750.

    Now all inline 4 supersports use this design.

  2. burt says:

    (Nobody would bow to anything of mine.)

    But your allegations about the amps was so intriguing
    that I had to google about. And you are absolutely correct.
    But at least one person believes that with another five
    years or so, tubes will finally be inferior.

    Far out! 🙂

    • jimbo says:

      I’m age 57 and been in high end audio/music for about 45 years. There are physical/mechanical differences in the way a tube (“glass”) functions vs. silicone (“sand”). The former makes voltage/less current, the latter makes current/less voltage. Classic electric guitar distortion arises from interaction between the tubes, the output transformer, and the speaker. I heard the best most costly ss distortion pedals at NAMM 2011. They are getting closer, but still, even with all the computing and modeling power available…I estimate the best ss distortion devices are still about 30-40% below tubes. Plus tube technology is so low priced now, it’s difficult to justify ss considering the downgraded performance for this particular application only.

      Accurately predicting the tube’s demise for electric guitar distortion is impossible. When blind tests make it impossible to discern a difference, then it’s a done deed (not the case now). Till then, it’s all hot air. My 2c.

  3. jimbo says:

    I don’t know Honda’s OEM “stamped mild steel” from the Reynolds 853 said to be the best steel available for mountain bike frames such as mine. Beyond cutting unneeded brackets and improving Honda’s inferior OEM welds, how if at all was the “stamped mild steel” changed/improved/modified?

  4. Mickey says:

    Cafe’ racers are SO much cooler than bobbers.

    Most motorcycles are not worn out, they are neglected to death.

    Good to see them being brought back to life.

  5. Paul says:

    What sizes did you choose for front and rear rims? Love to know so the unwashed and unconnected can also maximize tire choices…

  6. trent says:

    Gabe, typo: psychological. Also, can you publish a parts and cost list when you’re done? Waiting for the next installment.

  7. MGNorge says:

    I think the CB350 makes a fine basis for a project like this. Back in the early 70’s I rode mine everywhere and fit me like a glove. I don’t recall the chasis being “flexi-flyer but that may be because every other bike was like that too. With a lightened and stiffened frame plus lighter overall this bike should be a hoot! Can’t wait!

    • bikerrandy says:

      350 Hondas were not flexi-flyers like the R5 350 Yamahas were. I road raced both back in the day. My RD350 was the first bike I owned that felt like it was on rails.

  8. Steve says:

    I love the Cafe Racer trend… There are a bunch of Cafe/Vintage shops in Philly near where I live. The 1st bike I wanted was an early 70’s 350 Honda. A friend rode a CL350 (Scrambler) & had straight side pipes. He would wheelie that thing down the street in front of my house. I’m guessing it had around 35hp though I’m not sure. Light weight too.
    I like these type of articles…. I was going to buy a 1970 Triumph Street Tracker from a friend of a friend but decided against it mainly because it’s a Triumph. Don’t get me wrong, I love old Brit bikes too but the Honda is much more bullet proof. I’m looking forward to seeing how Gabe’s bike comes out & then maybe I’ll consider doing the same but build a Honda 350 or 450 Street Tracker. I’m not a fan of clip-ons…I prefer wide, dirt bike handlebars….
    & thanks for not building a “chopper” Gabe!

  9. Pat says:

    Damn it man, that looks like fun!

  10. Burt says:

    I owned two of these back near their birth dates.
    To prove it, I call your attention to the seeping
    head gaskets within 20K miles.
    And I’ve also owned a 30 year newer (just to
    maintain some perspective) Ninja 250. My
    350 never seemed too exuberant above an honest
    80 to 85 mph and lean angles were modest
    at higher speeds before hunting & pogo-ing began.
    At lower speeds, yes, we had tire sliding and peg-scraping,
    something achievable with many light bikes.
    In contrast, my Ninja 250, LONG before I retired it
    at 80K miles, probably did an honest 90+, (indicated
    105), and lean angles at higher (60+) were stable
    enough to chase and pass big-bore bikes. To even
    suggest that 30 years of Japanese engineering effort
    would not make substantial gains is simply foolish.
    But I do applaud people making the effort on older
    bikes, not throwing them away.

    • jimbo says:

      Most readers would bow to your apparent authority on the subject bikes. I’ve ridden a CL350 and the CB350’s predecessor, a super-low mileage 305cc Super Hawk only about one year old. I especially admired the Super Hawk for its smoothness and refinement, especially compared to the leaking British “heaps” of that era (indescribable vibration).

      After staring at the image of the project, I’d similarly predict most readers would agree to an obvious and huge difference in aesthetics between a late model Ninja 250 and the project bike. The former is a fun, efficient appliance, the latter conjures almost endless emotion and reverie of past peak riding moments and experience.

      I’m in the music industry. About a year ago my brother in law purchased a new Fender Blues Jr., $500 street price, considered a premium new amp value. I recently heard a ’62 Sears Danelectro amp, OEM except for tubes, a replacement speaker, and two little capacitor upgrades. The Sears used value is $250-$300 on Ebay. In musical value the Sears amp blows the Fender away so bad it’s not even funny. Esthetically, the Sears amp distances itself above the Fender even more than in musical merit, not even on the same planet. Plus the Sears amp is smaller and lighter.

  11. mark says:

    What a great looking bike! I bet its going to be a blast to ride. MANY years ago I had a Yamaha RD 350. That bike was a lot of fun – your project reminds me a bit of my old RD.

    And the picture of the guy doing the welding – what a cool photo. It could pass as abstract art.

  12. Ron says:

    Really really nice. There you see the spirit of motorcycling. Form follows function. I wish they’d actually make bikes like that.

    Looking forward to seeing the project bike.

  13. Gary says:

    I am sitting here rubbing my temples and bemoaning the fact you didn’t choose a modern Bonneville for this project. Oh well … nice looking dinosaur!

    • jimbo says:

      My notes from the first installment: OEM CB350 “346 lbs claimed dry”, and Gabe estimated the project could “loose 50-80 lbs”. 346 – 65 lbs (estimated) = 281 lbs + 30 lbs fuel estimate = 311 lbs estimate.

      Triumph lists the Bonne’s “wet weight 495 lbs”. One does not know if “wet” includes “full tank”, lingo Yamaha employs, which is crystal clear.

      One might presume even a modded modern Bonne will come in about 475 lbs, or about 53% heavier than Gabe’s modded 350, an absolutely huge weight penalty IMHO. The Honda will be unique. Anyone can buy a new Thruxton Triumph today, the factory cafe version of the Bonne. No new Honda 350s out there! Heck, even a new Kawi Ninja 250 twin weighs 375 lbs curb weight.

      I absolutely love the 350 and the project.

  14. Wilson R says:

    It looks great! I’ll be a lot of riders will be wanting to build their own cafe racer after seeing how clean they can be. Good choice of wheels and seat pan.

  15. Brinskee says:

    Let’s see some shots along the way, Gabe! Any info on the kind of budget you’re working with? Sounds fantastic, I’ll have to meet up with you guys on one of your sunday morning rides when it’s done to check it out!