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  • January 24, 2012
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • Bob Stokstad

MD Project: CB350 Cafe Racer, Part IV

Leave it stock, says Charlie, but that doesn't mean there aren't performance benefits to be had from running a carefully assembled and well-tuned stock motor.

Howdy! Remember me? It’s been about six months since the last update on my CB350 Cafe-Racer project, but a lot has happened since then. There’s a new baby in the house, which slowed things a little (more), but I am pleased to announce that in addition to having a complex, messy project that consumes all my money, spare time and sanity, I also have a new motorcycle in the garage, my completed 1970 (ish) Honda CB350 cafe racer.

So where are the lavish, porn-quality photos of my new ride that I’ve been teasing you about for the last two years? Patience, my friends. We have unfinished business to discuss, so  before you set your comment-phasers on “kill,” to pick apart the aesthetic choices I’ve made,  you’ll have to endure a few more installments where I talk about the motor, suspension, brakes, electronics, final assembly, and then, at last, some riding impressions.

There's no sign for Charlie's place, just this old Dream frame hanging over the roll-up door.

The raison d’etre for cafe racer modifications is to make a motorcycle go, stop and turn better, and we’re all most impressed by the ‘go’ part. At the start of the project, I contacted vintage Honda racer Buff Harsh, with the idea that building a fire-snorting race motor wouldn’t be that much more complex than a milder street motor. Not true, it turns out. People claim to have the ‘formula’ for the fastest motor, but it’s never that easy. Not only are the development, blueprinting and hunting down of rare high-performance parts expensive and time consuming, but the end result (though fun) will be difficult to start, ride and maintain—as well as have a shorter lifespan. Charlie O’Hanlon, vintage Honda guru and my guiding hand for this project, advised me to go with a mild state of tune—first-oversize (but stock compression) pistons, a mildly hotter grind on the camshafts, and stock carbs. My favorite machine shop, Moto Machine in San Francisco, did the cylinder bore and freshened up the cyclinder head while Charlie sent the engine covers out for polishing.

Charlie's careful work is evident when you pull the seat off and look at his electrical work. He's proud that he uses the same colors and basic wiring layout as OEM.

This block-off plug saves weight, looks great.

Charlie’s shop is deep in the heart of San Francisco, where there is nowhere to hide from dissatisfied customers. So he focuses on reliability and rideability—after all, you want to ride and enjoy your old bike, not just look at it or show off a framed dyno chart. He convinced me a peaky motor with cantankerous flat-slide racing carbs (which are only happiest WFO) wouldn’t be much fun to ride.

The ’60s were fun, but motorcycle electrical systems from that time weren’t. That’s why Charlie was going to simplify and completely rebuild the CB’s electrical system. A rebuilt stator sends juice to a slick little regulator/rectifier Charlie has vintage parts specialist Vintage Repo manufacture for him. From there, electrons go to a featherweight lithium-iron battery from Shorai. Designed for a small scooter, the battery I selected weighs far less than a pound, a savings of 5 pounds over the big lead-acid unit the stock CB350 uses. In addition to being light, the Shorai holds a charge for up to a year, is zero-maintenance, doesn’t sulfate or produce dangerous gasses and can’t be disposed of in the regular trash. Shorai sells replacement batteries for just about any motorcycle you can think of, at prices roughly equal to what OEMs charge for replacement lead-acid batteries (but significantly more than aftermarket lead-acid batteries).

My little Shorai battery is too small to power an electric starter, but no matter—my leg works fine and the CB has a kickstarter, which combined with an off switch for the headlight, shows how much confidence even Honda’s engineers had in the barely-adequate charging system. A machined starter motor block-off plate covered up the hole where the starter used to live—another few pounds saved.

Dyna coils and ignition send electricity to the points, which will join other 20th-Century relics on the ash-heap of history as soon as they are replaced by the electronic ignition Charlie will be stocking (when he completes a little more development work).

Looks like any old front end, but it hides upgraded springs and Racetech Gold Valve Emulators for a modern ride.

Re-reading my story from July, I noticed a cryptic reference to Superplush Suspension, who rebuilt the fork assembly. Owner James Siddall has been tuning suspension for high-level pavement and off-road racers like Martin Cardenas, Jake Johnson and Dakar rider Jonah Street. He’s done some vintage stuff, and he recommended I call up Racetech and get hold of a set of Gold Valve Cartridge Emulators. These clever little devices sit on tip of your damping rods and actually get the fork to work like a cartridge unit, offering a way to get modern performance—and a much smoother ride—out of old (or just cheap) damping-rod forks. Racetech doesn’t have the emulators for the skinny CB350 fork, yet another reason (aside from the disc front brake) to upgrade to a CB400F front end.

Finally, 23 months after my project started, Charlie emailed—the motor was done, time to bring in all the parts for final assembly…

Next: Final Assembly


  1. Joe H. says:


    Incredible job of combining essential Honda history with sterling journalistic style. Not many folks know that ’60s is not 60’s.

    Born in ’51, my initial introduction to Mr. Honda’s alloy marvels was in 1962 or 1963. I didn’t know the model at the time; I will never forget when I heard my first CL72, with open exhaust, staccatoing (Is that a word? it is now.) down the street in front of me.

    I worked in a Honda dealership from ’72 to ’83. We had cards of Suff-or-Nots on the parts counter. I installed many and replaced a bunch that endured one too many exhaust strokes.

    I think it’s perfectly ‘legal’ (and I think Soichiro would posthumously agree with me) to install these parts in an otherwise museum-quality resto.

    They are as much culture as part.

  2. Reinhart says:

    Looks cool, Gabe. My first bike in 1975 was a CB350 Scrambler and it was fun, fun, fun! It took me everywhere and taught me how to ride. I think that it makes a great cafe platform and it will be nice to see the completed pics of yours when you’re done.

  3. tla says:

    yea, loved my cl350, too. shorty pipes and k&n filters with k70 rubber….took it everywhere, reliable and fun. my versys fills that modern day need now.

    • CB77 says:


      Good to hear about your CL350,with the mods you did to it. All this talk about this era has me thinking about Snuff-or-Nots. Are you familiar with them? Here is an article I recently came across about them:

      “Say it’s the summer of 1964 and you’re 17 years old, living in a California suburb, and you’ve saved enough money from your job working at the local Mobilgas station to buy a Honda 305 Scrambler—the CL77 that every moto-minded teenager in America seemed to want and a whole lot got. Once you had the thing, you bought and installed the most vital components any self-respecting CL rider could buy: Snuff-or-Nots.

      For the historically minded, the important questions regarding Snuff-or-Nots are: What were they, who invented them, where and when?

      For the practically minded who remember them fondly, the only important question is: Can I still get some that will fit my restored Honda Scrambler?

      And for the obsessive restorer who wasn’t around then, the question is: Why would I install Snuff-or-Nots instead of keeping the pipes and muffler stock?
      First things first: Allan N. Lader of Gresham, Oregon, applied for the patent on Snuff-or-Nots on November 5, 1964, and got the patent on October 10, 1967. A computer programmer back when computers understood Fortran and took up entire climate-controlled rooms, Lader was also a keen on-and-off-road rider who disliked having to put in and take out exhaust baffles—or what he calls “snuffers”—on his four-stroke dual-purpose bikes for different riding environments.

      The fix, Lader thought, would be what amounted to a flat washer that could be pivoted inside the exhaust pipe to silence the exhaust or turned edge-on to allow it to flow freely, depending on whether the bike was on- or off-road. Doing most of the test riding on his Ducati 250 Single, he invested two years and some $8000 of his own money (more than $57,000 today) to create, develop and test it before even trying to manufacture what became the Snuff-or-Not.

      Being market-savvy and about a decade older than the first wave of the Baby Boomers, he read the tea leaves correctly when Honda’s ohc twin-cylinder Scramblers started selling in serious numbers. Lader sold more than 100,000 Snuff-or-Nots in the first year of manufacturing at $1.95 each (retail—and Twins, of course, needed two), through Pacifico, the company he co-owned with his brother, Randy.

      Because of the significance of Allan Lader’s Snuff-or-Nots, when my buddy, Paul Adams, called me from John Proto’s shop—Performance Cycle, in Diamond Springs, California, in the Northern California Sierra Nevada foothills—to say that John’s son, Matt, had unearthed a New-Old-Stock (NOS) Snuff-Or-Not from Proto’s parts bin, I wasted no time in getting up there to look at it.

      You can still find NOS Snuff-or-Nots on eBay, but they’ll cost a lot more than $1.95 each these days, and they’re getting rarer. So, the answer to the second question is: Yep, you can still find them.

      But the third question, about whether a restorer ought to depart from showroom-stock in bringing a now nearly half-century-old Honda Scrambler back to life is not easily answered. There were shops back in the day that wouldn’t even work on a bike with Snuff-or-Nots. Joe Bolger, legendary AMA Hall-of-Fame scrambles and MX racer, inventor and former Honda shop owner, reminded me of this when I asked him if he’d ever installed any. On the other hand, Carl Cranke, another AMA Hall-of-Fame member and my high-school classmate (Bella Vista, in Fair Oaks, California, ’66), told me that when he worked at and raced for a Honda shop, he installed what seemed like thousands of them. Carl had a fast Super Hawk with factory-look megaphones, but it seemed like every other bike we ran across in those days was a Honda Scrambler with Snuff-or-Nots, often left in the “open” position so we could all savor Mr. Honda’s contributions to the sounds of the Sixties. There are YouTube videos available for those who’ve never heard that unique sound signature, but they don’t really capture the high-rpm snarl emitted by those sweet-looking upswept pipes.

      Allan and Myra Lader say that they sold Snuff-or-Nots mainly through small magazine ads. Gene Rocchi’s Rocky Motorcycle Parts and Accessories was their primary distributor from their first year through the end of the Scrambler era—say, early ’70s, after the Yamaha DT-1 had triggered a ferocious battle between the Japanese Big Four in the dual-purpose market and rendered those Scramblers yesterday’s news. Some people think that Honda essentially created that market with the enormous success of its 250 and 305 Scramblers in the mid-’60s, giving all sorts of riders the opportunity to wander off the pavement, where they’d twist the Snuff-or-Nots to wide-open and then roost along the dirt and gravel of an America that hadn’t yet been gated and “protected” against, well, us.
      That America is long gone, but Snuff-or-Nots are still with us. With luck and enough restorers brave enough to replicate the rides as they were really when they and dual-purpose riding was new, they always will be.

      • mickey says:

        You didnt have to be from California to have Snuff or Nots on your CL 77. I had them in my 67 305 Scrambler in 1968 here in Cincinnati Ohio. I was 18 then and the bike was so big. Saw one restored not long ago and it looked so small. Amazing how ones perspective changes.

        • CB77 says:

          Yes, I had a 1966 CL77 which seemed like a big bike at the time. Everytime I see one now, I am amazed at how physically small it is. Of course part of that is because of how big all bikes have gotten over the years. I used Snuff-or-Nots too, to ride out to the riding area on the edge of town (with them closed)…then open them up and terrorize the hills. They did have a habits of blowing-out of the pipe when you tried to ride at high-RPM with them closed. It was all great fun.

      • MGNorge says:

        I knew two guys that had CL77s and I do believe both had Snuff or Nots installed. Those bikes sure had a signature snarl to their exhaust didn’t they?

        Here’s the article with pics:

  4. George Duncan says:

    “Gabe says:

    January 25, 2012 at 11:55 amthe blob of electrical tape is there temporarily to cover exposed wires that will power the taillight and horn. I’m sure Charlie could have made it look like the avionics bay of an F-18 if he wanted to, but why? As long as it works reliably I could care less how it looks. Everything is neatly soldered and uses quick-connectors. It’s all at least as well done as the OEM work from the late 60s.”

    “George says:

    Gabe…son…you need to get over your phobia of late 60’s, early 70’s Honda electrical systems. They were excellent and gave virtually no trouble. And Honda’s electrics did not look like the rat’s nest under your seat.”

    • Gabe says:

      Gearoge, please re-read these stories from the first installment–I had no wiring harness at all, and if I did have one, it would have been 40-plus years old–dried out, shorting junk. I suppose a cracked, ancient wiring harness would have been better than fresh wiring, 21st-century electronic components, solder and connectors?? Charlie has wired hundreds of vintage Hondas–I trust him implicitly. His wiring is clean and professionally done.

  5. George Duncan says:

    Sorry Gary…but you are wrong on this one. I was a mechanic in a Honda shop back in the late 60’s/early 70’s and specialized in CB/CL350’s. It was an excellent motorcycle, with strong performance, good reliability and tens-of-thousands of sales for Honda for each year that it was on the market. It was a fitting successor to the CB77, which was a hard act to follow. It did have some problems with the hydraulic cam chain tensioner on the first year’s production, but Honda reverted to a mechanical tensioner and had no more problems.

    And to the builder of this project bike. You needn’t have worried about the electrics on the CB350…they gave absolutely NO trouble. You must not know that ALL bikes of that era had an “off” switch for the headlight…that was because there was not yet a U.S. government mandate that all bike headlights must be on all time. It was absolutely NOT an indication of Honda’s concern about the capability of the bike’s charging system.

  6. David Duarte says:

    how will that regulator/rectifier get cooling air if it’s under the seat? Since you don’t have an airbox anymore, you could just put it on the underside of that seat.

    • Gabe says:

      I asked Charlie about that and will post his response ASAP. He has tested these reg/rec units and has them made to his specifications, so I think he knows what he’s doing. It’a also pretty drafty under that seat since there’s no fender. I don’t think it will be an issue.

    • Gabe says:

      Charlie also said:

      The reg./rect. on your bike is no more restricted from air flow than the stock one would be on a regular bike. My reg./rect.s have cooling fins on them, and the position of the unit on your bike is actually quite exposed to cooling air while you are driving. It is not enclosed at all.

  7. Tony says:

    Looks like it’s coming along pretty good, Gabe. Now when you get this done, you can get another Honda 350 or 360 and restore it to as good or better than when it was new.

    • Gabe says:

      This bike is better than a new CB350! I’m not so into the history or look of vintage bikes–I just thought a lightweight twin with modern updates would be cool. My next project will be my Derbi 50cc supermoto.

  8. Gary says:

    Back in the prehistoric era of my high school (mid 70s), I worked summers in a bike shop, screwing together CB350s and other bikes of that era, for $1/hour. Even then the 350 was considered a slug. Hard to imagine a less inspiring engine for a project like this. Sorry … it had to be said.

    • MGNorge says:

      I disagree. Certainly there were faster bikes by that time but slug. I just don’t recall there being an issue at all. What’s interesting with this bike is that so many people owned one, or similar, and never got around to doing something like this. I might bring up too that Royal Enfield makes a cafe racer bike that even today doesn’t make much more power and yet there is an audience.

    • George Duncan says:

      Sorry Gary…but you are wrong on this one. I was a mechanic in a Honda shop back in the late 60’s/early 70’s and specialized in CB/CL350’s. It was an excellent motorcycle, with strong performance, good reliability and tens-of-thousands of sales for Honda for each year that it was on the market. It was a fitting successor to the CB77, which was a hard act to follow. It did have some problems with the hydraulic cam chain tensioner on the first year’s production, but Honda reverted to a mechanical tensioner and had no more problems.

      And to the builder of this project bike. You needn’t have worried about the electrics on the CB350…they gave absolutely NO trouble. You must not know that ALL bikes of that era had an “off” switch for the headlight…that was because there was not yet a U.S. government mandate that all bike headlights must be on all time. It was absolutely NOT an indication of Honda’s concern about the capability of the bike’s charging system.

    • Goose says:

      Sorry guys but I have to agree with Gary. The Honda 350 was a slug, it was not what the cool guys rode. I say that as the former owner of a Honda 350.

      The cool guys rode Suzuki’s X6, Yamaha’s R5 (owned one of them as well) or, king of cool Japanese bikes, the Kawasaki Mach 3. I never owned a Mach 3 (or 4) but as the mechanic in my circle of friends I spent plenty of time on them. Reliable? no. Sweet handler? No. Fast & cool? Hell yes! I still remember running into Mary (future girlfriend) while riding friend John’s Kawasaki. I’ll never forget the look on her face, pretty blue eyes wide. That cow bell ringing from the mufflers, the honk from the intake and the space ship look clearly had her full, undivided attention. The bike looked, and was, scary, insane and just the right thing for that bad boy image girls love. My Honda made me look like I was running running errands for the local minister next to the Kaw.

      The Honda 350 was cheap, easy to own and reliable by the standards of the day. Cool, no. Fast, no. Sorry guys. Steve McQueen would not have been caught dead on a CB350.


      • MGNorge says:

        I’d have to add that “cool” to us was just being on a motorcycle!! In my circle of riding buddies there were no two-strokes. They may have been faster under the right circumstances, with the right rider, but I really had little issue with power relative to other like-sized bikes of the time. The two-strokes had to be kept on the boil and “on the pipe” in order to deliver what they had. I’ll agree that the Mach 3 was a draw but back then most of the guys I rode with did not care for the two-strokes because of their peaky nature, their sound and smell and reliability seemed to be lacking compared to most Hondas. Cool was in the mind, sorry you missed out on some really good bikes. Just to point out the fun that some of the older bikes can deliver just have a look at the CB 160 racing that’s become quite popular. Riding a CB of the day had nothing to do with Steve McQueen, I had a blast just riding. (Not sure, now that you mentioned it, that Mr. McQueen would “be caught dead” on the two-strokes you mentioned either.)

        • Goose says:

          Unlike you I owned both two and four stokes. My first bike was a Honda 90. My last bike in the Seventies was a much bigger four stoke single, a 1979 SR500. In between I owned both two and four stokes. My 1971 CB500-4 with 591 CC kit, Yoshimura cam, Lester wheels, etc. is an all time favorite bike, I wish I still had it. That doesn’t mean I romanticize it into the perfect bike, any modern 600 would be better in just about every way. I’m just trying to remember the past as it actually was, not through rose colored glasses.

          The point of this thread is the Honda 350. The bike was slow, heavy, didn’t handle that well and you saw one on every corner. Yes, it was cheap and reliable but that didn’t make it cool.

          What we can agree on is that any bike is better than no bike. That is where the Honda 350 fit in my life, it was the best bike I could afford. It beat walking or my 10 speed by a mile. Then I got more cash and found better bikes.

          As to Mr. McQueen, you’re right he probably wouldn’t have chosen any of the bikes I mentioned but I can easily see him on an X-6, a Mach III or an RD350, visualizing him on a CB350 is difficult for me. Try it yourself.

          Finally, I’d like to say I think Gabe make a cafe bike out a CB350 is a fun idea, it shows what you can do with enough work. He is taking a two wheeled sow’s ear and turning it into silk purse. Personally, my first choice from this era would have been a CB500/ 550-4 (followed by a CB450, never rode but always liked) but he is showing you can make almost anything in to a cafe bike with enough effort.


      • George Duncan says:

        Looks like you needed a loud smelly 2-stroke to help you with some sexual issues. Honda riders did not need that crutch.

    • Steveski says:

      I too, disagree…. I wouldn’t call the Honda 350 a slug…. my friend had his CL 350 set up with dirt track bars & open scrambler pipes…. it was a nice bike. IT wasn’t the fastest bike around but it handled ok & was very reliable. I had a 1974 Kawasaki 250 F-11 (street/dirt enduro) with a Hooker Expansion Chamber & jetted…. probably good for 25hp. I raced a CB350 in 1976 for a couple of blocks from a dead start & smoked him…. Not sure if I would have beat my other friend on the CL350 + he was a much better rider than the CB rider…. my F-11 was good for 74mph topspeed while the Honda could do 100mph so if the race were longer, I would have lost.
      I still like 2 strokes & would love to have an early 70’s 350 KAwasaki Big Horn Enduro turned into a SuperMotard or Street Tracker (no dirtbike tires)
      Here’s the specs:
      Big horn enduro. 350cc 2-stroke, 1 cylinder rotary disc valve 5-speed return shift maximum horsepower: 28 hp @6,500 rpm

  9. Randy Singer says:

    I had a ’69 CL350 way back when, and if memory serves me correctly, the swingarm bushings were made of nylon (plastic). They quickly became squished and handling degraded. Bronze replacements were commonly available back then, but nowadays I would assume that they could be replaced with needle bearings.

    Looking at that simple spindly water-pipe frame, with its sloppy automated welds and flanges, I’d be tempted to weld up a replacement using a higher quality of steel. Or maybe go with a Champion or Trackmaster frame.

    Back in the 70’s Yoshima Engineering turned a CB350 into a fire-breathing road racer that was surprisingly competitive. He sold lots of aftermarket parts for the CB350. He also did the same with the original CB400F, which was really fast when he could keep it from overheating and grenading.

  10. Dean says:

    Lookin good so far! Can’t wait to see some pictures where the nips are scrubbed off those new tires!

    Any upgrades to the frame? Like new bushings, or welding in any reinforcements? I have a ’72 Kawasaki triple two stroke (only the 350cc, but it was still fun in the day). Some day soon I will get it back on the street. Not for show quality, but for some riding. I was too young to know better, but I read how bad and flexy the frames were. I would think some small gussets welded into certain spots of the frames would beef them up without too much weight.

  11. Hair says:

    After watching a couple of episodes of Café Racer, it became apparent to me that most bike builders are all to willing to give up function for art.
    Maybe they don’t have a clue as to why bikes are setup the way that they are. It’s obvious that they don’t understand geometry, rake, trail, suspension or even how a frame works. And why they might need to worry a bit when they mount a monoshock onto a 1970s vintage Honda frame.
    Café bikes are cool. They are fun to look at and I bet that they are way fun to ride. If a responsible publisher is taking on such a project. And publishing it as a “how to” article. Then the general public might be well served to receive some guidance on how customize their bike and maintain the performance and ride ability necessary for a bike and rider to survive our modern high speed highway system.
    I would love to build such a project. But I an end product that I can ride. I could use some guidance on how to do that.

    • HalfBaked says:

      The over whelming number of machines built on Cafe Racer TV were subsequently ridden by the Bostrom brothers or in the case of Joker Machine by Speedway World Champion Billy Hamill and Framecrafters which was raced by one of the designer/fabricators. Granted bikes like the Norley or Fuller Hotrods “creations” were without question a waste of a superb replica frame and an excellent vintage CB750.

  12. Dave says:

    Is the shot of the un-routed, electrical tape-blobbed, exposed connector mess captioned as evidence of Charlie’s careful work meant to be ironic? If I paid someone for that I’d be pretty bummed out. I’m sure it works, but…umm…ya. At least the welds on the mounting plate are terrible, so you have that going for you.

    On the other hand, the spirit of cafe bikes lives not just in the mods, but in the DIY aspect. So, if he’s going for authenticity by making it look like a regular non-mechanic type did the work himself in the living room of his bachelor pad, then it looks authentic.

    • Bud says:

      I actually laughed at that photo caption. And the part about sending the covers out for polishing. That’s YOUR job, owner! Pop a buffing wheel on your bench grinder and get to work!

    • Gabe says:

      the blob of electrical tape is there temporarily to cover exposed wires that will power the taillight and horn. I’m sure Charlie could have made it look like the avionics bay of an F-18 if he wanted to, but why? As long as it works reliably I could care less how it looks. Everything is neatly soldered and uses quick-connectors. It’s all at least as well done as the OEM work from the late 60s.

  13. Honyock says:

    Actually, the white crap on the terminals is just garden variety oxidation. Sulfation is a buildup of lead sulfide crystals on the bottom of the plates, deep inside the battery, which is much more of a performance killer than the more obvious fluff you can see on the outside.

  14. RAD says:

    Great looking project MD.

  15. mickey says:

    You are such a tease! Looking good. Honda does build a pretty motor. Look forward to final finished pics.

  16. Stinky says:

    What a slick little bike! Almost forgot about it. Makes me miss mine!

    • MGNorge says:

      Miss mine is right. My CB350 took me everywhere, rain or shine, during my last two years of highschool. It was my buddy. Never stranded me and was quite reliable. Those were the days when few bikes were greater than 500cc. Congrats Gabe on the new addition (the baby of course!) and we can’t wait until this one “comes home” and we can see it in all its glory.

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