It’s one of the truisms of motorcycling that a first great bike will be remembered forever, while subsequent generations of the line will fade to the background.
Such is the case with Honda’s CB350, CL350 and SL350. They had the misfortune to follow the 305cc Super Hawk, one of the defining machines in the company’s history.
The Super Hawk, produced through 1968, showed that a four-stroke motorcycle could rev high, hit hard, ride well and hold oil. The 350s that came after, used a totally redesigned engine, displacing 325cc, for more of all that, yet they seldom make anyone’s collectible list.
This is not to say that the inaccurately named 350s weren’t perfectly agreeable bikes. With a claimed 36 horsepower coming from the parallel-twin engine, a wide, comfortable seat and amazingly neglectable dependability, the bikes won over countless riders. In fact, for many years they were Honda’s most popular sellers.
But by the time the 350s came along, Honda already had its landmark CB750 on the road. And motorcycles in this class would never get the same attention.
The CB350 and CL350 were essentially the same mechanically, but the CB came with low, road-going exhaust pipes, upright bars and roadster styling. The less-popular CL was a “street scrambler,” with a cross-braced handlebar and high-mounted, exhaust pipes that looked like chromed sausages.
All that hardly turned the CL, like this ’72 Candy Panther Gold version owned by Jim Nickerson and previously part of a Honda exhibit in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, into a dirt bike. But a CL could be coaxed into occasional goat-path duty. In fact, two riders won the 1968 Mexican 1,000 off-road race on a CL350 with upgraded suspension, wheels and frame.
The CB and CL350 lasted six years in the Honda line, then the company reworked the concept, creating the CB and CL360, with engines displacing 356cc. The CL version lasted only two years before lagging sales spelled the end, while the CB continued through the 1977 model year, when Honda introduced its successor, the Hawk 400.
In the end, Honda’s 350s will probably be remembered like a lot of second-generation bikes. They didn’t create Honda’s reputation for building strong, inexpensive, reliable bikes, but they sure reinforced it.