Honda plays the retro game right on its first attempt
As it stands, the neo-retro segment of motorcycles is one where besides the looks, pretty much everything under the skin is properly modern. Unlike the Royal Enfield Classic 350 and Benelli Imperiale 400 that feel retro inside-out. And then there’s the new Honda H’ness CB350 that’s trying to straddle both segments. It has a lot riding on its shoulders then, no? It is a looker to begin with, courtesy the design inspired by the 1970’s Honda CB family, especially in this dual-tone blue and white paint scheme (offered only in the DLX Pro variant). In fact, the paint scheme instantly reminded my father about the bikes he rode in his youth!
Besides the round headlamp, long fuel tank with the old-school Honda badge and flat seat you get lots of chrome – on the mudguards, handlebar, exhaust and even the crankcase. Despite oodles of the shiny stuff the CB350 does not look garish. The round (LED) turn indicators at the front double up as pilot lights and remain on. And as you would expect on a Honda, build quality is top-notch. Paint finish is premium, panel gaps are consistently tight and weld seams are neat. Features include all-LED lighting – everyone in office agreed unanimously that the CB350’s headlight is one of the coolest executions of all-LED lighting meets chromed round housing! The instrument console is a large analog unit with a small display integrated in and also packs in Bluetooth connectivity to offer information about phone calls, messages, weather and navigation. Heck, Honda has added a Type-C USB port to the side of the pod as well!
The display is a little too small though and the information it offers too comprehensive, including average fuel efficiency and range. Beat this – the H’ness even gets traction control! What also deserves a mention is the exhaust note – Honda has done a very good job of creating the ‘thump’, which was pretty much the select reserve of Royal Enfields for the longest time. From the saddle the H’ness also reminded me of the Triumph Street Twin – it felt like a downsized version of the Brit twin that’s no less than a benchmark when it comes to neo-retro motorcycles. The seating is upright which complements the bike’s positioning, though the heel and toe gear shifter could have been positioned better. Over distances, the firm seat cushioning helps but I would have liked a wider seat.
The CB350 uses a 348cc, air-cooled engine offering 21.1PS and 30Nm. The engine’s long-stroke nature means peak torque is available just 3,000rpm onwards, but I would have preferred shorter gear ratios to make the most of that. What is impressive though, is the slickness of the transmission itself and the light, slip and assist clutch. I also like how the CB’s engine is eager to build revs (unlike its rivals) and helps the bike accelerate quickly. There’s more power in reserve as you build revs which makes the CB350 enjoyable, besides the supreme engine refinement. The icing on the top is the bassy exhaust thump that is loud enough to get you noticed. The Honda also feels surprisingly light and easy to ride – this, despite its simple underpinnings and suspension. It’s also confident around corners and encourages peg scraping antics. Mid-corner bumps unsettle it a bit due to the firm suspension, but things never get out of hand. I also like the grip from the MRF Zappers, while Nissin brakes offer a strong bite along with ample feedback. Overall, the CB350 handles more like a modern naked than a retro motorcycle, which is one of my favourite bits about the bike.
The retro segment is one where buying decisions are based more on emotion and Royal Enfields have ruled it for eons given their emotive feel and the legacy around the brand itself. What the Honda brings to the table besides being emotive and engaging is its charm. And that charm comes from the motorcycle’s simplicity.
It feels like that honest friend of yours who has no airs about himself and is ever-ready to join you for a ride. And then there’s the refinement and premium build. With prices beginning from 1.87 lakh ex-showroom New Delhi for the DLX version (the DLX Pro here commands a premium of Rs 6,000 over that), the H’ness is more expensive than Royal Enfields, even the Meteor 350. But for the price you get excellent build quality, refinement, character and performance. The only chink in its armour is that you cannot simply walk into any Honda dealership to buy one. It’s on sale only through Honda’s premium BigWing dealerships. We’re hoping that’s something Honda will change and offer the bike across dealerships since this is a potential winner for the Japanese manufacturer.
Honda H'ness CB350
Engine: 348.36cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled
Power: 21.1PS @ 5,500rpm
Torque: 30Nm @ 3,000rpm
Price: Starting at Rs 1.87 lakh ex-showroom, New Delhi