The Honda CB350RS is the brand’s second classically-styled bike to hit our market this year. Let’s see what it’s all about.
Story: Anosh Khumbatta
Photography: Sanjay Raikar
Honda recently issued a challenge to retro-themed bike makers like Royal Enfield and Jawa with the launch of the oddly named H’ness CB350, and have now launched a second salvo at this growing market segment with a scrambler-inspired variant: the Honda CB350RS. We recently spent some time with this new Honda in and around Pune and, while this may not be a real off-road-capable motorcycle, it handled the urban jungle in style. The letters RS, when used in naming a motorcycle, usually conjure up images of sporty race replicas or variants loaded with track-ready kit to make them faster and sharper; however, Honda claim that the “RS” here stands for Road Sailing. I don’t know what exactly is meant by this, but I do wish the folks at Honda would get a little more imaginative when naming their motorcycles.
This bike is based on the H’ness CB350 and, as such, both bikes share the steel double-cradle frame and the long-stroke, air-cooled, single-cylinder motor. Most of the differences between the two come down to styling and image. While the H’ness CB350 is clearly inspired by Honda’s legendary CB series of bikes from the 1970s and is bathed in chrome, the Honda CB350RS attempts to look somewhat sportier with blacked-out parts rather than the shiny metal and several scrambler-inspired components. Chief among these are the high, dirtbike-style rear fender, a sturdy bash-plate, and meaty 150-section MRF Zapper Kurve tyres with an aggressive block pattern that reminds me of the Pirelli MT 60 dual-purpose hoops on the Ducati Scrambler. Honda have also tried to give the CB350RS a sportier riding position by placing the foot-pegs slightly higher and further back, while the handlebar is now wider and slightly further forward.
Having recently ridden the H’ness, swinging a leg over and firing up the CB350RS immediately felt familiar. I am faced with the same single-pod speedo with LCD section within and the tell-tale lights alongside, the motor spins up as effortlessly as I remember, and the exhaust lets out a pleasing, meaty note with every blip of the throttle. The transmission shifts smoothly into first and we’re soon strafing through Pune’s busy streets. The Honda CB350RS feels well-built, involving to ride, and responds instantly to steering inputs, making it a fun way to get around the city. However, there is a major chink in its armour.
Honda’s new long-stroke motor breathes through a four-valve head and is mated to a smooth-shifting five-speed gearbox. The engine makes 21 hp at 5,500 rpm and 30 Nm of torque at just 3,000 rpm; figures that, on paper, seem to describe a motorcycle with a grunty, tractable motor that can chug along effortlessly at low revs. That, however, is not the case. Honda have, for reasons unknown, geared this motorcycle extremely tall and the result is a somewhat lethargic bottom end, necessitating greater levels of rider involvement and a busy left foot to keep the motor in its sweet spot. Quick progress requires you to rev the Honda CB350RS out in each gear, and getting lazy with downshifts around town will have you lugging the motor as it struggles to make torque. While you would expect a retro-styled single-cylinder thumper to be happy puttering around town slotted in third gear, occasionally shifting down to second should the situation demand, I found myself constantly tap-dancing on the shifter to maintain forward momentum and keep the motor from knocking. I even needed to go all the way down to first over large speed-breakers and through slow intersections.
It is a similar situation out on the open road. The Honda CB350RS accelerates pretty quickly as long as you keep the revs up, hitting triple-digit speeds while still in third gear; however, if laid-back cruising at low revs is your thing, you might not be too happy on this bike. The ultra-tall final gearing means that the Honda feels quite gutless in top gear even at 80 km/h and doesn’t want to shift up to fifth until you’re doing triple-digit speeds on the highway, even then struggling to make power up the gentlest of inclines. An indicated top speed of around 135 km/h is achieved in fourth, relegating fifth gear exclusively to overdrive duty. Sure, you can cruise along at 100 to 120 km/h in top gear, but you will need to downshift should the need to overtake arise.
The Honda CB350RS shares mechanical components and underpinnings with the H’ness CB350, so we have the same telescopic fork and twin shock-absorber set-up. The suspension is well-damped, if slightly on the stiffer side, and endows the bike with neutral handling characteristics and a taut feel that keeps the rider connected with the road’s surface as speeds increase. The Japanese-made Nissin brakes, also carried over from the H’ness, do a fantastic job of shedding speed without fuss with decent feel and feedback at the lever.
We’re a little confused about this bike’s equipment levels and pricing vis-à-vis the H’ness CB350. The H’ness is available in two variants, the base DLX priced at Rs 1.86 lakh (ex-showroom) and the DLX Pro, which gets dual-tone colourways, twin horns, and Bluetooth connectivity, priced at Rs 1.92 lakh (ex-showroom). The Honda CB350RS gets a single horn and no Bluetooth connectivity option, so it stands to reason that it would be priced closer to the base DLX variant of the H’ness, but this is not the case. With an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 1.96 lakh, it is dearer than the fully loaded H’ness DLX Pro by Rs 4,000, while bringing less equipment to the table, which makes absolutely no sense to me. The Honda CB350RS is a good-looking, stylish motorcycle that will appeal to Honda fans and those who like retro motorcycles. Younger riders will enjoy its playful, revvy motor, and shortening the final gearing by using a sprocket with one less tooth up front will certainly change the motorcycle’s personality for the better. Although it has its flaws and the pricing is somewhat questionable, this Honda is still enjoyable and, while it is a small motorcycle, it will surely stand out in a crowd.