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Classic Velocity Blog

Defending Appliances

Classic Velocity

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In the late 1950s through the early 1970s, light and nimble were the goals of anyone trying to produce a vehicle that stayed in motion. It was a era of Colin Chapman and his minimalist approach, of wind-cheating dustbin fairings on motorcycles, of diabolical sports cars stripped to the bare essentials, of inumerable Italian racing bikes under 250cc, of stuffing big motors into a small chassis, etc. However, towards the end of that era, it was clear that motorcycles in particular were getting bigger and heavier and more powerful. Part of this was the inevitable desire for more and more power, and for machines that were comfortable going longer and longer distances. The US market was the prime driver of this trend and everybody wanted in to this lucrative space.

Nowhere was this more true than at Honda, who experienced a meteoric rise to prominence in the motorcycle market. Light utilitarian small displacement runabouts quickly gave way to the CB series and a progressive march upward in size, complexity, comfort, and performance. The western world  consumed them  in large quantities. However, Honda never really forgot its roots. For much of the world, and particularly the Third World, it was a producer of small light very fuel-efficient utilitarian motorcycles that were the primary mode of transportation rather than racing or leisure vehicles. They eventually produced the game-changing CB 750 in 1969, but they also produced an amazing array of small motorcycles well below that displacement. Which brings me to the CB 360.

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In many markets, the CB 360 was a big bike. It was one of the models that helped to define the universal Japanese motorcycle (UJM). That term has become a euphemism for appliance; boringly competent. It was a standard air-cooled naked parallel twin four stroke motorcycle. In 1974 the CB 360 was producing a whopping 34 hp, and was capable of 102 mph according to the specifications. It had two valves per cylinder on the 357cc motor, and was mated to a six speed gearbox. The bike weighed in at 392 pounds full of fluids and with a full gas tank. These numbers sound pretty paltry today and would not get the enthusiasts juices flowing. However, two of them recently landed in the garage, and they were time capsules from the mid-1970s. They illustrated just how different our thinking was at that point in time about these motorcycles, and led to a rediscovery.

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First of all, they are easy to ride. The combination of seating position the stock bars and the controls make them ideal bikes to just jump on and go, or ideal bikes to start out on. Second, they are powerful enough. We have come to think of horsepower as a pure numbers game, but other than on an interstate highway (which is not the ideal home for this bike), there is more than enough power. Third, they are nimble. It was surprising how flickable and maneuverable this bike is on a route that I have used with modern sport bikes equipped with four times the power. Speeds were down, but the grin factor was off the charts. Last, they are good touring motorcycles. Yes, that is correct, I said touring. One of the pair was equipped back in the 1970s for cross country touring and it made the round trip. It has saddlebags (luggage has come along way since the 70s!), a windshield, and highway bars with foot pegs. The original owner claims that it acquitted itself quite well on that journey, and I believe him. The touring bike had the front disc brake making it a CB360T, but the drum brakes are as good in my opinion.

In stock form, these are still a very fun and very practical motorcycles. Far from being an appliance, they have become one of the most beloved platforms for building café racers. They make great backroads and touring motorcycles, and they get good gas mileage. They are light, and handle well. They are also great beginner bikes. They are cheap, reliable, and parts are plentiful 40 years later. They look good. I am not sure that even a new motorcycle off the showroom floor can tout that kind of a resume.

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