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  • Sachin Sen

Honda CB350RS Review

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

1969 - Birth Of A Legend

When Honda was looking to build its biggest and most powerful motorcycle for the US market in the 1960s, the company turned to its racing division for inspiration. To make an impact among the larger Harley Davidsons and the Triumphs, Honda had to do something nobody had done before.

The result was the CB750 - a motorcycle that not only was powered by a 750cc inline 4 engine, it was the first motorcycle in the world to come standard with the disc brake at the front. With 67 horsepower, it also became the most powerful motorcycle at that time.

CB750 surpassed everyone’s expectations in terms of riding dynamics and performance, killing highway miles with as much ease as a city commute. It had such an impact on the motorcycling world that the word Superbike was invented to describe it. The motorcycle popularised inline-4 as a high performance engine which eventually became the prominent choice among motorcycle manufacturers for building sportbikes from then on.

Nearly Five Decades Later, the Classic CB Styling Comes to India

The CB350RS is only the second motorcycle in India, after the CB350 H'ness (pronounced Highness), to truly represent the classic CB legacy. It is clear Honda wants to treat them as premium motorcycles, which is why these are being sold through their Big Wing dealership across India.

All this is enough to say that the CB350 H’ness and the CB350RS have quite a lot to live up to - fundamentally, that is.

Both motorcycles look nearly identical and the RS carries the classic CB design language very well. There’s the circular headlight at the front, the fuel tank is substantial but you can still hold it with your legs, it is recognisable, and grants that legendary CB personality to the bike. The paint quality is rich, it’s deep, and fitting for a standard. Overall, the RS is a very good looking motorcycle. It has that classic appeal, but thanks to the fantastic build quality and fit-n-finish, as well as the LED lighting all around, it doesn’t look cheap at all. It appears suitably modern and handsome.

Other than that, the engine, chassis, suspension, and brakes between the two bikes remain the same as well, what’s different are the slightly sportier dynamics on the RS that also translate to the way it handles, and it’s pretty good!

An Engaging Riding Experience

The RS comes with a 17-inch rear tyre and a 19-inch front along with (slightly) rear-set footpegs and lower, narrower handlebar. What you get is a sportier, yet comfortable riding position as if you’re sitting on a streetfighter, while the handling is very responsive but not too sharp. This is good because it feels neutral and easier especially to a casual rider. And the experienced riders can really enjoy it as well.

The chassis consists of a simple tube frame connected to a box section swing-arm. There are conventional telescopic front forks and a pair of shockers at the back. It’s a simple setup but it works extremely well. The entire chassis is highly responsive to rider inputs and delivers an engaging riding experience regardless of the road condition.

The suspension is very well tuned as the ride quality is plush, smooth and it doesn’t transfer jitters to the rider easily on bad roads. The damping is good, it feels tight and the overall sensation of the suspension travel, front & back, gives very good balance. It doesn’t feel loose over potholes as the RS maintains its composure. I particularly noticed that the front forks compress progressively and going over a pothole or landing from a speed breaker faster than you should, keeps the motorcycle stable.

The RS loves to go around corners and it is highly enjoyable while leaning. The entire riding experience is fun, involving, and still relaxed and comfortable. I can’t say much about the long-distance comfort but the ribbed pattern seat is well-padded and it is neither too soft nor too hard, so I’m assuming it should be alright.

This is easily the most fun small capacity retro-style motorcycle I have ridden, that’s available in India. As far as the RE Meteor is concerned, I think it offers a different riding experience. It’s riding posture is totally relaxed with a higher handlebar position and a mid-forward-set foot pegs. I believe the Interceptor 650 & the Continental GT are better comparisons with the CB350RS when it comes to handling characteristics while the Meteor is a better rival in terms of the engine performance.

And it is the CB350’s 348.36cc engine where I’m left with a bitter-sweet experience because it has the potential to completely outperform the competition. It even comes close to doing it but is held back due to the frustratingly conservative specifications - 21 PS at 5,500 RPM and 30 NM of torque at 3,000 RPM. These numbers fall right in Royal Enfield’s territory and they don’t even get you excited in the first place. But of course, you don’t disregard a Honda just like that and beyond the spec sheet, this air-cooled single cylinder engine is quite full of life.

The thumpy exhaust note is pure and there’s no unnecessary engine noise or clatter to dilute the experience. The frequency of each stroke is quite fast, it sounds active, which only encourages you to ride away and see how it goes. The engine is not a slouch either. It is eager to accelerate. What also adds to its playful attitude is that you can easily hit the rev-limiter in the second gear, which means you’re going to do that almost every time you want to accelerate quickly. The 4-valve head also ensures that it stays entertaining and stress-free in the higher revs as well.

This is something I can’t say about my Himalayan’s 411cc engine that sounds and acts stressed at the highest revs and I have no reason to believe that the Meteor’s 350cc engine is going to be any better in this regard. Both have traditional 2-valve heads. On the contrary, the RS’s engine happily goes to its limit and doesn’t mind if you keep it there for a while. The engine is refined and fairly devoid of vibrations too.

The only real problem with the RS is its tall gearing, which strangely makes riding fun in some specific situations but mostly, adversely affects the performance. The first, third, and fourth gears are very tall. You can move through tight traffic quite effortlessly in the first. But this is still acceptable. The second gear appears to be shorter and this is the one where you’ll consistently hit the rev limiter on riding enthusiastically. At the same time, it doesn’t give you enough acceleration that you expect from the second gear. It seems it is quick to reach the rev-limiter rather than give you the required push.

The third gear is something where you can spend your entire city riding, literally. You can easily cross the triple digit mark in third, which is why it is fun to keep pulling the throttle in this particular gear. It clearly allows the RS to cruise at 100 kph where the other similar 350cc motorcycles will struggle to even touch the ton. The fourth gear takes you to 120 kph and beyond. In fifth gear and at the speed of 60 kmph the engine will stutter and you will have to either shift down to fourth or even third or speed up to over 75 kmph to have smooth ride out of this engine. This makes the fifth gear completely useless for most city commutes. It is possible that the bike can achieve its top speed in the fourth gear itself, which should be anything between 130 - 140 kph, but I did not test it. I am still surprised whenever I remind myself that I just didn’t get to use the fifth gear at all! Although, if you are touring or on any kind of long distance ride which involves long highways, just put the CB350 in fifth and it will cruise at 110-120 kmph forever.

However, you have to plan your overtakes wisely. At highway speeds the fifth gear is no good for overtaking and you'll have to come down to fourth or even third for a reasonably quick overtake. Obviously this is also true for "spirited" city riding, you will occasionally struggle to find the right gear for good acceleration. And that’s a spoilsport because in every other way, it is truly an involving riding experience.

Tall gearing is also the reason why, when it comes to slowing down, you’d need to be strategic with engine braking whenever you don’t want to depend on the brakes alone. You may have to downshift a couple of gears quickly to keep the revs high enough to make good use of it. On that note, the brakes are fantastic on their own. The Nissin callipers at both ends have great bite and a progressive feel and they don’t catch you by surprise. They are quick to work and still progressive. Under heavy braking, the front suspension complements the brakes nicely by compressing in a linear manner without nose diving.

A retro touch is added by the absence of a tachometer. Especially with this tall gearing it's a guessing game of when to shift gear without hitting the revlimiter. Although, this is also a showcase of how refined and easy revving the engine is.

A Retro City-Cruiser You Shouldn't Ignore

The CB350RS is an easy bike to recommend and to a variety of riders. It is very easy to ride, making it suitable for even less experienced riders. It has good road manners and comfortable for riders of all sizes. The oddly tall gearing does take away some performance but it also makes it friendlier to new riders and especially relaxed on highways. It will be fun on mountain roads too, making it a good choice for touring.

The CB350 may be a retro style motorcycle but it's technically modern, The brakes, suspension, chassis, lights etc all work very well. It is also very well built, the fit and finish is better than Royal Enfield's Meteor and noticably better than Jawa. The ony exception being the rear view mirrors, they are positioned too much inside the handlebar. The best view you get is of your elbows and shoulder.

The bike starts at INR 1,96,006 ex-showroom Delhi and the dual tone colour is INR 2,000 higher. I think this is good pricing and will definitely widen the choice for people looking to buy such a motorcycle. And If or when Honda fixes the gearing, the performance and the riding experience are bound to go a few notches higher. When they do that, maybe they’ll put some more juice in this engine too.


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