MD Project: Honda CB350 Cafe Racer, Part II

March 28, 2011

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So you know I’ve had a Jones for a cafe racer for a year now, as I told you in Part Iof my saga. But unlike many of my previous Jonses, this one has some legs, and is actually taking shape.

I truly felt committed when I drove home from Charlie O’Hanlon’s vintage Honda restoration shop with a carload of parts, including a ‘72 CL350 frame, front end, wheels and the tank off a 1969 CB350.

I decided to start with the frame, so I headed to my pal Al Lapp’s garage, where we (okay, he) proceeded to slice off all the brackets I didn’t think I needed and then weld up the frame. As I mentioned in Part I, the CB’s frame is much worse than it looks. It’s made mostly of stamped mild steel, spot-welded together in an unconvincing way. This means it’s a wonderful combination of heavy and rubbery, which was probably adequate when the bike was designed, but not so good with the better rubber and suspension I was going to run with the bike. But no problem—a few hours with Al’s welding set and incredibly cool plasma cutter (no, you don’t need a plasma cutter, but nobody needs a Hayabusa, their own atoll, or the complete works of Dizzy Gillespie, either) and I had a lighter and hopefully stiffer frame.

“Inspiration”: This slick CB350 build was actually completed by a high-school shop class in New York state and inspired Gabe to use the Glass From the Past tail section and Jemco exhaust.

After our “improvements,” I took the frame back to Charlie. Since we’re going to build the bike without its stock airbox, battery tray and side covers, he needed to work his welding magic to build not just a battery tray, but also mounts for the fiberglass tail section I ordered from Glass From the Past. Run by a CB160 racer from the Pacific Northwest, GFTP has a large selection of fairings, fenders and other fiberglass parts. The $210 tail section looked nice and even came with upholstery, complete with cool tonneau-cover-like snaps. A few coats of glossy Krylon on the frame (which Charlie said we “have to talk about”) and we’re done.

Next to tackle is suspension. For the rear, I had no problem knowing what to do. If you have a dirt or street bike with twin-shock rear suspension (or any kind of suspension, really), the pros at Works Performance probably have an application. My vintage FT500 Ascot roadracer, while as unreliable and ugly as a meth-addicted warthog, was perfectly suspended with its custom-made Works shocks. Works will custom-make its shocks for you, allowing you to chose the body material, spring rate, adjustability, reservoirs and other features. The shocks are fully rebuildable and offer excellent value, starting at around $400. I got a set of the Billet Trackers ($565). Made from billet aluminum, they offer less unsprung weight than the steel-bodied Street Trackers. For the front end, Charlie dug up the fork and triple clamps from a CB400Ffor a slightly more modern design and the psychological edge I’d get from the 400’s front disc brake. The fork will go to Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuningin San Carlos, California. A fixture at West Coast racertrack events, CRST has been my choice for suspension tuning for some years. The top triple clamp would get some professional stripping and polishing for a real period look.

“Sun Rims” :Manufactured by Buchanan's since 1987, Sun rims are available in many popular sizes and can be gold or black anodized.

My last chassis-related dilemma was the wheels. I originally wanted to just use the stock wheels for a while, but when Charlie handed me the pair, I couldn’t believe how heavy they were. To put such leaden monstrosities on my feathery CB would be like making Florence Joyner run in a pair of wooden clogs. Buchanan’s Spoke and Rim in Azusa, California was my first thought, as the 53-year-old company not only builds a huge amount of custom wheels, but also manufactures spokes and aluminum rims (under the Sun brand) as well. However, the company is busy and did not respond to requests to participate in my project, so I sidled up to the parts counter at Raber’s Parts Mart in San Jose, California. There, Rich helped me choose wheel sizes so I’d have optimum tire choice and told me I’d have a finished set of wheels in less than a month. I left him my polished front and rear hubs and headed home to make sure I still had enough money in my budget for tires…

Next: Engine, electrics and exhaust.

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