There is an absolute dearth of old school motorcycles in the Indian market, for sure. And playing on these sentiments was Royal Enfield’s game, which they have done well in. But now challengers have sprung up, like the Jawa, like the Benelli Imperiale and the most recent one the Honda H’ness.
First of all, I’m not even going to pretend I didn’t compare this to any of Royal Enfield’s bikes because, let’s face it, this is an arrow directed straight at its heart. What I will do, however, is refrain from doing so in this review. Just to let you know, ‘H’ness’ is pronounced ‘Highness’. I don’t really know why use an apostrophe when creative spelling could just be Hiness. But then in hindsight that very closely resembles heinous, too. So maybe I’m wrong.
But I’m digressing. Let’s get to what matters, shall we? The Honda H’ness CB350: a perfectly old-school motorcycle with bits of new-school thrown at it in a way you wouldn’t even realise.
Alright, does it look old?
Of course, not. What’s the point in an old looking bike? The correct word here is retro. I find myself repeating this word quite often, but really, there is nothing that hits this nail on the head better that ‘retro’. From afar, the H’ness looks like it belongs with the big bikes back in the time. A big round tank, a flat seat, round headlamp, round instrument cluster, round indicators. It even has an odd looking tail lamp that some old motorcycles had. But it all looks good. The entire design flows neatly from one line to the next. Chrome parts and accents in all the right places add to that illusion.
As for the modern bits – the headlamp, the indicators, the instrument cluster, the alloy wheels, they aren’t old. The headlamp is an LED unit complete with DRLs. The indicators too, have LED rings that essentially function as DRLs and light up when the you turn the key. The instrument cluster has a digital insert that gives you a boat-load of information including a battery voltmeter that, honestly is just unnecessary on a new bike. But, hey! Old-school!
You have to give Honda a hand for the attention they have given to detail. Something most manufacturers overlook or just plain hide are the bike’s horns. Honda made it a feature by adding chrome to that too.
But it rides like an old bike, right?
What? No. It’s not an old bike. The H’ness gets a 348.6cc single-cylinder air-cooled fuel-injected engine. This churns out 20.8 PS at 5,500 rpm and 30 Nm at as low as 3,000 rpm. This is then mated to a five-speed gearbox through a slip-and-assist clutch. There is instant propulsion from the get-go, so don’t try grabbing a fistful of throttle and the slipper clutch means an ultra-light clutch lever, thanks to softer springs. What this means is easy city riding.
Then you have the suspension, telescopic in the front and a dual setup in the back. Perfect for that old-school charm. Braking is handled by discs at both the front and the rear with ABS on both of them. Technology!
So, it just feels old.
Retro! You sit in an upright position with your legs directly under you. You look down at a huge tank that somehow doesn’t really feel that big and a big bike that somehow doesn’t weigh as much as you thought it would. Build quality is spectacular too. I did not find one line that looked out of place. Even the plastic switch panels on either side of the handlebar fooled me into thinking they were made of metal.
And then you have the modern. Bluetooth integration with your phone through the RoadSync app. This is Honda’s tech called Honda Smart Voice Control. You essentially control the app using the arrow keys on the left, but there is no display on the bike, so you have to rely on a pair of headphones or speakers inside your helmet. Also, if you’re running out of phone juice, there is a charging outlet just near the instrument cluster. It is a Type-C connector. Considering most of us have Type-A charging cables, I’d say this part is almost futuristic.
It turns easily enough and is balanced beautifully. Maneuvering through traffic is easy and turning a bend is even better. The suspension too, is nice and soft, so potholes are a non-event. However, this also means that the ride can get a little wibbly-wobbly on a bad mountain road. Then there is the torque spread. It has oodles of it in the city, mostly because you’ll be chugging around in low revs anyway, but it falls flat towards the red line. Oh, modern bit here too, you have Honda Variable Torque Control which is company speak for traction control. Easy to try that out because of the high torque at lower speeds. Just find yourself a bit of dirt and see if the wheel spins faster than the bike.
Maybe old-bike price then?
Well, yes and no. Honda has priced the H’ness CB350 almost on par with the rest of its segment. Considering all of the things Honda has offered with the CB350, they could’ve have charged more. At a starting price of Rs 1.9 lakh, the Honda H’ness CB350 is an absolute steal. It offers you just the right amount of old school vibe as the rest of its rivals and adds just a little more tech to set itself apart, too.