Got back to motorcycling after a decade: Brought home a Honda CB350
The whole return to bikes was driven by a couple of factors – Chennai is somewhat better for bikes than Delhi, and to be honest, I’ve missed biking.
BHPian spiritofmars recently shared this with other enthusiasts.
Some of you might remember an old t-log from almost a decade ago, a solo Alto drive from Delhi to Leh:
It was somewhat hastily written in the afterglow of a memorable Ladakh trip, and I told myself that I would be back to the Himalayas many more times. But you go to the mountains when they call, and not when you wish to idly go there. I made my plans, and life made its own, and no surprises whose plans saw light. My post-grad happened, and at the end of it, life sent me away from the mighty Himalayas to beautiful Chennai, my home for the last 7 years. In the interim, I made many plans to visit Leh, to fly in if possible for a quick jaunt, my friends in Delhi offered their cars to drive together to Leh, but somehow, in some fashion, these plans did not materialise. Himalayas, you visit them at their will not yours, I thought.
I’d given up my bike when I’d moved to Delhi in 2011, because Delhi roads are not kind to bikes. I did not feel safe, and bought a silver Alto K10. That car I drove from Delhi to Leh and back, to Pune atleast 3 times, and to many other destinations. It accompanied me through my post-grad in Chandigarh, and when I decided to move to Chennai I took it along. I’d wondered whether a DL registered car would get fined in Chennai, but was loath to part ways with this beautiful machine that served me without a hiccup. Fired up the motor in Chandigarh on a sunny morning, and the next few days, drove the Alto cross country to the South. Chandigarh -> Delhi -> Jaipur -> Ahmedabad -> Mumbai -> Pune -> Bangalore -> Chennai, and the car had transported me safely to the Perungudi guesthouse my new employer had thoughtfully arranged for a month.
All this while, I’d often look at my old bike photos, but never seriously considered buying one. The Alto was a pocket rocket, unfailingly reliable, easy to punt around the city, park anywhere, perfect for a lone bachelor who preferred his own company on most drives. It made a few trips to nearby getaways, but on the whole, stayed mostly in Chennai. No cops bothered to stop or fine me for an out of state car in Chennai – this level of Chennai chill is in stark contrast to Bangalore, a city where I have been fined every single time I drove to it – either speeding, or out of state number, or the myriad other grave mistakes Bangalore cops believe in. Although I love Bangalore for its bookshops and beer, I’ve resigned myself to taking an uber or auto, since I’m apparently the perennial bakra of Bangalore cops.
Around an year of being in Chennai, the upgrade bug began to gently nudge. I considered buying a Triumph, but in a bolt from the blue, I was informed of a sexy red Honda Civic on sale in Mumbai, 40k kms run, Vxi, a few years into her lifespan but on sale as the owner had gotten tired of driving a manual sedan in Mumbai traffic. He opted for a VW polo automatic, I opted for his Civic within a day of seeing and driving it, and after some ferocious negotiations, picked up it for a sum that kept my bank account happy. The Alto was running flawlessly, so I serviced it, took it back to Delhi and sold it, for just a lakh less than what I’d paid for it new. Maruti – if you ever launch a good Jimny or a serviceable SUV – you have a buyer in me. The Civic was duly driven down from Mumbai, and after some initial niggles like the brakes screeching like a wounded banshee at every application, the Civic was parked where the Alto once stood. I wish I could have afforded to keep both, but it was not to be. The Alto found its way to a buyer who I hope has treated it with the same love and care I lavished on it.
The Civic saga has been eventful. It has given me some reasons to complain, some reasons to rejoice, but on the whole, convinced me that I prize reliability above everything else in a car. Make no mistake – I’ve enjoyed this car. There have been some thrilling drives to Pondicherry, Goa, Pune, Trichy and Bangalore, but on the whole, nothing that rivaled the footprint of the Alto. I’ve made big long distance trip plans, and they’ve been big washouts as I became busy with my work – as an early employee in a startup that grew fast and is today one of the posterboys of the industry, things were hectic on the work front. The couple of sizeable breaks I managed were non-driving holidays, with the Civic cooling her heels in the parking lot. This is a wonderful highway car – it comes alive on the open road, a pure driver’s car with that seductive hydraulic steering, the best I’ve experienced. A lot of my colleagues recognise this car on sight, because well, how many MH registered red Civics can you see in Chennai anyways?
Even before Covid hit, I’d been eyeing the RE Interceptor covetously. The launch news, first rides, detailed ownerships – I read it all. Although the bike was a looker and ticked most of my boxes, the lack of alloys and the abysmal pillion footp eg placement made me drop the idea. I have a pillion rider nowadays, and I’d like her to accompany me on my rides, so putting her through the Interceptor pillion torture would be a sub-optimal strategy. The missing alloys option too was a deal breaker – are we really debating whether tubeless tyres are a good idea? Vintage spoked wheels look nice, but what looks nicer is someone not pushing a punctured bike because well, no tubeless. Dropped the Interceptor idea, and spent some time idly considering various used bikes. A friend had come by once with a Honda CBR150r, and innocently, handed me the keys. We went screaming down the Adyar bridge in minutes; to be honest, I don’t know whether it was the engine note or him screaming for dear life. Test rode a few Yamaha R15s, Honda CBRs and such bikes which had suddenly flooded the market post Covid, as people on EMIs scrambled to get rid of the unused bikes in an uncertain world. Saw a few good examples, but nothing really clicked. In the meantime, the thread by GTO debating the safety of bikes gave me plenty of food for thought. There’s a lot of good information and opinion on that thread, but one has to make up on one’s own mind. I came down on the side of riding mostly within the city with full gear, avoiding national highways, rides after dark, high speed roads, or very long bike rides.
But that still left me struggling to find a bike. Many alternatives were considered, including an idle unhinged thought of picking a friend’s well maintained RD350, whose exhaust note is stamped on the minds of those who heard it revv to the redline. But reliability won the day, and whatever else the RD is, reliable it is not.
Then in a brief span, the market saw the CB350, Meteor, Ronin & Hunter turn up. All these bikes although not comparable head-to-head would have fit my requirements. There’s no dearth of CB350 vs Meteor videos online, and I gravitated towards Abhinav Bhatt’s excellent v-logs. Read many of the articles published on both these bikes, as somehow, the Ronin and Hunter failed to connect. I was not that happy with the engine note of the Meteor, but the bike had other strong points. Decided finally to step out and take a test ride. All this while, I drove some of my friends a bit crazy with my musings over whether a bike made sense at all. I’m sure they’re somewhat relieved I’m writing this rather than boring them to tears.
The whole return to bikes was driven by a couple of factors – Chennai is somewhat better for bikes than Delhi, and to be honest, I’ve missed biking. Despite the long road trips in a succession of cars, the emotional connect I have with a motorcycle has been a major factor in buying one.
For the test drive, I decided to start with the Honda. Walked into Kun Honda Adyar a few days after it opened, and requested a test drive. There was barely any staff and certainly no Big Wing experience, and a bored security guard handed me the keys to the bike. Blipped the throttle, and instantly fell in love. I’d found the bike I wanted. There was no rational comparison and test drives of the Meteor or others – sometimes you have that sense of fit and that’s all you need. A short drive through the streets around LB road convinced me. But the rational part of the mind still existed, and I decided I needed a longer test ride and a cool-off period of a few weeks at least, to ensure I wasn’t jumping into a decision. Test rode the CB350RS as well, and realised I was driving far more aggressively on the RS than I wished to. With the CB350, I somehow settled into a sedate cruising style, enjoying the experience rather than enjoying the rush of speed. After a few weeks, I went up to Kun Honda again and requested a longer test ride. To their credit, they were extremely helpful, and I’ve never once felt like they were pushing a decision. Maybe this Big Wing strategy has something to say for it after all.
So earlier this week, I finally welcomed a companion to the Civic:
There’s a long list of mods planned, riding gear to be bought, places to be ridden to. We’re not perfectly rational economic utility-maximising specimens, but emotional humans, and sometimes a blip on the throttle can put a smile on the face. Atleast this bike does, for me.
Let me start listing down what I enjoy/dislike about the CB 350. I went for the DLX model as apart from the color, there’s little else that counted as differentiators between the DLX and DLX Pro. The DLX pro gets two tone colors (which I didn’t want), Bluetooth connectivity (I’m connected enough during work without wanting this while I ride too), and twin horns (this is much needed).
- Hassle free, relaxed character. This is not a bike that I want to redline.
- That engine note. Superb.
- Comfortable. The addition of a split seat has helped, and am considering a slightly stiffer foam density and adjusting the rear suspension stiffness as the next steps.
- Fuel efficiency is not a priority so will not bother talking about it. Does come with a ECO mode which I turned off.
- Bike feels well built and the quality of all the switchgear is decent.
- Took the extended Honda warranty, without the RSA.
- The horn. Single tone. Makes a 350cc bike sound like a 50cc Sunny Zip from the 90s.
- The mirrors. Ridiculous. My Civic’s passenger side vanity mirror is bigger than the stock CB350 mirror. Swapped for the CB300r mirrors at delivery, much better.
- The Tata OEM battery that’s been extremely well engineered to fail precisely at 1001 kms. Takes some genius to achieve this, and there’s no lack of online reviews complaining. Will be swapping it for an Amaron or something else next week.
- The brake pads. Again, engineered to fail. An upgrade planned soon, probably ceramic ones.
- The lights. Definitely needs halogen aux lights if you plan to ride after dark.
- The Honda Big Wing Welcome box. It has a 5 rupee Dairy Milk chocolate, a wrist band (which resembles cringey “friendship bands”, with the same lack of utility), a keychain (that I challenge anyone not wearing cargo pants to fit inside their pocket), and the only useful thing, a mug. Honda, please ditch this nonsense and provide something more useful like a bike cover instead of wrist bands or oversize keychains. I can use that to cover the bike when I park it.
- Picked up a Korda helmet from Power Sports. Was a better fit than the MT or Axxis helmets, and came with dual visors. The ISI certification issue has nixed all the imported helmets in the market, so I’ll probably upgrade in an year or so when things fall in place.
Planning to buy:
- Jacket – Rynox Air GT 3. The Macna Orcano was a good fit, but I’ll upgrade in an year’s time if needed to it.
- Gloves – Viaterra, if I can find them in my size.
- Knee protectors – Rynox.
- Boots – Undecided.
I didn’t pick up many other bike accessories. Settled for the engine guard bash plate, crash guard, CB300R mirrors and a split seat. Looking for some crash sliders, and if the Hyperrider ones can fit, that’d be great. Considered a backrest, but that will depend on the verdict from my pillion rider after she takes a few rides on it. Got rid of the saree guard as well before delivery.
What else? I’m not going to thrash the bike, hit any new top speeds or try any corner carving or track days. I do have a sneaky suspicion that this might take me back to Leh, though… who knows
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