Retrospective: Honda CL360 Scrambler: 1974 – 1975

Year/Model: 1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler; Owner: Al Driesbach, Atascadero, California.
Year/Model: 1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler; Owner: Al Driesbach, Atascadero, California.

Back in 1972, Honda determined that its immensely successful CB/CL350 OHC twin should continue to move forward…albeit slowly. But just how much change can be made by increasing the number on the side covers by 10, from 350 to 360? Quite a lot, as it turned out.

The 360 was no minor upgrade from the 350. It had a new chassis and some new running gear. The old 350 in actuality was only 325cc, with a 67mm bore, 50.6mm stroke; Honda enlarged the bore by 2mm and got the engine up to 356cc.

1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.
1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.

Change is necessary. A product sells, sells well, but when there is competition any sensible capitalist knows that the R&D boys and girls had better earn their salaries. In ’74, Kawasaki had both the KZ400 twin and the S3 400cc triple. Suzuki had the TS400 twin and GT380 triple. While Yamaha had the kick-butt RD350 twin. Honda already had the CB400F four-banger in the pipeline for ’75, and trusted it would put the company at the head of the pack.

Honda presented three 360 models for 1974, all under $1,000. The CL street scrambler ran for two years, 1974-1975; the plain CB, with drum front brake, for one year, 1974; the CB/G, with a disc front brake, for one, 1974. The CL had the “American-style” upswept pipes running along the left side, a 2.9-gallon gas tank and drum brakes fore and aft.

Road testers of the time had varied opinions as to the rideability of the 360. The one constant complaint was about the vibration of the 180-degree twin. The 350 had been a shaker, and the 360 wasn’t any better. Also, the engine had been detuned in order to enhance the torque, so while the 350 boasted 36 horses at 10,000 rpm, the 360 was down to 34 at 9,000. Honda felt that this less-peaky engine would make the bike more fun to ride around town. It was definitely a short-haul machine, as nobody seemed to like the saddle for long trips.

1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.
1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.

Internally the bearings on the crankshaft had been strengthened, and those who enjoyed abusing their engines were less concerned about bottom-end problems…not that the 350 had really had any. More important to the home mechanic, and most owners of the 350 who did not have the money to pay a professional, the obnoxious oil slinger that passed the lubricant through a filter was redesigned to make access to, and replacement of, the cleanable filter much easier. The whole oiling system had been substantially changed, using a “trochoidal” pump that utilized pressure rather than the previous splash system. Looking up trochoidal in the dictionary doesn’t help much, but it appears to be more or less a five-sided Wankel-type design.

The tensioner on the rather long chain driving the single overhead camshaft had also been altered, as the previous roller-wheel design had often been over-tightened by inexperienced types, leading to disastrous endings. Now there was a simple slipper-type adjuster, easier for the casual wrench-wielder to do properly. However, a recall in April of 1975 was due to malfunctioning slippers, and dealers would install a new version, which worked well.

Year/Model: 1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler; Owner: Al Driesbach, Atascadero, California.
Year/Model: 1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler; Owner: Al Driesbach, Atascadero, California.

Adjusting clearances on the four valves was simplified by using setscrews at the tips of the rocker arms secured by old-fashioned locknuts.

Major change was in the two carburetors—instead of the previous slide types, the new ones were of the constant-vacuum variety—and test riders complained about them being too sensitive. The throttle now had twin push-me/pull-you cables, but at slow speeds the carbs were blamed for the lack of smoothness. The rubber blocks in the rear hub, which were intended to ease tension on the chain final drive, were considered by some a bit too soft, contributing to jerkiness.

1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.
1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.

Straight-cut gears went from the crankshaft to the transmission, which now had a sixth gear. A number of riders felt the extra gear was unnecessary, as too many gears can be as frustrating as too few. Ride reviews found some testers complaining that the gears were now too closely spaced; others said the spacing was perfect. You can’t please all the people all of the time.

The most important change was the new tubular frame, with a single downtube, splitting off to create a cradle under the engine. Of note was the improved quality of the welds in the frame; their aesthetics were a couple of notches above what people had been used to seeing from Honda. Some ride reports said that, when ridden hard, the 360 tended to flex a bit more than was pleasurable; others lauded the “superb chassis.”

CL sales not being up to expectations, it was dropped from the line after two years, while a CB/T model, with minor cosmetic changes from the previous G, continued on in ’75 and ’76. Then Honda decided to retrograde the bike, coming out with the CJ360 model, which had no electric starter, drum brakes fore and aft and a 5-speed transmission. The two-into-two exhaust was changed to a less costly two-into-one running out the right side, and the centerstand was deleted. And the price lowered.

1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.
1975 Honda CL360K1 Scrambler.

But that was just a stopgap until the CB400 appeared in ’78, the parallel twin bored out yet again, this time to 395cc, and sporting a new three-valve, OHC head, with a pair of counterbalancers to quell the vibes—and a 5-speed transmission. Maybe that sixth gear was not
necessary.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I have one of these that I rescued a few years ago from a garage that it had sat in since 1990. The bike is 100% original. Its a quality motorcycle for that time. It keeps its battery nicely charged and it always starts right up even though it still has the original ( probably factory original) points in it. But its a vibey, twitchy little punk of a motorcycle. It is hard to believe that something so slow, and so outdated can still be a legal vehicle. Although I once hit 85 mph indicated on the bike, its happiest around 55 and even then my hands go numb after half an hour. The CB360 is more of a conversation piece than it is a vehicle. I’d love to find a proper home for mine but the people who have been interested in it seemed to brush aside my cautions. One guy wanted to commute on the bike 50 miles round trip into Boston! Its not the bike for that, its for puttering 2 miles to a cafe.

  2. I found that going up to a 17-tooth countershaft sprocket on my CL360 helped the highway performance and vibration significantly. The engine easily has enough torque to drive it; and I commute 30 miles at 70-75mph everyday. The main issue with the bike is keeping up with maintenance as that kind of pace eats through tires and chains quickly and oil change intervals are short. I also rewired the rear turn signals for dual filament bulbs and converted to red lenses so I now have two marker lights and the tail light on at all times. I added a real halogen headlight and upgraded the rectifier to handle it. These changes improve visibility a lot and bring the bike up to a more modern standard but the frame, suspension and tire options ultimately limit the performance – not much can be done for that without spending a lot more money than the bike will ever be worth. Just my two cents.

  3. Hey sal I’m very interested in my younger years bike. I grew up with the bike and got stories to beat the band. I have a son and in a year or two he’s going to be driving. It’s a perfect first bike. I used mine to go to work 1-2 miles from my house,a great around town bike. Just a blast . My father sold mine when I went into the army and was stationed in Korea. Yes I was pissed and still hold him accountable today. If you have the bike and want it to go to a good home you found it. I live in Maine . Hit me up thanks Scott

  4. My first motorcycle was an orange 1974 CL360 Honda. Now this is no BS. I was living in Utah at the time and two weeks after learning to ride, 3 friends from California stopped by and asked if I wanted to go on a cross-country trip. Two of them had BMW 75/5 ‘s and the other a Kawasaki 900. Given the vibes at the time, I said sure and off we went. By the time we reached Chicago I was getting the hang of it but my hands were completely numb from the vibration. We continued on to N.Y then to Canada and finally to Seattle where we parted ways. My friends returned to California and I to Utah. We travelled 10,000 miles. The only thing I did along the way was to change the oil. Wind was a challenge, rain not so bad and keeping up a chore but I managed. This was a great bike considering the year and size. I now ride one of the 1973 BMW’s that was on the trip. Maybe I will look around for another CL 360 just for the fun of it.

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