Welcome to the second last episode of the Honda CL350 Café Racer restoration series! In spring 2020, I picked up a beautiful 1973 Honda CL350 cafe racer that had long been neglected by her owner. My goal was to rescue this sweet 48 year old motorcycle and help bring her back to her former glory.
In Episode 1 I looked over the motorcycle to figure out what I had gotten myself into and what work she might need. In Episode 2 I got to work servicing the brakes to make sure they were still functional. Last week, in Episode 3, I siphoned the old gas out of the tank and drained the carburetors.
In Episode 4, I’ll be working through the ignition switch, fuel petcock, choke, butterfly valves, and finally the kick-starter to see if we can get this 48 year old cafe racer to fire up!
Why the motorcycle wouldn’t start
It took months before I ever got the CL350 to fire up. On a couple instances of sheer frustration I was able to get her to turn over enough that I was convinced the motor wasn’t seized, but that was as close to making the old motorcycle fire up as I got.
There were three main reasons I couldn’t get the 1973 Honda CL-350 café racer to start:
1) The battery was completely dead
The battery in the CL350 cafe racer was completely dead, as in less than 2 volts instead of the 12.76 volts it should have been holding. The motorcycle had been completely rewired when it was rebuilt, so I have no idea if the present wiring would have allowed this bike to be kicked over without a battery, but it would need one sooner or later so I went ahead and bought a new one.
It was by far the smallest battery I’ve ever seen. It was so small that you would think it was lithium if you didn’t know better. If you’re not sure, here’s how to prepare a new motorcycle battery.
2) The ignition switch may have been wired wrong
Old motorcycles and key issues go hand in, but in this case the problem wasn’t a lost motorcycle key, the problem was a key switch that may have been re-wired incorrectly.
The ignition switch positions were off, red, green. I believed RED was parking lights only, and GREEN was the RUN position. This was wrong. RED was the run position, and GREEN seemed useless.
I don’t know if this is how the 1973 Honda CL350s were wired, or if this was re-wired incorrectly, but if you have one of these motorcycles please let me know in the comments section down below!
3) I had the position of the choke butterfly valve backwards
Carbureted motorcycles need the use of a choke to help them fire up. Opening up the choke helps a motorcycle run when it’s cold by reducing the outside air getting into the motor, so that the motorcycle has more gas to burn until it heats up.
An open or “On” choke means a closed butterfly valve for less air to come into the motorcycle. A closed or “Off” choke means an open butterfly valve for more outside cold air to enter. Unfortunately, I had my directions backwards, so I was always getting cold outside air coming into the motor, making it difficult to start the motorcycle.
If you ever find yourself working on your Honda CL350 or Honda CB350 and you aren’t sure which position is which, all you need to do is take off the air filter and look into the carburetor and refer the diagram above. If the butterfly valve is shut, the choke is on. If the butterfly valve is open, the choke is off.
Getting the Honda CL350 cafe racer to fire up
With a new battery installed, the old gas siphoned out of the tank and drained out of the carburetor, fresh gas and a little Seafoam in the tank, the key to the correct (incorrect) position, the choke in the correct position, and the fuel petcock to the on position, it was now time to try to kick start the CL350.
Luckily, the motorcycle fired right up!
She died as soon as I tried to shut off the choke, but that’s understandable given the temperature was hovering over freezing.
Two kicks later and she fired up once again! A happy dance followed, but you’ll have to watch the video above if you want to see that.
A few other observations
I noticed a few other interesting things that evening:
First, the gap between the foot pegs and foot controls were off by 2″ from one side of the motorcycle to the other, making the setup a little awkward for my Size 12 boots.
Second, this motorcycle had no shift linkage, instead, it seemed like something had been fabricated and bolted on. The end result was instead of having a standard 1 down, 4 up transmission, shifting on this CL350 is now 1 up, 4 down.
Luckily there is a wide variety of aftermarket parts available for the Honda CB350 and Honda CL350 (adorably named “The Honda Twins”). You can find aftermarket rear sets for this motorcycle readily available, even if it is almost half a century old.
Getting the CL350 to kick over made me ecstatic. I couldn’t wait until daylight so I could take it out for a test ride. Stay tuned for next week’s video, it will be the final episode of the 1973 1973 Honda CL350 restoration series. I’ll be taking the CL350 for a test ride and letting you know my thoughts on this 48 year old motorcycle as we go for a ride.