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If you liked the Honda H’ness CB350 but are turned off by its name, you now have the option of getting the new CB350RS. While both motorcycles share the same underpinnings and powertrain, the former is a retro-modern standard bike, while the latter is based on a ‘road sailing’ concept, which is the reason for the ‘RS’ suffix. From the looks of it, the design of the CB350RS feels like an amalgamation of a café racer and a scrambler derived from the tourer. Now, I am not saying that this new Honda is a bad-looking motorcycle. It definitely isn’t, but considering its design cues, it is difficult to place it in one defined genre.

Looks are an entirely subjective matter, but in this case, I feel it is important to understand what is different on the CB350RS in comparison to its bling-bling sibling. First up, is the blacked-out theme which I totally like; I’m not a fan of chrome anyway. Excluding the exhaust shield, handlebar, mirrors and part of the engine covers, the motorcycle gets a matte-black treatment that accentuates the vibrant livery. In this case, the red tank with the black line racing across its length looks mighty appealing. The seat has a tuck-and-roll type design that looks premium while providing adequate cushioning. Also redesigned are the side panels which add a dab of sportiness to the overall design. However, it is beyond this point that the CB350RS portrays a different persona. The revised tail section, shorter fenders, fork gaiters, block-pattern tyres, and skid plate, all hint towards a scrambler. Go figure.

Café racers or scramblers, both these styles are known for speed and agility. Now, the CB350RS is indeed agile, which we will address in a bit, but in terms of speed, it isn’t quite the case. You see, Honda has swapped the H’ness’s tall ’bar with a flatter and wider one, the footpegs are rearset and higher to provide more cornering clearance, and instead of the 18-inch wheel at the rear, the CB350RS gets a 17-inch wheel with a taller-profile tyre. What all this translates to is a sportier stance that eggs you to twist that throttle hard for more speed. But what you’ve got is the same powertrain of the H’ness CB350 which is easygoing and relaxed through most of its rev band. The gearing is tall and even the final drive remains the same. If not the gears, it would have been great if Honda would have at least considered dropping in a larger rear sprocket for more initial and mid-range acceleration.

Anyway, the CB350RS is an agile motorcycle that cuts through traffic like a hot Honda knife through stubborn Indian butter. The riding triangle is engaging, but I had to work the gears to keep revs high where the bike feels alive. The need for power is stronger with the CB350RS due to its sporty character and that can get a bit disappointing at times. The brakes offer a good bite with progression, while the suspension irons out most of the undulations that Mumbai roads have to offer.

Interestingly, Honda has skipped on the Bluetooth-enabled instrumentation and a power socket for the CB350RS which are standard on the H’ness. Despite the fewer features and chrome bits, Honda has priced the CB350RS at Rs 1.96 lakh, which is close to Rs 10,000 more than the H’ness, something that I can’t get my head around. And that leaves the CB350RS as an interesting and good-looking motorcycle that could have done with a little bit more power and also a clearer identity. Maybe Honda’s betting on you getting one and customising it yourself. I can certainly see a lot of potential for that.

Honda CB350RS

Displacement: 348.36cc, single
Max power: 20.78 bhp@5500 rpm
Max torque: 3.05 kgm@3000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed

Type: Half duplex cradle

(F/R): 310-mm disc / 240-mm disc

(F/R): 100/90 R19 / 150/70 R17

L/W/H (mm): 2171/804/1097
Wheelbase: 1441 mm
Ground clearance: 168 mm
Seat height: 800 mm
Kerb weight: 159 kg
Fuel capacity: 15 litres

PRICE: Rs 1.96 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi)