2021 Honda CB350RS road test review
The CB350 H'ness has been Honda's long coming answer to Royal Enfield. Benchmarked closely against Royal Enfield's best-seller, the Classic 350, the Honda CB350 has left no stone unturned (including the exhaust note) to offer a better product than the ageing Classic. In fact, when we compared the H'ness to its class rivals, it came out on top, even pipping the 2021 IMOTY winner, the Royal Enfield Meteor 350. Now, Honda has a new variant of the CB350 that aims to attract those looking for a slightly sportier take on the standard body style of the H'ness and they are calling it the CB350RS.
2021 Honda CB350RS Design
That RS moniker usually translates to "Road/Rally/Race Sport" in the automotive world, but Honda is categorically calling it "Road Sailing". There have been many jokes about that already, but we will let it slide. You get a plain and simple CB350RS badge on the side panels and it looks rather good if you have a thing for the classic CB models from Honda's longstanding heritage. Even the two limited colour options (for 2021) look like an ode to the classics - with the yellow making the bike appear visually longer with its pinstripe design.
But that's where the similarities with the old world end. The side profile of the Honda CB350RS has a strong resemblance to the current CB1000R (or CB300R) with its stubby tail and upswept exhaust canister. While the sharp fenders impart a leaner stance to the H'ness, a rear wheel-hugger with an integrated registration plate like the 1000R would have been a more apt design element over the floating rear fender seen on the CB350RS. But alongside "Road Sailing", we also repeatedly heard words like "off-road" and "scrambler look" during the press presentation of this motorcycle and hence there is the inclusion of an engine bash plate too.
2021 Honda CB350RS Dynamics and Safety
To that effect, the CB350RS moves to 19F/17R wheel sizes, which are shod with block pattern tyres and their slightly taller profile and give the RS 2mm of additional ground clearance. Compared to the H'ness (Honda CB 350), these tyres have their limitations on tarmac as they squirm at higher lean angles, but their pattern makes them marginally better equipped on broken roads, gravely and muddy pathways, should you encounter them on your ride. Our test bike also showed slightly longer stopping distances than the H'ness. Like the H'ness though, the brakes feel sharp, needing you to be a little more careful while braking on slippery terrain.
The motorcycle comes with dual-channel ABS, and there is a switchable traction control system which is seldom summoned on this 21PS motorcycle. But as I have said before, safety features are always welcome and to that effect, the RS gets a slip and assist clutch (like the H'ness), which combined with the traction control, prevents hopping and sliding of the rear wheel under hard downshifting.
The chassis is carried over unchanged and the suspension setup of the Honda CB350RS isn't very different than the H'ness, meaning the ride is supple. Around bends, the motorcycle maintains its composure quite nicely. Compared to the H'ness, the RS has moved the position of rider foot pegs rearward by 112mm and upward by 12mm, whereas the handlebar sits 10mm higher, 41mm farther and is 4mm wider than before. What this translates to is a slightly more forward-biased seating which imparts a higher sense of control, while the repositioned footpegs don't scrape as often while cornering as their counterparts on the H'ness. Going with the sportier intent, the RS uses a toe shifter for the 5-speed gearbox.
Honda has given the RS a wider seat with a ribbed pattern on the rider end. The long-distance comfort, therefore, is noticeably better than the H'ness, but I believe that it is more to do with the revised rider geometry coming from the repositioned pegs and handlebar, than the change in the design of the seat.
2021 Honda CB350RS Engine
The engine remains unchanged too. In fact, the tuning and the exhaust note are exactly similar to the standard CB350. What changes is the finish - a blacked-out engine and exhaust system to go with the sportier stance of the motorcycle. That said, there is a marginal difference in the performance figures of the RS versus the H'ness - thanks to a 2kg weight loss on the motorcycle, (and slightly lighter me, compared to when I tested the H'ness in November 2020).
The characteristics of the engine remain unchanged too - its cruising sweet spot is between 100-110kmph, will go past 130kmph with some reluctance and clamour, has tall gearing which needs multiple gear shifts while riding at city speeds, and excellent fuel economy that you expect from a Honda. The design and capacity of the tank remain unchanged and getting a 400km highway range is possible as long as you are cruising between 80-100kmph.
You are likely to love the engine for its smooth performance and quick rev build-up and though it isn't in the same ballpark as the 250cc street nakeds, the performance feels adequate for road use. While the tyres and rear-end design might make you think of the CB350RS as a scrambler too, the engine lacks the low-end grunt and the suspension lacks the travel or softness that you would expect for scrambling. But treat the RS like a City Bike, and you will like its ability to putter around effortlessly on tarmac as well as poor road conditions.
2021 Honda CB350RS Verdict
While the CB350 H'ness took an unexpectedly long time to arrive, Honda is wasting no time now to expand that platform into more variants that will theoretically help them grab a larger slice of the pie. The Honda CB350RS is only a small step in that direction, but we hope to see more significant models arrive on this platform, going forward. A higher price tag, despite the removal of the Bluetooth connectivity (available on the H'ness) and the USB-C charger (available as an add-on) in lieu of the sportier styling elements, could make you feel shortchanged. But as they say, choosing a motorcycle is an emotional decision, and therefore, if the CB350RS' visual zing strikes a chord with you, you wouldn't go wrong choosing it over the H'ness - a motorcycle that has already proved to be better than its peers is our tests.
2021 Honda CB350RS real-world mileage and performance
City fuel economy - 30.21 kmpl
Highway fuel economy - 47.94 kmpl
Overall fuel economy - 40.64 kmpl
0 to 60 kmph - 4.3s
0 to 100 kmph - 12.1s
30-70 kmph(3rd) - 5.5s
40-80 kmph(4th) - 10.1s
60-0 kmph - 23.5m/3.2s
80-0 kmph - 40.8m/4.1s
Starts Rs 1,96,000
Starts Rs 1,85,000
Starts Rs 1,75,000