Back in the 1960s, right when Honda started to make a name for itself in the motorcycle industry, they designing what could be considered the first ever dual-purpose motorcycle. Designated with the code “CL”, Honda registered the name “Scrambler” in the motorcycle manufacturers first attempt to combine two kinds of motorcycles into one. What was in essence a Honda CB road bike, a few modifications were made to enable the little parallel twin to traverse off the beaten path. A bigger tube frame with a front downtube gave extra strength and ran through the space where the electric starter was mounted in the CB model. Eliminating the starter gave clearance in the frame, and lightened the total weight of the bike. It had a small-capacity painted fuel tank, fork boots, 19-inch front and rear wheels, knobbly tires, a taller handlebar with cross-brace, and shorter fenders. Early models had painted aluminum fenders too. Honda built their CL series scrambler in a range of 50cc to 450cc.
The fine example we are looking at today left the factory as a Honda CL350 Scrambler back in 1971. James Fawcett from Slipstream Creations, a St. Louis Missouri based outfit, told us that his customer chose this bike because he considers it to be a good size for ease of handling and simplicity. It is also a great platform for modifications while keeping an honest vintage Honda feel. Plus, he knew another builder in town who happened to have one, ready to be restored. The idea was to build a vintage Honda that could be used to bomb down the Ozark Mountain fire trails. He wanted this bike to have as much enduro feel as it could, while keeping the overall vibe of the original CL350. Simple changes like knobbly tires, wide handlebars, high fenders, that sort of things.
All of the work on the CL was done in-house: design, metal fabrication, mechanical, paint and powder-coat, upholstery. One of the things James enjoyed about this project the most, was having control and flexibility at every point in the process. What modifications are made and what parts are being used? There were a number of small modifications made, but the biggest changes included the custom subframe and front suspension. He also made a small custom aluminum skid plate, a pannier rack, battery/electrical box, seat pan, and headlight brackets. Everything other than the engine internals was either brand new, or completely restored.
The biggest challenge was probably the Honda’s suspension. James wanted to not only give this bike as much clearance and travel as possible, while keeping the vintage heritage intact, but the rider is 6’2” (1.88m) tall, so balancing those things would be extremely important. James fitted a 1976 Honda CB500T front fork, which gave us slightly longer travel up front, as well as a factory disk brake. While the steering bearings for the CB500T and the CL350 are the same, the stem length didn’t match, so it took some work to swap the stems out. Longer than stock Hagon rear shocks were also mounted. Combined with the custom subframe that was a bit taller than original, the small Scrambler got the stance it deserved.
Blast from the past!
The Honda turned out quite the head-turner if we may say so ourselves. The overall finished project as a whole works great and that’s exactly what the owner wanted it. James explains: “Little details like the custom pannier rack are kind of cool, but it’s the overall lines of the bike and the way it still has the retro Honda vibe – it’s so different from a stock CL350, but it’s totally a CL350.” We think this must be one of the best-looking resto-mod Honda scramblers out there. As far as riding goes, it looks like a blast! It sounds great and runs like a Honda should. The size of these small/mid-displacement bikes is so great with their combination of light weight and enough power to make you smile without a worry.
List of modifications:
• Original tank restored and painted with custom retro Honda graphics
• Custom subframe
• Custom fabricated battery/electronics tray mounted under seat
• Antigravity lithium battery and modern regulator/rectifier unit.
• Custom fabricated pannier rack
• Custom seat pan and seat upholstery
• Longer-than-stock Hagon rear shocks
• Full CB500T front fork and disk brake
• Scrambler high-pipes with stainless steel mufflers
• Custom skidplate
• Custom headlight mount
• Motogadget m-Blaze Pin LED turn signals
• Aluminum oversized rims laced to original powdercoated hubs
• Kenda K760 Trakmaster DOT approved knobby tires
• All of the little, big details
Photo credits: Slipstream Creations