Break out the Ray Bans and flannel shirt, Honda’s retro GB350 is here to transport you back to the glory days of motorcycling.
What we like:
- Extremely economical
- Sharply priced
- Classic styling
Room for improvement:
- Could use a few extra horses
- Low-tech dash
View this post on Instagram
You always remember your first motorcycle. For many, a learner bike is merely a stepping stone to something bigger and bolder once you can finally bin the P-plates, but there’s still something special about rolling your first ever two-wheeler up the driveway. Although, choosing your first bike can be daunting…
Having decided you’re going to be a motorcyclist, it’s now time to decipher what type of rider you’re going to be. Cruiser or racer? Adventurer or commuter? Or perhaps you eschew those categorisations altogether and just follow your heart with something, well, cool?
For the latter crowd, Honda have filled the cafe/retro gap in their learner bike range with the classically styled GB350, featuring an air-cooled single-cylinder engine, chrome accents and vintage inspired curves. With two classy colour schemes to choose from (Matt Jeans Blue Metallic or Matt Pearl Morion Black), the GB350 has an elegance that should prompt a subtle nod of approval from even the most nonchalant of hipsters. I’m not the world’s foremost expert on fashion related matters, but judging by the amount of interest the little Honda drew from St Kilda’s bayside joggers and weirdos, Honda look to have nailed the design.
Thankfully, they aren’t also charging a premium for the suave styling. At $6999 the GB350 undercuts Royal Enfield’s 350 range, but doesn’t skimp on modern inclusions like fuel injection, traction control, ABS, slipper clutch, LED lights and an easy-to-read hybrid analogue/LCD cluster (displaying fuel level, range, trip, economy, time and selected gear).
Considering some e-scooters can set you back over six large, that sharp pricetag makes the GB350 a very tempting commuter option that’s also unlikely to self-immolate into a smelly pile of ash in the garage.
The mechanically uncomplicated 348cc air-cooled single cylinder engine continues the back-to-basics vibe. Whilst the 15kW (20hp) available at 5500rpm won’t have you reaching for the inhaler, the fact this is a bespoke engine made especially for this model tells you Honda is pretty confident it will shift quite a few GBs out of showrooms and into metropolitan garages.
As we pulled out of Melbourne’s HART centre at the start of our test route, I found myself blipping the throttle to hear more of the sassy engine note. There’s something charmingly pure about jaunting about on such a fun and accessible machine. There’s no acclimatisation, modes or procedures to get your head around, just jump on the cushioned saddle, adjust the scarf and away you go.
As you’d expect of a motorcycle produced in Japan, the fit-and-finish is superb and the quality feedback from all touchpoints made it feel as though I’d been riding the bike for weeks – rather than hours.
Our test route into the city took us through some typically heinous Melbourne traffic, but there’s enough pep from the little ‘thumper’ motor to facilitate a spritely squirt off the line after you’ve threaded your way to the front at the traffic lights. Once rolling, the GB will happily cruise at freeway speed but overtaking is best done by dropping a couple of gears and getting a bit of a run up on lane-hoggers, with not much impetus on tap at the top of the five-speed box.
Indeed, with a cool change whipping up a demonic gale as we made our way over the Bolte Bridge, the assembled journos probably looked as if they were taking part in a Moto3 style slipstream battle at times as we crouched down to present less frontal area to the stiff headwind gusts.
The 160km/h top speed proposed by the speedometer seemed optimistic in those conditions, but if you’re doing a lot of freeway miles the optional windshield might help you feel less like a human parachute. In fact there are heaps of customisation options to personalise the GB to your taste, including soft panniers, gearsack rack, pillion seat with grab handle, crash bars, knuckle guards, and various bodywork add-ons.
While basic, the front forks and dual rear shocks provide a compliant ride without feeling squishy, while the calipers biting down on single discs at the front and rear provide ample stopping power when the need arises. The spec sheet says the GB350 tips the scales at 181kg but the upright riding position, easy reach to the bars and 800mm seat height give it a nimble feel, making improvising your way around trams and Uber drivers as effortless as ordering an oat milk latte.
Speaking of Uber, the GB350 would be very thrifty if you fancied a stint in the gig economy delivering fast food. On our loop through the city and back, with lots of stopping, starting and general misbehaviour, the digital mileage readout showed 35.6km/litre – equating to a range of over 500km from the 15L tank! Now that’s what I call running on the fragrance of a petroleum-scented textile. You even get a little ‘eco’ light on the dash when you’re cruising to remind you that you’re sipping fuel at a glacial rate. For owners who’d like to save even more coin by taking care of the oily bits themselves, the additional centre stand should make servicing life easier.
The GB350 is unintimidating, economical and practical but packs a big punch in terms of character and style. It doesn’t feel or look like it’s been built to a pricepoint, and it’s a machine you’d get immense satisfaction admiring. That’s a combination of talents that new and experienced riders alike can hang their fedora on.
INFO MOTO’s QUICK SCORECARD
Engine: 7/10 – Decent take off pep and flexibility.
Gearbox: 7/10 – Light, consistent shift, ratio feels a bit tall in 5th.
Chassis: 8/10 – Good balance of ride quality and stability.