Of Pride and Pointlessness: Amateur Racing a 1974 Honda CB360

After a beer-fueled debate with friends about the worst bikes ever, Anders Carlson was the proud new owner of a 1974 Honda CB360 with plans to go racing. What could go wrong?

  • The beginning of the Sunday race at the 2015 Barber Vintage Festival. The race starts in three waves, with the the Historic Production Lighweight group starting second.
    Photo by Stephany Floyd
  • Race action at Mosport in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
    Photo by Stephany Floyd
  • Remnants of the left piston.
    Photo courtesy Anders Carlson
  • Less severe valve damage from the second engine blowup at Road America.
    Photo courtesy Anders Carlson
  • Closeup of the Honda CB360's stickers.
    Photo by Stephany Floyd
  • One day of practice and two races completed at Barber. Zero engines grenaded.
    Photo by Chris Steele
  • Nighttime hijinks at the 2015 Barber Vintage Festival.
    Photo by Travis Arthur Holland
  • The 360 now wears a simple on-off switch.
    Photo by Chris Steele
  • The art of push-starting a cold bike in race leathers at 7 a.m.
    Photo by Chris Steele
  • On track at Barber during the Friday practice session.
    Photo courtesy etechphoto.com
  • People who beat me with one hand tied behind their back, sort of. A foot-shift 1951 Triumph, then two hand-shift competitors, with me far, far behind. End of race on Sunday.
    Photo by Stephany Floyd
  • Awaiting my first-place prize for fastest CB360 at the Motorcycle Classics show.
    Photo courtesy Anders Carlson
  • The only award I won — a $4 beer sign.
    Photo courtesy Anders Carlson

Good times usually beget the worst ideas. At our 2013 annual ride to southeast Wisconsin, a beer-fueled debate broke out about the worst bike people had ever owned.

Post-Meriden Triumphs, “free” Japanese barn finds and bikes made of “unobtanium” were all mentioned, but Kris Baustert outdid everybody with the tale of a 1974 Honda CB360 so reviled he named it “Hellbitch.” It stranded him three times and his wife once. Broken down between Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, Hellbitch and his wife caught a ride home in a windowless van filled with chains from a stranger who turned out to be a carpenter and a good Samaritan. On cue, everyone chimed in with their own tales of CB360 woe. Worst bike ever, they all said. It replaced the beloved CB350, using a bigger engine with less horsepower and no parts compatibility. The cam chain tensioner design was awful and cam chain guides would fail, taking the cam chain for a ride to the bottom of the crankcase: It was an IED.

“But if you fix them, they’re not that bad?” I asked. Kris told me to buy Hellbitch and suggested an unprintable place to park it. Sensing a bet, I said, “Tell you what, I’ll fix it and race it.” Great laughter followed, as the CB360 isn’t legal to race in any class where it would be remotely competitive. But the idea had legs. I’d fix the unfixable, race the unraceable and do the unthinkable. She supposedly had good compression, and even had the “:” recall mark stamped on the engine case, indicating the bad cam chain guides were replaced. A bet is a bet, so I bought Hellbitch.

Reliability first

The most important thing in racing is finishing. Modifications come at the expense of reliability. The search for extra horsepower can push an engine past its abilities. My approach is to leave my engine safely underpowered. This bike is going to be a faith-based initiative — I’m praying it doesn’t blow up. Regardless, plenty of work goes into the first track day. The wiring harness is removed in favor of a total-loss electrical system, leaving only three wires — battery to “on” switch, to kill switch, to coils. A lithium battery saves 5 pounds. I bump the main jets from 100 to 110 and ditch the air filter. The front fender gets chopped, Avons get fitted to stock rims, and that’s it. Someone threw out their Ducati bodywork in my alley, so hello, classy belly pan.

5/16/2016 8:12:37 PM

Carlson's great story is so relatable for a lot of riders of old bikes--for me it's everything from the fact that I own an identical set of Precambrian age AGVSport racing leathers (shown in the print edition) to my relentless urge to own one of those dodgy Honda 360s. I've owned two 1976 CJ360s; one from new for about eight years and another to this day since 2009. Unlike the CB and CL versions, the CJ came only with a five vs six speed, drum vs. disc brake, no center stand, almost no chrome and two-into-one exhaust standard. In all those years, I never seriously considered racing the CJ against--well, anything. Hats off to Anders Carlson for giving the under-appreciated 360 a chance for glory, or to be even less appreciated.

5/12/2016 9:12:28 AM

This is a great story, MC made a good decision publishing it! Yeah, amateur racing is crazy, expensive of time and money, pointless, but after reading this story I GET IT! Give us more like this, Great fun, thanks, AC!

4/20/2016 8:06:42 PM

I loved reading this! I got my motorcycle license two years ago and wanted to ride a vintage bike. My husband brought home a 1975 cb360t for me. Turns out it doesn't make the best beginner bike! But it's too late, I already named it and am determined to master riding it. Its poor unwanted step-child status just makes me want to love it more. My husband was racing at Barber last year too (a Honda 750 and 160). I gleefully showed him this article and he just groaned!

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