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Reunion with a Honda CJ-360T | Motorcycle Reflections

Honda CJ-360T Reflection

Those of us into vintage and classic bikes often have good memories that we associate with certain motorcycles.

It might be that special motorcycle from our youth that was our first “real” motorcycle, or the one we took on our first cross-country trip, or maybe the one we rode with our high school buddies.

This bike for me was the 1976 Honda CJ-360T.  It was light, capable and best of all cheap, retailing for under $1,000.

In 1976, while it wasn’t one of the big-bore bikes of the day, it wasn’t a tiddler, either.  Unencumbered by the weight of an electric starter, no dual mufflers, no center stand and nearly none of the chrome doo-dads other bikes tended to have back then, the CJ weighed but 351 pounds dry.  Armed with a 356 cc SOHC four-stroke twin that delivered 34 HP at 9,000 RPM, the CJ could deliver a pleasant surprise when the throttle was given a good twist.  Triple-digit territory on the speedometer even seemed within reach—well, fairly close, anyway.

Aboard that bike, as a 20-year-old, I first saw Wisconsin’s spectacular Driftless Area, the soaring southwestern uplands and Lower Wisconsin River valley on day-long jaunts through the rolling farm country.  I enjoyed the CJ completely and kept it for over eight years, only selling it because of a long-distance relocation.  I often missed having that nimble twin around over the ensuing years.  But was the CJ really as good as I remember it?

When a CJ came up for sale nearby, I finally had the chance to find out.  The bike was in excellent condition, with less than 10,000 miles on the clock.  Now, nearly 30 years after saying good-bye to my first CJ, I at last have one in my garage again!

The development of Honda’s CJ360T followed a reverse path from that usually taken.  Typically, a model is introduced in rather spare form and in ensuing years, more advanced and numerous features are added.  Not so the CJ.

Its 356cc SOHC parallel twin with two valves per cylinder first appeared in the CB360 (with drum brake up front), CB360G (with front disc brake) and CL360 scrambler high-pipe models in 1974.  Those versions came with electric starters and six-speed transmissions, flashy two-tone paint, pin-striping, center-stands, and disc brakes were standard on later versions of those bikes.

It wasn’t until the 1976 model year that the more basic CJ model in the series appeared and the CL version was dropped.  By 1977, the popular four-cylinder CB400F was in its third year and the CB360 disappeared.  In 1978, the CJ360T also dropped out of the line-up, to be replaced by the CB400 Hawk (395 cc, three valves per cylinder) twin cylinder series.

Unlike the CL and CB models, the CJ had a five-speed transmission vs six, no electric starter, no center stand, no pin-striping (until the ’77 model year), was available only in candy Antares red paint, had very little chrome, decals for tank badges, a painted plastic front fender and a two-into-one exhaust system.

Pared down though it was compared to the CB and CL, the CJ had a sleek, Spartan look to it with a long, trim 3.7 gallon tank, a slick locking door over the gas cap, duck-tail seat and race bike-inspired tail section that doubled as a tiny trunk that held the tool kit with room to spare.  The two-into-one header resembled that on the CB750F.

Riding this CJ brought back a lot of memories, including one about vibration.  As with my first CJ, vibration reaches a crescendo right at 55 MPH in fifth gear; five MPH above or below, the bike is quite smooth, but at 55, it gets buzzy.  The handlebars and footpegs are rubber mounted, but as when new, are of only moderate effect.

Starting the 38-year-old CJ is just as easy as it was new; lift the choke to the “on” position, kick once, blip the throttle a few times, turn the choke off, and you’re set to go.  The bike pulls away with virtually no warm-up to speak of.

For normal driving, the CJ accelerates to traffic speed adequately, able to go from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, according to model spec sheet data.  The power band is most usable from 5,000 to 9,000 rpm, with the red-line at 9,200 rpm.  The engine turns about 4,400 rpm at 55 mph, with roll-on torque and vibration to spare, suggesting that the six speed transmission would have been a good feature to give the CJ.

Handling is sprightly thanks to 26.5° rake, 3.4 inches of trail, 54.1 inch wheelbase and light weight.  Cornering clearance in left-handers is substantial, but watch the right-handers!  The union point of the twin header pipes finds the ground quickly, and when it does, it can loft the rear tire, putting the bike into a lurid, low-side slide.  I learned this first hand with my new CJ in 1976, experiencing my first pavement face-plant in the process.  On this point, I didn’t need a reminder.

The basic hydraulic damped forks work well with 3.5 inches of travel and twin rear shocks are up to the task providing 3.0 inches of travel.  Drum brakes front and rear are adequate and have a nice progressive feel, as they did new.

The CJ360T was an acquired taste to some because of its plain-Jane appearance and lack of amenities.  But that gives it something in common with other vintage bikes.  To a lot of riders, it was the economical key that unlocked the door to long day trips, or that first step up to a real motorcycle from a mini-bike or Honda 50.

As a lean, essential motorcycle built with solid engineering, the CJ360T today stands up as a classic, functional lightweight in its own right.   Is it as good as I remember?  When it takes me back to those happy days, I guess it’s even better.

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  • This is a great story Gary. I’ve been on reading a lot of things written by you lately and this time I just had to write something. I don’t have a CJ, nor have I ever ridden one but you sure make me want to go ride one now. I’m glad you’ve been able to find another to add to your stable. Great read!

  • Barry Ervin

    I owned a 76 CJ360t, it was the only bike I ever bought new. It was a new leftover in 77 and I paid $639 for it. I still think it was the best buy I ever made. It replaced a 73 Kawasaki H1 500 that was stolen. While it wasn’t as fast or as sexy as the 500 triple, it was bullet-proof and user friendly and big enough and fast enough to go anywhere I wanted to go. I installed a slightly hotter cam and a straight through glass pack muffler that was still pretty quiet, and believe it or not it was pretty near as fast as my buddy’s RD400….. if I got a good start I could stay with him up to about 60 mph and top out at a little over 90 mph. I eventually sold it to finance a Triumph café bike project but have often looked back fondly on that little bike, which led to me finding your article. Maybe I’ll look for another one. There don’t seem to be many of them around, though.

    • David Groves

      Great comments I also owned a 1976 CJ360t it was my second bike replacing my Suzuki TS125 enduro which was really just too small for the street. This bike was a dream come true for me, now I could even carry a passenger usually a female for a date. I also owned a Kawasaki h2 750 triple, Yamaha RD400 and a RD350. In no ways could this bike stock keep up with those two stroke twins they were much lighter, quicker and faster animals. But the CJ360 was much more fun and practical. Now these days I wouldn’t even consider riding on any roads with all of the idiots out there that can’t even navigate without their damn GPS or constantly being totally distracted on their idiot phone. It’s just too dangerous and not even worth it..

  • Great comment Barry, thanks for sharing!

  • E Brown

    Just wanted to say “nice article.” I had a similar experience with the CJ360’s predecessor, the CB400T, which had a base model like this (kick only, wire wheels), an auto version, and the full-on Hawk II with six speed, electric start etc. I spent my teens and early 20s riding around KY farm roads and feel similarly nostalgic for those days.

  • Steve Rais

    I know this is an old article and thread but wanted to say it was a good one. I bought a CJ two years ago as my first bike and I love it. It has given me some headaches at times but I don’t think I’ll ever part with it. It’s large enough that I can commute to work and small enough where I can carry it on the back of my jeep to take on longer trips. Thanks for the article.

  • Flyin’finn

    My CJ continues to amaze me, too. A couple of weeks ago when the temps here in Wisconsin got up into the mid-thirties, I decided to roll the ol’ CJ out of its dark corner of the non-heated garage and see if it would start. I had kept it on a battery tender, so it had some juice in store and much to my amazement after about ten kicks, it sputtered to life! This being its 40th year in service, it may be an opportune time to take it out on a real road trip to see how that turns out and then tell about it–or not. Depending…