When I was 20 years old, the idea of still liking a motorcycle I owned then 45 years later would have been absurd to me. Now, not so much.
That’s pretty remarkable in light of the fact the relationship with that motorcycle started with what remains one of the worst, most ill-considered long-range motorcycle rides in my life. I came closer to frostbite and hypothermia on that motorcycle trip than on most any snowmobile trip I’ve ever been on.
Despite that and a few other less-than-perfect aspects of the thing, I still own one of those motorcycles from 45 years ago; a 1976 Honda CJ360T. Actually, I’ve owned two of them! I owned that first one from new in 1976 to 1984. Then after a 25-year absence, I decided it would be fun to have one again and in 2009 found one in nearly-new condition for sale.
So, this year marks the 45th Anniversary of the CJ360T, which went into Honda’s line-up in 1976. In all, I’ve owned a CJ360T for 20 years.
A lot of other bikes have come along for me over the years—a total of 23 others, in fact and ten of those are in the “come-and-gone” category. You’d think I’d have tired of the little 360 by now.
So, what sustains the kick I get out of owning and riding one?
One thing that comes to mind is how light and easy to handle the CJ is. With a dry weight of only 357 lb., it is easy to maneuver at any speed and when moving it powered off. Man-handling my Vmax is like pushing a station wagon by comparison.
The 53” wheelbase and 3.6” of trail makes the bike nimble and quick to change direction. That makes it a real gas to sling around corners on southern Wisconsin’s blacktopped back roads.
Styling is lean and clean—minimal plastichrome, a long, sleek, tapered 3.7 gallon tank, duck-tail seat that is comfy as well as cool looking (and still intact), and there’s a nifty, race-style cowling over the rear fender that actually holds the original tool kit with room for more.
Performance today, even after all those years, is lively with the claimed 34 hp at 9,000 RPM propelling that light package with surprising verve, but unsurprising vibration non-counterbalanced parallel twins became so famous for. All that said, the CJ360T is no rocket, but for me back in 1976, trading up from a 1974 Honda CL200, it felt close.
The CJ came with a double-leading shoe drum brake up front and single-leading shoe drum unit at the rear with no disc brake option; if you wanted a disc up front, you had to go with the CB360G version. Truth be told, the drum units on the CJ are more than adequate for a machine of this weight and performance range. They have a progressive feel and don’t tend to lock unless you really hammer them.
So, despite the fact that the CJ was designed as a basic econo-bike, there really were a lot of things to recommend it as a capable commuter bike, day-trip tourer and even a surprisingly sporty lightweight.
Of course, as with anything, there were some warts.
That stylish, at the time trendy two-into-one exhaust system was and remains very effective in keeping the note throaty but quiet. It also is a real limiting factor in lean angle in right-handers. It unhorsed me in an off-camber right turn right in front of a funeral home in Mazomanie, WI, my first summer owning it. Lesson learned.
Doing an oil change is a major pain—at least for those times when you plan to also clean the centrifugal oil filter. To do that, you must remove the footrests, muffler, and kickstart lever. Then, remove the right-hand crankcase cover and gasket. Then remove the internal circlip holding the oil filter cap.
Then remove and clean the filter cap and rotor. Then install a new o-ring seal on the filter cap, carefully align one of the filter cap ribs with the index mark on top of the rotor, install the cap and circlip, making sure the locator dowels are in place, install a new gasket and right crankcase cover, reinstall the muffler, kickstart lever and footpegs.
Why don’t they just make it necessary to remove the engine to drain the old oil out while they’re at it? This is one maintenance step that might have been more thoroughly thought through—wouldn’t a standard spin-on or cartridge oil filter have made more sense?
The CJ model is kick start only. Kind of cool, in a way, except for starting in cold weather. But, the bike does kick through pretty easily, and in normal riding weather it usually starts on the first or second kick. Still, there are times when I do miss having a starter button.
It also lacks a center stand, which saves some weight but adds some hassle-factor for mundane things like chasing down the valve to check and add air to the rear tire and for adjusting, cleaning, and lubing the chain.
In terms of major repairs, there haven’t been any—mostly normal maintenance. When I bought it, a new chain and sprockets had just been fitted. It is a conventional (non-O-ring) chain and it is coming due for replacement, so I plan to upgrade it to X-ring chain at the next tire change.
The only thing to have actually failed in all these years is the base plate of the tachometer. Somehow that plate has broken without the tach ever having been damaged otherwise. I can only assume the tachometer drive cable that threads onto the base of the tach being kept to the minimum length possible must put a lot of tension on the tachometer’s base plate and eventually caused the crack.
In any event, it led to the tachometer meter movement at times bouncing the needle wildly up and down the scale and, after I tried to repair the base plate with JB Weld, it is now tracking the engine RPMs between 2,000 to 4,000 low. So, I plan to visit Suter’s Speed Shop to see about a salvage replacement. If nothing is in stock there, I’ll try David Silver Spares.
Then there’s the mystery of the designation “CJ.” I’ve read a number of differing explanations of how Honda comes up with model designations. Some make sense, for example, “VT” for V-twin, and “VF” for V-four, but CJ?
So, the list of negatives is really pretty short. And, the thing is a fun to ride, cheap to operate, and insure the little all-round bike. But there’s more to it.
I guess there is an intangible factor at work here that may, indeed, only apply to me and this particular bike. Riding it makes me feel like that 20-year-old kid again, especially since I live where I can ride those same picture postcard roads I rode first on a new CJ way back when. Its sound, feel and performance reminds me of those days 45 years ago that suddenly seem like they were only yesterday, yet so long ago.
I know some people feel that getting nostalgic about a machine or any other object is pretty silly—but it’s more than the machine. It’s the power of memory, of place and time; carefree, simpler times. The bike was part of it then and re-kindles those feelings now. Was 1976 really 45 years ago? This CJ360T doesn’t show it.