What happens when a jet aircraft mechanic builds his wife a bike…
The Honda CB350 twin is not only one of the company’s best-selling models, but one of today’s most popular vintage bikes for customization. We’ve seen a lot of CB350 cafe racers over the years, but rarely does a build of this caliber come along. The stunning CB350 you see here is the work of Mark Kouri, a United Airlines aircraft mechanic and the founder of Merlin Cycleworks. Mark has built a few hot rods in his time, but over the years he learned one of the great advantages of building bikes:
“I eventually discovered you can build a cool motorcycle a lot cheaper than a cool car!”
Mark and his wife ride sport bikes together, and he wanted a retro machine that she could ride alongside his own ’74 CB450 brat. That said, she was accustomed to her Ninja, so Mark had to make sure this ’72 Honda CB350 could meet her expectations. He focused on improving the suspension, brakes, and acceleration:
“I like to think of this as something Honda would have presented, as a factory racer, if they had this technology back in 1972.”
Mark did all of the work himself except paint and powder, employing aviation practices and aviation-grade materials in the wiring, hand-forming the aluminum bodywork from .060 aluminum, rebuilding the engine with Wisco 10.5 :1 pistons and a custom cam, and adapting a GSXR-750 front end with color-matched fork tubes — a signature element that’s sure to be copied by other builders.
Below, we get the full story on the build, along with some stunning photos from Charles Thorpe (@tharleschorpe).
Honda CB350 Cafe Racer: Builder Interview
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
I’ve been an aircraft mechanic for about 30 years. I’ve always enjoyed working on bikes and old cars, and built a few hotrods over the years. I eventually discovered you can build a cool motorcycle a lot cheaper than a cool car! My wife and I enjoy riding our sport bikes together, so I decided to build her a cool retro bike to ride, when I ride my ’74 CB450.
At Merlin Cycleworks, I do everything myself, except paint: total rewires from scratch, engine rebuilds, frame mods & repairs, custom stainless exhausts, wheel building, sheet metal. I built the lower fairing on this bike out of .060 aluminum.
• What’s the make, model, and year of the bike?
1972 Honda CB350.
• Why was this bike built?
One of my bikes is a cool brat style ’74 CB450. I wanted my wife to have something similar to ride, with me, instead of her Ninja.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
I wanted a vintage vibe, yet have modern performance, in terms of handling, braking, and acceleration. She’s used to a Ninja, so I wanted to make sure this bike met my wife’s expectations! I like to think of this as something Honda would have presented, as a factory racer, if they had this technology back in 1972.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
Frame completely reworked from the tank back — factory back half cut off, replaced with 1” round tubing, and heavily reinforced in strategic locations. Complete re-wire, using aviation-grade wiring and connectors, and utilizing aviation practices and procedures.
The engine was completely rebuilt, with oversized Wisco 10.5 :1 pistons and a custom ground cam from Megacycle. Handbuilt wheels, hand-formed fairings, custom seat, custom triple clamps holding a rebuilt GSX-R750 front end, high quality BASF Glasurit paint on bodywork, then protected with Ceramic Gold and XPEL protective film. Everything else powdercoated. All work except paint and powdercoating was done at Merlin Cycleworks.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
No, other than Wife’s Bike!
• How would you classify this bike?
Cafe racer. I personally don’t like that title, as it’s been so over done, and too often, poorly.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
Just the over all aesthetic, how the vision came to life, and is as good as I hoped it would be. It’s also very gratifying how well it’s been received, with well over 50,000 social media “likes” between all the re-posts and international interests. I think the vintage paint scheme really resonates with people. And the forks not being gold, silver, black, or that weird red on the upper tubes seems to be an attention-getter.
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Photos: Charles Thorpe (@tharleschorpe)