Monday, August 25, 2014

Honda Dream CA77 Electronic Ignition and Coil

My 1967 CA77 Honda Dream. There are many like it but ...
I own a 1967 Honda Dream CA77. Being prone to rash decisions and quirky life choices it's a match made in heaven. I bought it in 2007. Now it's 2014 and I've ridden it ... once. It ran awful. That was after an ill-fated engine rebuild that it didn't even need, but I'm getting ahead of myself. At some point I'll go back and fill in the details on how I got here with so little accomplished (an innate talent). But for now, onward and upward.

I recently shelled out three Benjamins on a Probe Engineering FS-02E Electronic Ignition for the beast as after the rebuild I never could get it to run without fouling the plugs and/or flooding. I also got a Dyna DC8-1 Dual Output Coil  from Z1 Enterprises for $70. My rationale for throwing this vertigo-inducing amount of money at my shitty running bike is predicated upon my incompetence with adjusting stuff and a general disdain for having to do any task more than once. A points ignition system is a guarantee that you'll be doing the same task again and again, searching for your timing light, ordering new points off eBay, messing around with it constantly because you're not sure you got it right, wondering why the timing drifted and so on. I'd much rather be riding.
There are many who will swear by the point and mechanical advance. Good for them. I am sure we will see them on the side of the rally route with the points cover off smiling from ear to ear.
Probe Engineering FS-02E Electronic Ignition for CA77
I know guys who prefer points and condenser manual ignition systems. They have split fingernails and fingers like sausages. They disdain any technology after the AM transistor radio. They're also known as masochists. I'm not alone in this observation as I recently read this in a Norton motorcycle forum:
"There are many who will swear by the point and mechanical advance. Good for them. I am sure we will see them on the side of the rally route with the points cover off smiling from ear to ear."

The old coil and regulator looks like something puked out of a 1950's vacuum tube radio. Modern regulators are infinitely better at being efficient, small and protecting the bike's circuitry from alternator voltage spikes. I don't have my new regulator as it's a pending hand-me-down from my massively patient pal Scott, but I'll post its install when I get it. For now you can compare the old coil to the new Dyna. This 5 ohm coil is half the original's size and will make a very hot spark + I can go to my local NAPA Auto parts shop and buy spark plug wires by the foot as they aren't molded into the unit like the factory did in the 60's.

Out with the old...
The Probe Engineering box arrived containing the black control module with its internal components thoughtfully sealed in epoxy, the pickup plate, trigger rotor, rotor clamp, velcro for mounting it and bonus NGK spark plug boots that have resistors built into them so I don't have to find resistor spark plugs, I can use any that fit. Also included: an 11 page manual. As a veteran of I.T. work, my first question to the end user was typically "have you tried rebooting" followed by "have you read the manual?". RTFM indeed.

My decision to buy this ignition system was weighed against the alternative kits: Charlie's Place carries their own very different take on the concept though they were out of stock when I decided to buy mine. Then there's Elektronik-Sachse but at €320 the American dollar exchange rate would have been seriously out of kilter for buying this from Deutschland (why is the American dollar such a worthless proposition abroad when, for the first time in my life I have a few to spend? That's a rhetorical question btw).

Obviously there's a big difference in the design ethos of the Charlie's Place ignition system and the Probe Engineering unit. The Probe control module is remotely mounted, thus not on the cylinder head as Charlie's all-in-one design is, and therefore operates at a lower temperature. Mark Whitebook at Probe feels emphatic that a power transistor's operational temperature range is exceeded when mounted to a bike's cylinder. Other Honda's, CB's in particular had the points pickup mounted on the crankcase/crankshaft so the temperatures there are cool in comparison to the cylinder head but the Honda Dream's points are on the hottest part of the engine so mounting the control module module there is likely problematic. In the interest of full disclosure, I'd have bought the Charlie's Place system had it been in stock as it's $70 less expensive, but that's me, always looking to pinch a penny. Soon the difference between the two systems will be a moot point as I heard that Mark at Probe is discontinuing production of the FS-02e at the end of 2014 - or perhaps of ignition systems in general. If I hear otherwise I'll let everyone know.

Headed to the Harvest Classic...
Meanwhile, I must take some time to get my Dream out of storage and prepare it for the rapidly approaching Harvest Classic in historic Luckenbach Texas October 17th and 18th. Their website is down as I write this, so trust me it's a great event for any lover of vintage motorcycles to attend. It's a breath of fresh air for this part of the country as the focus is on European and Japanese bikes - Harley Davidsons are generally not evident unless they've been modified to a cafe racer spec (rare). Harley owners thankfully have their own festival called Republic of Texas Rider Rally (NAMBLA) with featured musical "talent" Ted Nugent. I strongly urge them to go enjoy their music and bikes there while we enjoy our microbrews, rockabilly and Betty Page lookalikes in scenic Luckenbach. Then again, I am a bit biased. I know one Harley owner who predates the modern era of accountants with mid-life crises riding $20k bikes covered in Harley logos - but he's the exception to the rule. There's always one.

When I first saw Quadrophenia, the classic Who movie about Rockers vs. Mods in mid 60's England, I totally identified with the Mods. I still do. Mods ride scooters and Vespas. Mods are intrinsically much cooler than their rocker counterparts with their big motorcycles. They bathe, they like ska and rocksteady. They've got cool fashion. The Harvest Classic is the modern manifestation of this epic rivalry. Go Mods!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Okay Bokeh

Not wine. It's bokeh.
It was over a glass of wine at San Francisco's Sons and Daughters restaurant that I realized the tragic lack of bokeh in my life. Here's the picture taken by my lovely girlfriend with her Sony Nex-7 that made me aware I wasn't going to impress anyone with the artistic capabilities of my Nikon Coolpix P510. It also made me aware of a new-to-me photography term: bokeh. What to do? I could go blow six Benjamins on a camera like hers, but I'm often tight with my lucre and like to explore creative options. My solution? Go back to my roots as a photographer and buy another Canon AE-1 Program and shoot film.

In photography, bokeh (pronounced boh-kay and sometimes boh-kÉ™) is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus portions of an image produced by a lens. A lens with a large aperture can take photos with a narrower depth of field than one with a smaller aperture. Borrowing from the wiki "depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image" and there you have it. Okay, bokeh. The wine is in focus, nothing else is.

One sure method to significant bokeh is to use a non-zoom camera lens, i.e. "fixed" in its focal length. Such lenses are often better for capturing the maximum amount of light and have larger apertures. Natually, you'll pay for this capability. Bigger diameter lenses make for much more stringent tolerances because a large lens amplifies defects, so they command higher prices. That's why the tiny lens in your cellphone often gets everything in focus, though this is not a rule of thumb.

My Nikon Coolpix has an astonishing 42x zoom lens, 24-1000mm if that's how you roll. I can take clear pictures of the moon's craters or the paintings hanging on a neighbor's wall - from one block away. What I can't take a picture of is the drama of bokeh, when only the desired object is in focus and everything else fades into blurry patterns and colors. Try as I might, the Nikon is a very literal camera, with typically everything in good focus even in aperture priority mode. Looking back through my favorite shots from my undergraduate journalism student days, the common thread that emerges is this: they're of people. They're doing things. They're neither far away nor are they macro. Some exhibit bokeh. All the times I carried a telephoto I wound up with pictures I don't care about today: an airplane. A race car. Things. But when I shot with a fixed mm lens like the 50mm f1.4 on my Canon there were the indefinable elements of atmosphere, tension and ambiguity. And I shot pictures of people.
   Canon fd 50mm  f1.8 Lens Haze

As I sold my Ae-1 Program in the early 00's I now had to search out another. Craigslist immediately yielded two. My first call to Carrie in Buda inspired enough confidence that I skipped the other listing. The camera I bought for $60 seemed a good deal, visibly in mint condition but on the pricey end of the spectrum. The battery was dead, but conveniently the 5th place we went had a PX28L and I could test it. I cranked the film winder over and hit the shutter button. It was much louder than I remembered but it seemed to work. It came with a Vivitar dedicated flash, a 50mm f1.8 lens and all the original boxes and manuals from 1984. I bought it and trekked home.
Nice find.
Canon AE-1 Program, Mint!

This is where I realized three things: the loud shutter squeak was abnormal and required repair, the 50mm lens, though free of dust and fungus, was fairly hazed looking eerily like cataracts and finally the Vivitar flash, despite looking like it had never been removed from its box, would not power on. Oh well. I'm sure Carrie was unaware of these things and I was not motivated to drive to the ends of Texas seeking a refund, then discover that all AE-1's look like this anyway.

My fix for the lens was simple: buy a much better lens on eBay. I found a fd 50mm f1.4 and asked questions and sent the seller the link to the Ken Rockwell page on how to test with a flashlight. Lunkfish57 said it looked fine so I took the plunge and what I got for a mere $50 looks like the elves at the factory made it yesterday. Let's contast this with what I'd pay for a similar lens for my girlfriend's Sony Nex 7: there isn't one. The closest E-mount is a 50mm f1.8 and even then it's a $300 purchase. Chalk one up for being frugal.

So now I await the syringe I'm going to use to oil the gears in my camera, and I'll run a roll of Kodak 400 asa color print film through it and we'll see what kind of dramatic bokeh my $110 got me.