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!