Up until now my ‘65 Revive project has involved getting the engine back to stock running condition using stock parts and making no modifications to the performance aspect. My end goal, with the bike, is to be able to ride it and enjoy it and for me part of that enjoyment involves having a well running and low maintenance end product. I am not one that typically wants to spent time tuning the bike every time I want to go out just because it’s a Tuesday, in early Spring, partially cloudy, with a relative humidity of 82% and for some strange reason the bike gets temperamental every time there is a temperature change of more the 3.5 degrees. I am not really a tinker’r; I would rather spend extra time during the build process to help ensure a more “maintenance” free experience.
So let me get to the point. The ignition points that is. Back in the day everything, with an ignition system, was running with a points, condenser, some form of RPM (mechanical) advance and, with automotives, a form of load (vacuum) advance. The system obviously worked however it would be hard to say it worked well. The entire system was, what I consider, to be a mechanical set up and whenever you are dealing with mechanics there is always room for wear, tear, and the need for adjusting. Points and advance systems were not immune to this as they involved wearing items as well as moving parts that would get dirty, stick, and seize. Now as much fun as some may think it is to deal with the bare bones points system I prefer to step into the more modern age and perform an electronic ignition conversion.
So I started to research my options and had first discovered the little trick that people were using by converting an old VW Pertronix electronic ignition trigger unit as a points replacement on the CB160s. The more I studied it the more I realized that these conversions involved getting rid of all ignition advance mechanisms and thereby setting the base timing at full advance. Hmmm….No thanks! That may work for racing applications but this is not a streetable solution in my opinion. I have always lived by the “function first!” rule or “function over fashion”. That is to say that things need to work before they are required to look good. If it looks good but doesn’t function then I am not interested.
So I continued my research and finally stumbled upon a company by the name of Probe Engineering. This company advertises fully electronic ignition system for many of the older Hondas which include many of the CB bikes. I was intrigued by what the company was promoting so I decided to contact them to get a bit more information and a better understanding of how the system for the CB160 operates.
Well this is when things went from good to great. I had emailed Probe Engineering to ask a few basic questions and I was met with responses from the owner Mark Whitebook. Mark provided me with answers to all my questions plus more. He was able to fully explain, in non-engineering terms, how exactly his system worked. He gave me everything but fluff, as he was able to knowledgeably email me about every aspect of his system. His response times were great and it was clear that he had done his homework.
So what makes Probe Engineering’s system worth the praise? For me it was a multitude of things. First and foremost is the customer service. I am one of those people that are willing to pay extra to get great customer service. I think it counts for a lot! In Marks case I didn’t have to pay anything, I received the service I expected without paying for anything…yet. The second thing that makes Marks system stand out in my books is the design. It has obviously been very well thought out.
So shall we get into detail? The kit comprises of a trigger wheel, a pick up assembly, a module, and wiring. The system is designed to replace the CB160s factory points, condenser, and mechanical advance. The electronic system allows for full timing control. It basically has 3 settings. The first being an engine start setting whereby the ignition timing is knocked way down at any engine speed below 480RPM. This not only allows for easy starting but also takes some stress off the starter and battery. The next setting is base ignition timing. This is absolutely necessary for a streetable bike. This base ignition timing is what the guys that run the Pentatronix systems do away with. Base timing allows for a much smoother, well controlled, idle. In the case of Probe Engineering’s set up base timing is adjustable to allow for fine tuning of the idle speed. The 3rd timing control comes in with the ability to simulate the original mechanical advance timing. This is obviously a requirement as timing has to be advanced with higher engine RPM.
Probe Engineering’s system appeared to cover all aspects of ignition timing and it appeared to fall short nowhere. Perhaps I need to back up slightly; I was getting a bit excited talking about the system. Perhaps some of you are wondering why I want to go electronic when the points system obviously works. Good question! First reason is timing control; points systems are not a precise science. If you have ever had the opportunity to using a timing light on a points style system you would see that, unless the system is absolutely perfect (in which it will not remain), the ignition timing is bouncing all over the place. When it comes to trying to tune carbs inaccurate ignition timing is a killer. The second is the maintenance factor, electronic ignition systems do not wear since there are no wearable parts. Even though the trigger wheel spins around there are basically no moving (wearable) parts. Once the system is set, it is SET! The system is run off the camshaft so if there is wear in the timing chain, or chain adjuster, then ignition timing will suffer however this is not a fault of the ignition system.
So after researching the various systems available I wasn’t convinced Probe Engineering’s system was the way to go. But after emailing with Mark I was absolutely convinced Probe Engineering’s system is the way to go. It was the whole package. It was a fully function electronic system and it had the customer service and support to go with it.
So I sent Mark an email and asked him to ship one out. Probe offers 2 systems for the CB160; you can get a module with, or without, rev limiting control. I opted to spend the few extra dollars in order to have the capability of controlling my redline.
When the system arrived on my front doorstep I was more than impressed with the construction, and visible quality, of the system. The module is housed in an aluminum, not plastic, case. The machining of the trigger wheel looked great and the pickup plate, including wiring, was well thought out. What was more impressive was the instruction manual. Mark had previously emailed me a PDF copy of the manual and therefore I had previously worked through it. The manual is well written and easy to follow. Mark has done a great job at covering all the steps required to successfully install the system.
So enough of all the background information, let’s get onto the nitty gritty of it all. I have had the opportunity to get the system installed. The fit is fantastic; no issues with the trigger wheel or pick up plate fitment. I am going to let the pictures do the talking. I have elaborated with captions to help guide you through the process.
So below you will find a 33 second video that demostrates how to static time the system. The module references off of full advance. Since full advance occurs before any of the other required timing; the module wants to see that reference first. Once it knows when full advance occurs the module can then calculate where base timing is required. My apoligies for the slight fuzziness of the video. What you will want to watch is the red LED in the module. The lit LED represents dwell, that is the amount of time the ignition coil is energized. When the LED turns off this is the point at which the magnetic field inside the coil collapses and the spark plug(s) are fired. The static timing needs to be set so that the modules red LED turns off at full advance. If you watch you will see that when the full advance mark, on the rotor, comes into line with the pointer the red LED turns off. This is the point of ignition at full advance.
So I have had the oppurtunity to fire the engine up with the system however I have yet to spend time tuning the carbs and setting the base timing. As far as the intial steps involved in obtaining, and installing, Probe Engineerings FS10-GL electronic ignition I have nothing but high praise. The service, quality, and set up are all top notch. I am excited to start doing some tuning and even more excited that I was able to say goodbye to my old points. And to Mr. Mark Whitebrook…if you happen to read this blog entry please feel free to correct, comment, or add as you see fit, the information you provide is more then welcomed. As I continue with my ’65 Revive project I will continue to post the reminaing steps invloved with the ignition system.