I have three airheads (well four really but the SWB 60/5 is in about one million pieces just presently thanks Tim BTW) the R75/6 (12/74) and the RS (9/77) are early heavy flywheel bikes and both have the original everything...points,condensers, coils, voltage regulators and even plug leads (although the caps on the /6 have been changed. The GSPD is a 93 model and towards the end of the line so a completely different animal.
Over the years (and not just on Airheads and not just on motor bikes come to that) I've looked at electronic ignition conversions of every brand and style. I listened to mates talking loud and long about the advantages of this and that brand and how they "never have to touch those dammed points again....bastard things they are."
I've never been tempted and to be honest, I've never had a points ignition stand me up to the point where I couldn't get home...although there were some interesting solutions to the issues that did arise at times. Most conversions I have seen over time were cumbersome and finicky, some were down right silly (Boyer Brandson comes to mind), Alpha is a great system but still uses the mechanical advance so I could never see the point (pun intended).
For me though, Points ignitions were simple and robust and reliable. Most people of my age with even the most basic mechanical ability could install and set them up...or open them up on the side of the road to get every thing moving again.
In an Airhead, they are a bit more of a fiddle (particularly in the /5 and / 6 and early /7 models) what with the points cam and advance weight set up as it is and the fact that there is no vacuum advance capability. Then there is the "wasted spark" set up and the difficulty with getting the dwell angle correct. However, having said all that a basic and reliable system and one which has kept me out of the reach of electronic ignition manufacturers for all this time. Simple and practical.
A few years ago, I met Jeff Lee who owns Emerald Isle. He was touring round Australia with on a GSA 1200 that he borrowed from John Olive and towards the end of his trip, he came and spent a few nights at the Jondaryan Woolshed where I was working at the time. He is an amazingly intelligent, animated and charming man. He sent me one of his prototype ignition cans and electronic advance control units to "try" in my 93 GSPD. It was a bit hit and miss at first trying to find a module that allowed the correct amount of static advance and wound up at 32 degrees on full. Once sorted though, the results in terms of smoothness and ride ability were amazing. I subsequently bought one of the Red Centre twin hall trigger models with a 26 degree advance module and have done over 100,000 trouble free klms with it since.
A little while ago, Jeff released a points replacement model for /5 and /6 and early /7's...HO Hum I thought, another go at the impossible. I was visiting Ray Peak one day when he showed me one of these units installed on one of his bikes..John Olive is the distributor for this stuff under the "Red Centre" brand. Once again as with most things Jeff Lee designs, I was struck by the simplicity and quality of the design. easy to install and simple to repair or revert back to original...relatively inexpensive, simple,logical and....well... easy. BUT! the clincher for me was the fact that it incorporates advance controlled by the ignition module and engine revolutions...that was the clincher. I've bought one for my /6 . Here in Part one of this little essay, I'm showing you what the points do/did and what is involved in the Electronic replacement.
What you can see here is the standard set up for points and condenser on an an R75/6 (mine). The top left hand picture shows the end of the camshaft protruding through the timing cover and the sealed (normally) chamber where the base plate (which holds the points and the points cam and the advance weights) and allows for the ignition timing to be adjusted.
The top right hand picture shows the base plate and the points and the condenser..the points cam with the advance weights is missing because I lent it to someone to "prove" their own ignition on a /5.
The bottom two pictures show either side of a set of points that have been in my /6 for over 6 years. The condenser was replaced when the points were and there is minimal wear or burn although the "heel" which runs on the points cam to open the points has worn down by about 1/3 even though the lube pad is "lubed" regularly.
A points ignition system is relatively simple, durable, and reliable so long as it is maintained and adjusted properly and regularly. The two things that cause trouble regularly are 1: the condenser...this is just a capacitor and is a sort of electrical "shock absorber" which stops sparking at the face of the points and therefore "burning" of the contact pads (shown in pics 3 and 4 above) and 2: the "heel" on the points set which runs on the cam to open and close the points at the correct time. this heel is made from some sort of fibre and wears fairly quickly allowing the "gap" between the faces of the points to close up changing the dwell angle and the strength of the spark. Although there is some "crud" on the face of the points I just took out of my bike, they are in good condition for the milage they have done.
In part two, I'll show you some video and the installation on the new set up.