Harley Points And Condenser
(text and pictures by Mark Trotta)
Points ignition is easy to understand and easy to diagnose. Once properly set, they'll run fine for 5,000 miles or more, without any adjustment. For a classic motorcycle that gets driven 1,000 miles a year or less, that's a pretty trouble-free system.
I like points ignition because that's what belongs on my 50-year-old classic motorcycle. They're also simple to understand and diagnose. Apparently, some people don't understand simplicity, and replace their points with electronic ignition because they were told it was better.
Points vs Electronic Ignition
Electronic systems can be unreliable, and unlike points, they will stop working without a warning. A set of points will at least give you a clue, showing such signs as running rough, or maybe they just haven't been checked or changed for several years.
It only takes so much spark to start an engine, so if your stock system is in good order, having more spark than you need doesn't have much of an effect.
Aftermarket Points And Condenser
Businesses don't care about the originality of your bike. They make a lot more profit selling electronic ignition conversions than a $10 set of points, so that's what they market and advertise. As a result of this, finding good quality points and condensers is getting harder year after year. Many aftermarket suppliers offer cheap replacements, that look correct but are of inferior quality.
The same points/condenser combo fits Harley Big-Twins from 1948 through 1969, as well as Sportsters 1957-1977. They fit old Flathead models too:
- Panhead 1948-1965
- Shovelhead 1966-1969
- Flathead 45" (Solo and Servi-car) 1948-1974
- Flathead 74" and 80" (UL)
- Ironhead Sportster 1957-1977
The original Harley-Davidson part number for the points is 30605-48A. These are no longer available from the dealer, but the part number is still used as a reference. The Harley condenser part is #32726-30A.
Importance Of A Condenser
Many people fail to understand the importance of the condenser. When the points are open, the high voltage of the coil tries to "jump" the points gap. The condenser absorbs this current flow, which protects the points from arcing and burning. When the points are closed, the condenser releases it's stored voltage to the coil.
You cannot tell by looking at a condenser if it is good or bad. Replace it if there's any doubt as to it's age or condition.
Before re-using an old set of points, check that the contact points are not burnt or pitted. They can often be renewed with a points file. These are speciality files which should not be used for other types of filing, so as not to clog it with small metal particles. Avoid using sandpaper to file points, as it will leave tiny particles of grit.
Your Harley timer has two different size cam lobes. The narrower lobe is for the front cylinder, and the wider lobe is for the rear cylinder.
Setting The Points
The points gap should be done before any timing is attempted. It is easiest to set on the wider cam. The cam should be lightly lubricated (not over-lubricated) with a drop or two of grease.
Checking point gap with a feeler gauge.
Street vs Track Performance
Keeping your points ignition is fine for stock and mild street performance, but for serious performance, electronic ignition is mandatory.
There are plenty of vintage motorcycles out there still running points, some of them older than you and me. Chances are they'll keep on running, perhaps long after you and I are gone (provided the cam lobes get lubed regularly).