Saturday, February 5, 2011

Key engineering advances #7: Electronic ignition

What electrified riders of most British bikes in the late '60s and early '70s was the sound of their bikes running. Often it was thanks to an aftermarket ignition that actually made sparks. Until then, many motorcycles relied simply on a live firefly threaded into the cylinder head to ignite the air-fuel mix. Once a little carbon built up around the insect's butt, it could take everyone in the pub to push start you for the ride home.
At least one inventor, in Denmark, managed to prototype a working CDI (capacitor discharge ignition) in 1965. His prototype was installed on a 90cc Kawasaki, which might have been his problem: those bikes already had reliable ignitions with conventional points. A few years later, however, a large English bike shop – Boyer of Bromley – finally got tired of the notoriously unreliable Lucas ignitions their racing team’s Triumph Bonnevilles. They contracted Ernie Bransden to design an electronic ignition. Their Boyer-Bransden electronic ignitions are still sold to people wanting to make old bikes start and run more reliably.

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