How To Time a 1970 and up Harley Davidson Shovelhead
Static Timing Points & Electronic Ignition
Useing a timing light can get messy on a Harley, alternatives are - plastic see thru timing plug or marking the front primary gear or marking the stator and shooting the timing light thru the primary inspection cover.
The below has always worked for me and i have been doing it this way since I was a kid.
Here is static timing for points on a '70 and up Shovel in a nutshell: This will also work for Pans but the timing marks are differant
First, set you point gap to .018". Check it on both point cam lobes...the closer you can get it to equal the better, but the factory spec is within .004 of each other (but you can get it within .001" if you take the time to fully center the advance assembly on the end of the cam).
Once the point gap is correct, bring the FRONT cylinder up on it's compression stroke...if you aren't sure, you can be sure by collapsing the front intake valve pushrod cover and watching the lifter...as you're pushing the engine through, that lifter will come up as the intake valve is opening...then it will go down as the valve is closing...when it's down, your front cylinder is coming up on it's compression stroke. Stop there!
Look in the timing hole on the primary side of the bike (remove the plug first!)....VERY slowly, bump the engine over a bit with the kicker (or put the rear wheel off the ground and with the bike in high gear use the wheel to move the engine)...you are looking for the TDC mark on your flywheels (stock flywheels up through early 1980 have a small drilled dot low in the timing hole for the TDC mark and a vertical line for the advance mark....after early 1980 the factory changed the TDC mark to the vertical line...how's that for STUPID...also, the early flywheels have another larger drilled dot up higher in the hole...that's the REAR cylinder advance mark...don't confuse it with the small, low dot)...when you do find the TDC mark, position it so it's JUST inside of the timing hole...you want the back edge of the TDC mark touching the back edge of the timing hole, understand?
OK, no go back around to the points. Connect a 12 volt DC volt meter with the negative lead to a good ground and the positive lead to the wiring terminal on the points....or use a simple test lamp wired up between a ground and the points. Turn on your ignition switch. When the points are OPEN, the meter will register 12 volts or the test lamp will light. When the points are closed, your meter will zero out or the lamp will go off.
You want to set the points plate so the points are JUST BARELY beginning to open at the leading edge of the narrow lobe on your points cam. Turning the plate counterclockwise retards the timing, turning it clockwise advances it. As a starting point, loosen the ignition plate screws and turn the plate ALL the way counterclockwise so it's fully retarded and the points are closed (no voltage at meter or test lamp is off)...slowly turn it back clockwise until the very instant the meter shows battery voltage or the test lamp lights...STOP!! You want the points to BARELY be opening...so little that you almost can't "see" it...but you'll know they're open because of the meter or test lamp energizing. Lock the plate down. If you get it just right, you'll be able to just touch the top point with your fingertip and make the meter or light go off, then come back on as soon as you remove your finger.
Verify that the flywheels didn't shift, the TDC mark is still in the leading edge of the timing hole...all set. Put the timing plug back in, put the point cover back on...have fun.
Print this out and follow it step by step.
There is another method, to static time your bike in the "advance" position...but that's a lesson for later. First master this, then we can go discuss it more below.
That's it for the basic "static time in the retard position". Now, on to lesson number two, how to modify your point plate so you can very accurately time in the full advance position...which is a better method:
Look at your point plate....you are going to drill a single 3/8" hole in it. First, you want to use a magic marker or sharpie to mark the general location of the hole. You are gonna' want to locate this new hole at the 7 o'clock position of the point plate, halfway between the outer edge of the point plate and the inner edge of that hole in the middle where the point cam sticks through. It doesn't have to be 100% exact, just eyeball it and put a little dot where you're gonna' drill it.
REMOVE THE POINT PLATE OUT OF THE ENGINE!!! DO NOT drill it in the bike!! Take it out and drill a nice 3/8" hole right through the plate. Once it's drilled...now you can put it back in. Install it in the engine and you'll note that you can now see the advance weights through that hole...not only will you use that hole for timing the bike in the advance position...you'll also be able to use that hole to squirt a little lube on the advance weight pivot pins every once in a while!
Timing is basically the same as described above, with a couple of slight changes. First, set the point gap as described. Then roll the engine over until the front cylinder is just coming up on it's compression stroke....now look in the timing hole and find the front cylinder ADVANCE timing mark on the flywheel, locating it exactly dead center in the timing hole.
With that timing mark centered in the hole...the small lobe of the points cam should be coming around towards the point rubbing block. The idea is you can now put a small screwdriver or scribe or awl through that 3/8" hole you drilled in the plate, using that tool to move the advance weights outward to the full advance position.
OK, now you're ready...this is just a little teensy bit tricky. What you need to do is move the advance weights "out" so the advance assembly turns the points cam to their fully advance position and hold 'em there (sometimes it helps to have a friend hold 'em, but you can do it all by your lonesome, just practice). Once the point cam is twisted to its fully advance position, you want to points to be set to where they are just beginning to open the points. Turn the points plate until the points rubbing block just makes contact with the leading edge of the points cam...the very second the test lamp comes on (or the meter registers 12 volts) STOP!!. That's what you want...lock the distributor down. To check it, turn the points cam to its fully advanced position and when it stops the lamp should just come on...the points should be barely open...you should be able to just touch the points with your fingertip and make the lamp go out. It may take you a couple of tries to get it exact the first time, but with practice you'll find it only takes a few minutes for the entire process.
Using the "advance" static timing method....you CAN ACCURATELY time any points ignition. I have done this too many times to count over the past 30 years...and have confirmed with a timing light...it is as accurate as it gets. If you have a very high compression engine...you can slightly retard the timing by moving the advance timing mark halfway between the center of the timing hole and the front edge of the timing hole (towards "front" of the engine)...this will retard your timing about 2.5 degrees more than stock and it will reduce the potential for detonation, yet still run and start just fine.
Print it out and give it a try...it's easier than it may sound. The key is to take the time to ensure the points are JUST STARTING to open at the leading edge of the points cam...this applies to both static timing methods, either retard or advance
Electronic ignition with mechanical advance static timing
You can static time it just like points. I'm too tired to look up the wiring diagram, but I think there's a blue wire that goes from your module to the negative side of the coil (the coil has two terminals...one is 12 volts from your ignition switch...that post typically has two wires to it, since it also powers up the module....the other one is triggered by a single wire from the module).
Anyway, once you figure out what side of your coil is what....connect a test lamp or a volt meter from ground to the negative wire on your coil. Keep in mind, whenever the lamp or meter is energized, your ignition is tripped, same as when the points are open....when the light or meter is off, it's the same as when the points are closed.
Bring your front cylinder up on a compression stroke and line up your retard timing mark in the timing hole. Turn on the ignition key. Loosen your ignition plate and turn it all the way counterclockwise to fully retard it...the meter/lamp should be off at this time...slowly turn the plate clockwise until the VERY INSTANT you see the light come on or the meter register battery voltage. STOP! That's it...lock it down.
That's basic static timing in a nutshell. Now, here's the advanced lesson that will describe how to set up your ignition and set the ADVANCED timing using the static method. Much more accurate for road conditions (sure glad I save this stuff so I don't have to re-type it every dang time.
First thing you have to do is remove the ignition timing plate from the engine....I want you to drill a 3/8" hole in the dang thing, halfway between the outer edge of the plate and the edge of the big hole in the middle of that plate where the timing cam sticks through. On a point ignition, this is generally in the 7 o’clock position....the idea is to be able to access the advance weights when the timing plate is installed in the cone. (Note: while you have the plate off, take a REAL close look at the advance assembly...if the holes in the weights where they set on the pins are worn, oblong in shape, you MUST replace the weights and springs...once they get worn, they will advance too far and this will effect the retard setting and starting).
When the plate is back in the cone, if you look through that hole ya' just drilled you'll see the advance weights. By inserting a scribe or small screwdriver through that hole, you can open the advance weight outward, causing the advance assembly to "advance"....get my drift? This way, when you are static timing the module, you can hold the ignition rotor in the full advance position as you static time...instead of static timing in the retard mode, which is not as accurate.
Now you're ready to time it....remove the timing plug from the engine case and bring the front cylinder up on a compression stroke...line up the FRONT ADVANCE timing mark in the timing hole. Leave it there...
There are two connections at the coil. One is 12 volts from the ignition switch...the other is the ignition trigger wire from the ignition unit. You want to connect the positive lead from a DC meter or 12 volt test lamp to the (-) coil terminal, the one that has the wire from the ignition unit connected to it. Connect the other meter or test lamp lead to a good ground on then frame or engine.
Loosen the standoffs that secure the timing plate in the cone...turn it all the way counterclockwise (this is fully retarded and it's where you should start)...leave the plate loose, you're gonna' be turning it in a second.
Turn on the ignition switch....the meter should read zero volts or the test lamp should be "off", as the ignition is closed and current is flowing through the coil to the ground connection through the module....keep in mind that when the module field is broken by the timing rotor, it will open that contact to ground and stop the current flow through the coil...that exact second is when the plug will fire...this is no different than when points open, except points are mechanical and that module is electronic...they still do the exact same thing. And when that switch is open and current flow stops, the meter will register 12 volts or the test lamp will light up...
OK, ready now? You've turned on the key and the meter ain't reading any voltage...here's the tricky part, but you can do it with only two hands. Put the screwdriver in through that hole you drilled and push the advance weight outboard, so the timing rotor is fully advanced. Hold it there while you use your other hand to slowly rotate the timing plate clockwise....keep rotating it until the exact instant the meter registers (or the light comes on). STOP! That's it....lock the plate down.
What you want to do is have it set up so that when the plate is locked down and the front advance timing mark is lined up in the timing hole, you can push the advance weight outboard and fully advance the rotor...and when that rotor is fully advanced, the meter registers or the test light goes on...and the second you let off the advance unit, the meter or light goes off.
That is static timing and you can get it just as exact as any timing light. More exact in some instances. And as an added bonus, with that little hole in the timing plate you can roll the engine over and see the advance weight mounts...and occasionally squirt your favorite teflon lubricant through that hole to keep the weights in good shape!
I use the teflon lube sold at the skateboard shop.
Thanks to Hawg Rider for technical info
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Last edited by JSoko; August 22nd, 2012 at 09:01 AM.