Ignition systems these days are so pointless as to be almost existential. Okay, bad joke, but thanks to the proliferation of electronic engine management, points-switched ignitions are virtually non-existent on modern motorcycles. Lots of us out there still ride old machines that use points, however, either with battery-and-coil ignitions or with magnetos. Why, I’m fortunate (!) to have both types in my life.
Replacement points are often quite inexpensive, although there are plenty of electronic alternatives for vintage bikes (like I use on my Norton Commando; see “Staff Stuff,” January). But what if you have something so rare and strange that you can’t get new points? What if you have some wonderful, platinum-plated points in your ancient machine that you shouldn’t throw away? What if you just like the simplicity and mechanical nature of these older systems?
If any of those circumstances apply to you, consider the lowly points file and its gentler brother, the burnishing file. The coarse file in the top photo is used to dress heavy wear and pitting on the contact surfaces, removing material to do the job. The one with the red handle is the very fine counterpart that puts on a nice, finishing sheen (without actually removing points material) and can also be used for quick roadside cleanup.
Although very fine sandpaper can be employed to accomplish similar goals, it oftentimes leaves debris embedded in the points that will keep them from functioning properly. It also is difficult to keep the contact surfaces flat and square when using sandpaper. On a couple of occasions, I’ve cleaned points on my magneto-ignition machines using sandpaper only to have the bike not start after my “service and adjustment.”
Metal points files are available at most auto parts stores for a couple of bucks, but burnishing files typically must be obtained from electronics stores. I got mine from www.mcmelectronics.com for about $5.
A few other points (ahem) to remember: Make sure the pivot post is perfectly parallel to the points cam so the rubbing block meets the cam squarely. If it isn’t, carefully bend the points set to make everything align as truly as possible. If the plastic rubbing block runs on one of its corners rather than on its full, flat span, wear will be quite rapid and the points will quickly go out of adjustment. When filing the points, be sure the faces remain parallel to one another when closed. And use “points cam” grease on the rubbing block. It’s specially formulated to stick and resists melting or vaporization, which can contaminate the points.
Set up carefully, old-style analog ignition systems can be consistent and reliable. Electronics certainly are a good alternative, but you don’t want your whole life to be pointless, do you?