It went like THIS: charge battery (I’ve done this before, see); check for fuel (always helps); free the clutch (it’s a Triumph), switch on and kick. There you have it, a simple routine for starting an old Brit bike which hasn’t run for a little while. They’re mostly the same, bikes from the 1945 – 85 era. Some have electric starts, some have posh carbs, some don’t. Variety makes the wheels roll round. Or something like that.

Bang. Just the one. A single bang. The Triumph’s a twin, as you’d have guessed, but only one of the cylinders banged, and a strange-sounding bang it was too. Kick again.004 editorial_291510

Bang. Pause for a moment. Consider… well, several things. Modern(ish) motorcycle, fresh(ish) fuel, fully charged battery. Was running really well before it was tucked up for a rest. Okay, check the plugs. Strong smell of fuel, but you’d expect that. Fit fresh plugs anyway – no big deal, I have many plugs. Switch on, prepare to spin the engine to observe the fatness or otherwise of the spark. Step back and stare in wonder.


There is only one spark alright, and it’s continuous. I didn’t even need to kick the thing. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… it went, brightly. Hmmmmmmmm… went I, contemplatively. Then I swore a little. Of course.

In case you’re not already gripping your sides in an effort to prevent them splitting, I have just described the failure of a modern electronic ignition system. They can fail in other ways, such is the scope of the modern imagination, but the system on the Triumph was plainly having fun.

Happily, as well as many spark plugs, my drawers also contained two new ignition systems – part of the unending festival of delight which is a magazine editor’s life is that sometimes useful suppliers send me useful things to try out and consider their usefulness. Fitted one. Repeated the starting routine, with added caution. First kick start. Of course. What did you expect?


I was chatting online about this strange experience and was genuinely entertained and a little surprised by the number of fellow sufferers who had experienced similar failures, in some cases followed by lengthy and wearily unsuccessful conversations with the suppliers of the sparky systems. It felt like an epidemic. And about half of my fellow sufferers, instead of fitting a new electronic system had reverted to old fashioned points. Hang on, wasn’t the fabled unreliability of points systems the reason electronic jobbies were invented in the first place? Have modern points systems suddenly become so reliable that they’re now better than before? Or is it something else? Answers on a postcard…

That’s it. See you out there.

Frank Westworth


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