The cam to crank timing is initially set when you assemble the engine. Timing refers to the regulation of the parts of a mechanism to ensure it works as designed. In this context it a reference to the mechanism by which the crank turns the camshaft and the valves in the engine are made to open and close at the right time.

The c90 is a very simple engine with a single cylinder and two valves (an exhaust valve and an intake valve). You can see the parts below:

As you can see above, a chain is used to connect the crankshaft sprocket and the sprocket on the camshaft (called the timing sprocket). There are twice as many teeth on the camshaft sprocket than timing sprocket which means the camshaft turns once for every two rotations of the engine.

As the engine turns, the two lobes on the camshaft lift the rocker arms mounted in the cylinder head causing them to push down on their respective valves so that they open in sequence.

Valve sequence

As noted above, the camshaft sprocket turns once for every two revolutions of the crankshaft. During the first revolution of the crankshaft the intake valve opens and the descending piston draws in air and fuel into the combustion chamber, then – as the piston ascends – the valve closes and the mixture is compressed. As the piston reaches the top of the cylinder the mixture is ignited, forcing the piston downwards and starting the second revolution of the crankshaft. Finally as the piston returns upwards, the exhaust valve opens so the burnt fuel can be expelled. This sequence is easy to recall with the mnemonic “suck, squeeze, bang, blow”.

This excellent video shows these parts in action:

Setting cam to crank timing

The cam to crank timing is set when you assemble the engine. You must align the timing mark on the cam sprocket (a small “o”) with an index notched on the cylinder head. This picture shows the timing marks in the 89cc engine from a late 1970s 6v C90 (the same engine was used on many models including the CT90):

timing mark and index notch in cylinder head (I’ve turned the cam shaft out of the way so the timing mark is easier to see). When setting the timing on a used engine the marks may not align exactly (this can happen as a result of wear on cam chain and other parts), in this case you just need to get it as close as you can

This must be done when the piston is at the top of its stroke. In this position the woodruff key on the crankshaft will be on the cylinder centreline and pointing in the direction of the cylinder head:

Honda made the holes on the cam and sprocket slightly off centre to prevent the cam being fitted incorrectly. In the timed position the hole in the cam shaft for the dowel that locates the spark advancer will be pointing towards the notch in the cylinder head.

When you are all done the engine is at top dead centre on the compression stroke (ie both valves are shut).

Out of time

That’s all there is to it, but this is still important to know since the timing between cam and crank determines the position of the open valves in relation to the piston and – if the timing is badly wrong – they might collide.

If you aren’t paying attention it is not difficult to get the timing out by one tooth on the cam sprocket: if the error results in the sprocket being rotated clockwise relative to the crank then the the valve timing is retarded (which is to say, the intake valve and exhaust valves will open later), and vice versa when the sprocket is rotated anti-clockwise.

For reasons I failed to understand, retarding the cam to crank timing tends to improve power at higher rpm’s and advancing the timing tends to improve low-end power and throttle response.

When the valve timing is out, assuming the engine can run at all, performance is effected because the piston will be out of position when the valves are opening and closing: one tooth out at the cam equates to 1/2 a tooth at the crank, or an error of 48 degrees (360/152). ooops, sorry! edit: There are 30 teeth on the cam sprocket so, when the camshaft is out by one tooth, or ~12°, the corresponding error at the crank - which rotates at half the speed - is 24°. The c90 89cc engine has a 45.6mm stroke and therefore the piston moves a total of 91 mm for each rotation of the crank meaning that the piston is out of position by 12 mm 6mm (91x24/360). Despite this, these engines will apparently still run when the cam to crank timing is 'out by a tooth', presumably resulting in them being accidentally ‘tuned’ for either low or top end power.

The next component to consider in cam chain which, if incorrectly maintained, can also cause timing problems:

Honda C90 - cam chain
Here is what I found out about cam chains. Given that the cam chain is one of the components that determines crank to cam timing thereby preventing your piston and valves from colliding they get very little attention in the Honda manuals and, for our small Honda singles at least,