Synchronizing Carburetors, as used on BMW Airhead Motorcycles, but useful for many others
The following information specifically applies to carbureted twin cylinder two-valve BMWs, of the type known as "Airheads", as manufactured 12/1969->1995+. Some of the information may be applicable to many other motorcycles, and even injected models, and to even single cylinder and two stroke engines. The method is applicable to BMW models before the above dates, and while the shorting method works for ALL, you CAN use the vacuum methods for those earlier models with, or install, vacuum ports.The author has used these methods on a wide variety of engines. The author is NOT responsible for any electrical shocks, nor other consequences, for any ineptness on your part in failing to understand and perform procedures properly and safely.
Quite a few decades ago many mechanics used a device called a Uni-Syn to balance carburetors. It was usable on almost any carburetor, and it was usable on most injected models (rare, then). Sometimes a minor modification was needed to allow the Uni-Syn to properly mate with the input area. The Uni-Syn was a specially machined or cast metal plate, rubber on one side to allow some pressure-sealing against the air intake side of the carburetor or injector, and an ADJUSTABLE venturi built into the plate, and attached to the venturi was a glass or plastic tube that had a floating ball in it. Properly used, this device would take accurate relative readings of the airflow through a carburetor or injection intake; then the device was transferred to the other carburetor (usable on engines with many carburetors too). I do not know if they are still available, I have one, and treasure it, as an antique! Treasuring some old tool does NOT mean I use it nowadays!
I do not! I have not seen one used, except in my own shop for some sports cars or 4 or 6 cylinder motorcycles, since the mid-1970's, except to demonstrate its use. Mechanics had a lot of pride on their ability, without instruments, to listen to the engine; adjusting the idle mixture screw for a smooth idle, then setting idle rpm, and going back and forth until they ended up with the proper idle rpm and idle mixture adjustment. Some very experienced mechanics would even take bets on being able to synchronize a BMW Airhead engine without any special tools....and often made up stories about what they were doing....which, in truth was simply listening to the transmission internals rattling around at idle rpm (which they do, when the oil is hot). The throttle cables were synchronized by eyeball on lifting at the same time, and sometimes by transmission rattle. These methods are not good with multiple cylinder engines such as a V-6 or V-8 or inline 4, particularly those engines with more than two carburetors. The method is tricky to do with a BMW airhead boxer engine, and I do NOT recommend it. It is also NOT EVER as accurate as the vacuum nor shorting methods.
The primary method on the /2 bikes was to adjust the carburetor throttle stops for equal engine speed with first one plug cap, then the other, removed; you alternated between cylinders firing and not firing, back and forth. This was USUALLY safe on those magneto equipped /2 bikes because the magneto incorporated a safety gap, if the plug cap was pulled off the spark plug, the spark could jump across the safety gap. UNfortunately, sometimes the metal cap shell would give you an electric shock. This 'lifting the cap' method is still used today on the /2 bikes; although the shorting method is MUCH better.