Types of Motorcycle Batteries
Batteries can last anywhere from 2-3 years depending on regular maintenance. Most batteries today are sealed and maintenance free, meaning a rider doesn’t have to worry about battery fluids. There are still older, lead-acid types available and in use today, but these are becoming less common in newer bikes.
Lead-acid batteries—sometimes referred to as “wet cell”—use a mix of sulfuric acid and distilled water to maintain the right electrolyte concentration within the battery. Lead-acid types can be hazardous to maintain as sulphuric acid is very caustic and can burn your skin and damage clothing if there is contact. Rinse off spilt acid with plenty of water when it comes into contact with skin, clothing or paint.
During charging and over time, wet cells will lose water through evaporation. As a result, cells need to be topped off with distilled water to maintain their health and longevity.
In contrast, maintenance-free batteries don’t lose moisture and those precious electrolytes that help keep the battery charged.
When a battery is used it discharges. This chemical reaction leaves sulphates on the lead plates inside the battery. Leaving the battery in a discharged state while continuing to use it can make these changes permanent. Charging the battery reverses these changes and extends the battery’s life.
New Battery Setup
For new batteries, always charge before installing on your bike. Most batteries are not fully charged when you receive them.
For lead acid batteries, if installed and started without properly charging, your battery creates a set point. The battery has a memory of that initial charge set point and if only charged at 50 percent, for example, your battery can never reach a higher charging state.
During that initial charging, pay attention to the temperature of the battery. It should not be warm to the touch. If a battery overheats during charging the lead plates can warp. Disconnect the battery from the charger and let it cool down. If the battery continues to heat up, consult the manufacturer for replacement or service.
When installing, make sure the vent hose (if it has one) does not get pinched or touches hot or moving parts. The vent house should be pointed away from the bike below the frame.
Use a terminal lube or grease. If you don’t have any handy, you can use Vaseline. These products prevent build up on the terminals, keeping the connections clean to allow adequate transfer of energy from the battery to the bike.
Always consult the manufactures documentation and the bike’s owner’s manual regarding battery set up and install before you begin.
Keep the Terminals Clean
Sulphates can build up between the terminals and battery posts, making for harder starts. Your bike simply has to work harder to turn the engine over because of the dirty connection. Use baking soda and water to eat away at the sulphate build up. Remove the terminals and clean the battery posts with a steel wire brush. The inside of the battery terminal can also be cleaned using a small wire brush. As an alternative, use a small knife to scrape the inside layer off of the terminal until the lead looks shiny.
Don’t be that guy…
Riding style can affect battery life. Short trips tend to discharge the battery at a quicker rate. Turning the bike on and off draws current more often, making the battery work harder at each turn of the ignition. City driving can have this effect.
Use a Smart Charger
Using a smart charger takes the guess work out maintaining your battery’s charge. Smart chargers monitor a battery charge, charging when necessary. Riders can set up their smart chargers to plug into their bikes, meaning you can set it and forget it. The battery will not be overcharged when using a smart charger.
Regular Maintenance and Storage
Check battery at least once a month. During off seasons or when you’re bike is in storage, the battery can be maintained either in the bike or you can remove and charge the battery.
If you allow the battery to become discharged, that is the slow death spiral for most batteries.
For older lead-acid battery types, do a monthly check as part of your regular motorcycle maintenance schedule. Use distilled water to top of battery cells when needed.
For both battery types, exposing your bike to heat can degrade the battery. Heat is actually a greater factor in battery life than cold temperatures. Keep your bike covered and out of the sun when the temperatures climb to avoid prematurely discharging the battery.
What best-practices advice would you give when it comes to maintaining the health of your motorcycle battery? Leave your comments below.