Where it All Starts
Your battery is probably one of the least thought about parts on your motorcycle. While adding all that chrome and accessories to your bike you never even give a thought to your battery. That is until you go to start it and nothing happens. If you have a smaller bike you can probably push start it but what about those with big touring bikes like myself. Pushing it is generally not an option. Hopefully, if this happens to you your bike is in that ideal situation where it is pointing downhill making it easier to start. If not, now what?
Fortunately most of the time this type of situation can be avoided with a little care and maintenance of your battery. By the end of this article, you should be able to know how to maintain your battery properly therefore reducing your risks of getting stuck somewhere due to a dead battery.
Battery basics for a motorcycle are the same for automobiles also. The quick and simple explanation of how a battery works is that the chemical reaction that takes place inside the battery cells and that chemical reaction converts to electrical power. It’s that electrical power that you are most familiar with and expect. Like when you turn the key or push a button expecting your motor to turn over and bike to start.
There are different types of batteries you can get but for the purpose of this article, I will cover the most common one, the lead/acid battery. These batteries come in either maintenance-free (it could be a strip that pushes down over the top to make a seal) or with caps that you will need to screw or pop off to check and add water too if they become low.
Lets Get Started
When you order a new battery (assuming you are changing it yourself) most times you will need to add the electrolyte solution supplied with the battery. This electrolyte solution comes with the battery when you order it and all you will have to do is add the solution to each cell. Most new motorcycle batteries come with a “strip” type cap sealer that once you install you can’t reopen to check for water levels. These batteries are considered “maintenance” free.
If you have that type of battery after filling the cells, just install the strip caps, press down firmly, and you’re done. If your battery comes with screw caps, after filling the cells with the electrolyte solution screw the caps on each cell. After that, I recommend checking the water levels every other month on your brand new battery. After the first season with the battery, I would check every other week.
Now you’re almost ready to ride. Before installing the battery and buttoning everything up, you will need to charge it. You should follow the charging guidelines that came with your battery for the amount of time for the initial charge. I usually put it on my trickle charger and wait for the green light to come on indicating the battery is fully charged. This could take anywhere from 12- 24 hours.
So you bought your new battery, added the electrolyte solution to each cell, charged it up fully, and installed it on the bike. Now what? Now it’s time to ride!!! Providing your bike’s charging system is up to par and you are riding fairly regularly, your battery should not give you any problems.
There are several things you can do to maintain and prolong you batteries life. Even though it’s riding season and the temperature outside is warm you should still be keeping an eye on that battery. Make time at least once a month to check your battery for corrosion or loose terminals. If corrosion is starting to form clean the terminals and spray a little battery terminal protector on them. If you find a loose connection at the terminal, tighten it up.
While you are checking for loose terminals or corrosion, take a look at the battery itself. Look for any cracks in the casing or bowing out sides. Look for any signs of leaking. If your not going to be on your bike for a while, it’s a good idea to keep a trickle charger on it. Each time you let it discharge, you are shortening the life of the battery.
If you have a maintenance free battery you don’t have to worry about adding water. If you have a battery with removeable caps, you will need to check and add water. Always used distilled water when you are adding water to your battery.
Most people (especially those up north) will only be able to ride up to a certain point and then it will get too cold or icy to ride. This means your bike will be sitting for a few months until the nicer weather arrives. Although there are other things you should do to prepare your bike for winter, I am only going to focus on the battery.
When you are ready to winterize the bike you should do one last (for the season) visual inspection of the battery. Look for cracks, leaking, bowing, or corrosion/dirt build-up. Clean any corrosion/dirt build-up off the battery. Once that is complete it’s time to get your battery on a trickle charger for the winter.
In/Out Of The Bike
There are two ways to accomplish this. You can either do it in or out of the bike. Either way, it’s best to disconnect the battery and just hook up the trickle charger. If you are going to store and charge the battery at an indoor location make sure it’s well ventilated and check the battery often to make sure it’s not getting hot. If it’s getting too hot. Disconnect the charger and let the batter cool down a bit. If you find the battery keeps heating up you may want to test the battery or charger. I have left my charger on for months when I lived in New York over the winter and never had a problem.
Battery maintenance while fairly easy to do is largely overlooked because of the location of the battery. Most times they are not located conveniently out in the open like with a car. You should always be inspecting and doing bike maintenance (see our article on what you should be checked before each ride) so why not take a few extra minutes and include your battery. Just a little care and preventative maintenance while have you riding more instead of getting stuck somewhere and needing to call roadside assistance.
How often do you check your battery? Have you ever discovered a problem on a pre-check that likely saved you from a breakdown? Let us know your thoughts.