Now the nights are beginning to draw in and Autumn is well and truly here, a lot of us have decided to park our motorcycles up for the winter whilst some of us are continuing to commute and ride daily.
Whichever of these categories we fall into, we still need to carry out some simple maintenance to our bikes (probably one of the most forgotten about components), or the next time we open the garage door to take advantage of a dry day or to travel to work, we could be hit by the dreaded “click, click, click.” That’s right, there’s nothing worse than parking your bike away for a while and coming to it to find the battery is flat.
Your motorcycle’s battery is one of the most important components on your bike. It provides the power to run your ignition system, starter motor, lights and all the other ancillaries we fit including driving lights, heated grips, alarms, immobilisers, etc. If you look after it properly there is no reason why your motorcycle battery couldn’t last for between three and four years – easily. However, neglect it and you’ll probably end up buying a new battery at the start of every year when you go to take your bike out of its winter hibernation!
Why does my motorcycle battery go flat?
It’s easy to understand how a motorcycle battery can lose its charge over time, especially if it is just leftover winter. It slowly loses charge every day (especially if the weathers cold), until you come to it one day and try to start it, only to find it turns the engine over painfully slowly, or just clicks…
Even if you ride the bike most days through the winter, your battery still takes a beating this time of year. Think about it: you’re riding with your headlights on, the auxiliary lights on and perhaps even a set of heated grips – they all need power. If your commute or weekend ride is a relatively small one, you could be taking more out of your battery each day than your alternator can put back in.
Most modern bikes need the battery to be in tip-top condition for them to start in the first place. The whole ignition and fuel injection systems need powering, as well as making sure there is enough cranking power in the battery to spin the motor over fast enough. Big V-twins can also suffer in the cold – or if their batteries are a little down on power – as they require plenty of Amps to crank the motor over.
How can I keep plenty of charge in the battery?
There are numerous ways to keep your battery charged up and ready to ride. Not everyone has a garage with an electricity supply, but there are still ways to get around it. One such way, if you don’t have an electrical supply running to your shed or garage, is to remove the battery from the bike and keep it in the house on a battery conditioner over the winter. Then, once you’re ready to get back out, simply put the battery back on and away you go!
Alternatively, if you don’t want the battery in the house or there’s a chance you might get out on the bike over the winter, then an Oxford Solariser could be the answer. These are only trickle chargers, but they are very handy to hook up to the bike to keep the battery topped up.
If you do have electricity in the garage then the easiest way by far is to fit your bike with a hard wired, weatherproof cable that is compatible with your battery conditioner (most chargers come with one) and simply plug it into the conditioner, leaving it attached and switched on until you need it. Even if you use your bike a couple of days a week through the winter if you can plug it into a battery conditioner on days when you’re not riding it will make sure that your battery is good to go when you need it.
Types of motorcycle batteries
Nearly all motorcycles on the market today have 12-volt batteries and electrics, a significant upgrade on the old 6-volt battery that was used until the 1980’s on smaller and classic bikes.
There are now a few different types of motorcycle battery available, including:
- Lead acid batteries. The oldest and one of the most common batteries on older bikes is the lead acid (or “Flooded cell”) battery. These batteries have access to the cells and are initially filled with electrolytes and charged, but need topping up on a regular basis to keep them working properly.
- Maintenance free batteries. Also known as “sealed” batteries, the maintenance free style of motorcycle battery do exactly as they say on the tin. When filled and charged, no monitoring or topping up of the acid level is required and the stoppers for the cells are sunk into the top of the battery to prevent tampering.
- Gel batteries. These are often used in motorcycles where the battery has to lie on its side, or at an angle. This is possible as the batteries are filled with a gel state acid (the electrolyte is encased in gelling agent – normally silica) which does not move around like normal acid. Compared to normal lead acid batteries, a gel battery has a higher resistance to vibration, shock and extreme temperatures.
- AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) batteries. These batteries are very similar to a gel battery in that it is sealed, maintenance free and there is no electrolyte to spill. The electrolyte is absorbed by a very fine fiberglass mat, just like gel, allowing them to be used on their side or at an angle, and are very resistant to vibration.
- Lithium batteries. Relatively new to the motorcycle world, but over the last few years they have started to grow in popularity. The main advantages of lithium battery technology are easy to see when you put a lead acid battery and its equivalent lithium battery side by side. The lithium battery can be up to a 1/3 of the size, can give up to five-times the service life and has a fast recharge rate with a very low discharge rate. A lithium battery also gives approximately 1.5 times more cranking amps than its lead acid equivalent. The only drawback is that you will need a lithium specific charger, as a normal 12-volt charger will not charge a lithium battery and should NEVER be used.
Our top battery chargers
So, which charger is best for you? Below are our top five 12-volt battery chargers and our top lithium battery charger to make sure you keep everything tip top this winter:
- Optimate 3
The Optimate 3 is a unique and affordable six-step “all-in-one” battery conditioner. Lighter, smaller and more powerful than its predecessor; it can disulphate, recover, bulk charge and maintain your battery indefinitely.
- Oxford Oximiser 900
The Oxford Oximiser 900 is suitable for lead acid, sealed and gel batteries up to 30Ah and it will even work with deeply discharged batteries as long as they are not damaged. Supplied with crocodile clips and permanent hard wire lead.
- CTEK XS 0.8
The CTEK XS 0.8 Maintenance Charger is a compact and fully automatic six-step charger for 12v batteries from 1.2 to 32Ah and can be used for maintenance charging on batteries up to 100Ah. It is IP65 splash and dust proof, non-sparking, reverse polarity protected and short circuit proof. It also with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty.
- Battery Tender 800
The Battery Tender 800 is a hugely popular, small and compact charger for lead acid and gel batteries that packs a mighty 800mA of charging power. Shock and vibration proof, it’s perfect for ATV’s and motorcycles.
- Optimate 4D
The Optimate 4D is the latest generation of Optimate, designed for regular looms as well as the latest CAN-bus systems. It will automatically test, diagnose, charge and maintain all types of lead acid, maintenance free and gel batteries.
- Battery Tender 800 MA Lithium Battery Charger
The Battery Tender 800WP is a hugely popular and compact weatherproof charger specifically developed for use on 12V Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. It is spark proof, short circuit and reverse polarity protected and incorporates smart technology featuring an auto-recovery mode for batteries with low voltage.