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Battery Basics A word from Yuasa on battery technologyIndustry InsiderBatteries may be one of the most neglected parts of the modern motorcycle. And it's partly our fault-as we and our competitors continue to develop battery technology, the product becomes ever more reliable and robust. The days of worrying about battery life are long gone.
Today, there are two basic types of batteries in use. Until about 10 years ago, the only kind of battery you'd find in a motorcycle is what's called a conventional flooded. A battery is an electrochemical device that converts chemical energy to electrical energy, and is made up of individual cells that produce between 2.11 and 2.20 volts each; a 12-volt battery will, obviously, have six cells. The cells consist of alternately stacked lead plates that are positively and negatively charged. In a flooded-cell battery, insulators separate these cells and the whole mess is submerged in a solution of sulfuric acid and distilled water. This electrolyte is free to slosh around the battery.
Although this type of battery was the mainstay of motorcycling for decades, there are some inherent compromises. For example, the battery must be mounted so that the electrolyte won't spill out during normal riding, and a vent must be plumbed to give any spillage a safe place to go. You don't want this stuff atop frame rails or on the rear wheel. The vent also allows the battery to out-gas safely when it's being charged.
As motorcycles became more sophisticated and the engineers asked for more flexibility in mounting batteries, the absorbed glass mat (or AGM) battery became popular. AGM batteries are also called maintenance-free or sealed, non-spillable. The idea here is that the electrolyte is maintained in the glass mat and does not slosh around as it does in a flooded cell. It's important to understand that AGM and flooded batteries are both lead-acid types. You might also hear references to "gel" or "dry" batteries; actually these are just other names for AGM batteries. There's no such thing as a true gel cell used in motorcycling today.
Battery maintenance is not difficult. For flooded-cell batteries, it's as simple as checking the electrolyte level and inspecting the battery for cracks in the case and loose connector lugs. If the fluid level is low, replenish it with distilled water only. Don't use battery acid. During the out-gassing phase, it's the water that's boiled off, not the acid.
Usually, when a battery "dies," or fails to accept a charge, it's due to one of two things. Either it's been allowed to run dry, which results in sulfation of the lead plates, or the battery has just been "beat up." How's that? Excessive heat is one of the worst enemies of battery life. Our research shows that battery temperatures in excess of 130 degrees Fahrenheit will dramatically reduce longevity. Usually, but not always, motorcycle manufacturers take this into account when positioning the battery in the bike. But you must understand the impact of heat should you decide to modify your bike in such a way that puts additional heat sources near the battery. Next on the hit list is vibration; besides heat, vibration is the most common battery killer. That's why it's important to inspect the battery's mounting hardware. A battery rattling around loose in the bike will have a much shorter life.