Are Lithium-ion Batteries Worth the Money?

Light and powerful, lithium batteries are also spendy.

We weigh the Lithium-ion option.Staff

Q: A few times in the last month or so my 2011 Triumph Speed Triple has refused to start, and I've had to jump the battery off my wife's car. It's the original battery and the bike is six years old, so I'm pretty sure it's just time for a replacement. I ride in the Smoky Mountains quite a bit and try to do at least one trackday a year at Barber, so I'm thinking I might spring for a lightweight lithium-ion battery. I know lithium batteries are light, but I've also heard they don't last very long and need a special charger. The guys at my local dealership weren't much help, so I'm hoping Motorcyclist can shed some light on the topic. I don't want to make a $180 mistake! —James Gifford, Chattanooga, TN

A: Six years is a pretty good run for the average lead-acid battery like the one that came in your Speed Triple. Replacing it with a lithium-ion has some plusses and minuses. First, LI batteries are pricier than LA batteries—sometimes by a lot—and while they're also a lot lighter, many are smaller too, so you have to pad the empty space in the battery box unless you find an LI unit the same size as the OE battery.

All batteries self-discharge when not in use, but LIs are slower to self-discharge than LA batteries, which means you may not need a trickle charger for storage. If the voltage drops too low, however, an LI battery can suffer damage or even a permanent demise, while an LA battery can often be brought back to life from nearly zero voltage. LI batteries need special chargers too, but they can be used to charge LA batteries.

Another quirk of LI batteries is they don’t crank very hard right away in cold temperatures. You can “wake them up” by turning on the headlights for a few minutes, but when the engine is warm or the weather warms up, they crank just fine. With these caveats in mind your $180 investment will pay off nicely, especially on your trackdays when less weight equals lower lap times.

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