The Short And Easy Story Of Battery Maintenance

Keep your motorcycle battery happy

There's nothing worse than having a dead battery when it's time to ride. Sometimes we screw up and leave the key on, draining the battery. Hey, it happens… But then there are the times when we simply neglect our battery. It could be over the winter, or simply a lack of proper maintenance on a bike we don't ride that often. Today on MC Garage I'm going to give you some tips to help you keep your battery healthy longer so your bike is always ready to ride.

First off, you need to know what type of battery is in your motorcycle. Is it a lead-acid? If so, is it a sealed or AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat), or is it a flooded type that has caps to add water? Or is it a newer type of lithium-based battery that allows the battery to be lighter and smaller for a given load? Different types of batteries have different maintenance needs.

Regardless of battery type, there are a few things that make all batteries happy. First, make sure the positive and negative terminal connections are tight. A loose terminal can play havoc with the sensitive electrical systems of modern motorcycles, and at minimum it can be a gremlin that you may overlook when your bike sputters and coughs.

Clean terminals are also key. While lithium batteries don’t typically have corrosion problems, on lead-acid batteries, the positive terminal can see a buildup of a greenish-colored crud called copper sulfate. This stuff doesn’t conduct electricity very well and will degrade performance. On the negative terminal, white sulfate can build up and is typically caused by undercharging. How can that happen on a bike ridden regularly? If you have a bike with a lot of electrical accessories and take a lot of short rides, the battery may not get fully charged.

Terminal corrosion can also over time destroy the cables connecting your battery to your bike. If you see corrosion, remove the battery and clean the terminals and wires using a mixture of a couple of tablespoons of baking soda mixed with water and scrub with a stiff brush. The baking soda will neutralize the acid and stop corrosion. If your battery isn’t the sealed type, make sure no baking soda gets inside because it will neutralize the acid in your battery and that could kill it.

For old-school, non-sealed flooded-type lead-acid batteries, you need to keep an eye on the water level. If the water drops below the top of the lead plates, sulfation will occur, lowering the battery’s capacity and leading to an early death. Check the fill lines on the side of the battery and make sure the water level is in between those lines. If not, fill each cell with distilled water to the fill lines. If you’re going to charge the battery after filling, put only enough water to cover the plates because the level will rise as it charges.

Sealed lead-acid batteries don’t need water added but still need their charge maintained, like any battery.

In fact, a charged battery of any kind is a happy battery. If your bike hasn't been run for a few months, there is good chance the voltage is low. Lead-acid-type batteries have a higher self-discharge rate than lithium-type batteries and and can lose 5 percent of their charge per month. So lead-acid batteries absolutely need a tender for long periods of storage. Lithium batteries, on the other hand, only discharge at a rate of 1 to 2 percent a month, making them better for long-term storage if you don't have a dedicated charger.

But there's nothing better than having the right charger for your battery type. Here we have a Deltran Battery Tender smart charger for lead-acid batteries. These kinds of chargers typically have a relatively low charging rate of 0.8 to 2 amps and are computer controlled to keep your battery at an optimal charge level. Options for connecting the tender to your battery include standard alligator clips or a ring-terminal plug that you leave attached so you can just plug in when you park the bike for extended periods. If you are storing for the winter in a cold climate, consider removing your battery and storing it in an area with a more moderate temperature, which is better for the battery in the long run.

Lithium batteries have special chargers, so don't use a lead-acid charger on a lithium battery. While lithium batteries have a slower self-discharge rate than lead-acid batteries, if you're storing your bike for a long period, optimal battery health is maintained by using a proper charger. At the very least, disconnect your lithium battery to ensure the discharge rate is as low as possible. Deltran makes lithium-specific chargers and also ones that can be switched from lead-acid to lithium use if you have bikes with both types. Lithium batteries are especially sensitive to extreme discharge, meaning if they drop below 11 volts, it can cause permanent damage.

Want to know exactly how your battery of any type is doing? Deltran makes a wireless Wi-Fi battery monitor that will let you know through an app on your smartphone if there are any issues. Leave the key on and the battery is draining? You'll get an alert. Ah, the connected life we live today. Now even your bike's battery can talk to you.

So that’s the short and easy story of battery maintenance. Keep it clean, securely connected, hydrated, and charged, and you will get the full service life out of your motorcycle battery. Plus, your bike will be ready to ride when you are.