You don’t have to be a mechanic to care for your battery

Your battery is an important, often overlooked, part of your motorcycle. Even if you don’t do a lot of maintenance on your bike, you can learn how to take care of your battery and get the most out of it.

A motorcycle battery should last 3-5 years if you take care of it. If not, your battery can die within a year or two, costing you money you could be spending on something else, like gas for a road trip.

Battery Types

There are three major types of motorcycle batteries. Knowing which type of battery you have is essential for proper battery maintenance.

  • Conventional “wet cells” with liquid electrolyte. These batteries contain lead-antimony and are the least expensive, but require periodic refilling with water.
  • Gelled electrolyte (gel cells). Gel batteries contain a jellied electrolyte and are more tolerant of being left partially discharged. However, they cost more than conventional batteries.
  • Maintenance free or “dry cells.” Maintenance free batteries are perfectly sealed so the acid can't escape. While the initial cost of maintenance free batteries is typically higher than that of conventional batteries, you will be saving yourself a lot of time and effort by using them.

Tips for longer battery life

If you own a conventional battery, it needs to have its fluid level (electrolyte) periodically refilled. The good news is that it is relatively easy to check battery electrolyte levels. Most (but not all) bike manufacturers make their batteries simple to get at, to facilitate maintenance. If you’re not sure where your bike’s battery is, check your owner’s manual.

Proper battery maintenance means ensuring the electrolytes are at the right level, as indicated by the maximum and minimum “fill” lines for each cell. These levels are etched into the side of your battery. All that’s required is to top-off that electrolyte by adding distilled water. Make sure you use distilled water and not tap water. Distilled water is typically used in batteries due to its lack of mineral content and general purity. Using tap water in wet cells can create problems in the long term as minerals can form on the cell plates and affect the efficiency of the production of electricity.

How often should you check the battery electrolyte levels? Every month, or 3,000 miles (whichever comes first), is a conservative battery maintenance routine.

One of the major mistakes that can lead to shorter life for your battery is improper storage and charging. If you live in a cold-weather locale where you can’t ride your bike for several months each year, you can run into trouble if you leave your battery in your bike.

Anytime a motorcycle is going to be stored for several weeks or longer, the battery should be removed and placed indoors. But do not store it on a concrete garage floor – this can drain the battery more quickly because concrete is conductive and encourages the battery to drain. Instead, place your battery on a wooden, plastic, or thick cardboard surface.

But just storing your battery properly is not enough. When a battery is in regular use on a motorcycle, it is charging. When it is not in use, it is no longer charging, meaning it actually is discharging. To keep your battery from dying while it is in storage, you must regularly hook it up to a “smart” multi-stage maintenance charger with separate bulk, absorption and float modes. Regular and trickle chargers are OK for recharging discharged batteries to put them back in service, but they are not intended to maintain a battery’s charge properly during storage.

Following these tips and guidelines can help get the longest possible life out of your bike’s battery. Like with most pieces of equipment, take proper care of your battery and it will take care of you.

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