Motorcycle Battery Tips For the Non-Mechanic

Motorcycle BatteryTHREE POINTS OF PROPER MOTORCYCLE BATTERY MAINTENANCE. I love riding motorcycles. I cannot say I “love” motorcycle maintenance. Although I have done quite a lot of bike maintenance in the past, including the basics, like changing tires, changing oil, replacing spark plugs, and air filters. I’ve also done electrical work and even replaced pistons and piston rings. But nowadays I let the shop do most of the work.

I very much respect the guys who do the majority of their own maintenance. It not only saves money, but it sure keeps you in better touch with your bike. (In fact there are some guys who seem to love taking care of their bikes more than riding them!) Regardless, no matter how little you enjoy doing your own motorcycle maintenance, there are a few items that are best handled by oneself.

Certainly checking your own tire pressure would be right at the top!

But taking care of our own battery is one of those simple things that even non-mechanics should take a greater interest in, since it’s easy, will prolong battery life, and save money that would be spent on frequently replacing batteries.

You already know that your battery provides the juice that runs the starter motor, lights, and ignition system. And those are pretty critical to our motorcycle enjoyment. Dead batteries are problematic, especially if they pass on before their time.

Motorcycle batteries are supposed to last 3-5 years, IF we take good care of it. (I tend to get the full five years).

But there are riders who don’t pay their battery the attention it needs. And they may need to replace their batteries every time spring rolls around. So, let’s visit the three main points of good battery care.

BASIC BATTERY MAINTENANCE POINT #1

Point #1 about maintaining bike batteries is that they need to have their fluid level (electrolyte) periodically refilled. Since car batteries have been sealed and maintenance-free for so long, the idea of doing anything to a bike battery may not be on the radar screen of a rider who is a non-mechanic.

The good news is that it is a relatively easy task to check battery electrolyte levels in each of its cells. Most (but not all) bike manufacturers make their batteries simple to get at, to facilitate maintenance. Your battery may be under your seat, or easily accessed from the side of your bike, perhaps behind one of your side panels. (Your owner’s manual will point this out, if you don’t already know).

Proper battery maintenance means ensuring the electrical juice is 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.

It’s worth emphasizing that you won’t be adding battery acid to fill up your battery. You’ll be adding distilled water. (Not tap water).

Having said that, the electrolyte inside your battery isn’t friendly stuff. You don’t want to get the existing battery acid (electrolyte) on yourself. So, a true safety advocate would wear protective gloves and safety glasses.

How often should you check the battery electrolyte levels? Every month, or 3000 miles (whichever comes first), is a conservative battery maintenance routine.

MAIN REASON MOTORCYCLE BATTERIES FAIL

The main reason motorbike batteries will not last their expected lifetime is because they are left in a motorcycle that has not been used for a long time. Have YOU ever left your bike sitting, unused, for a long time, like, say an entire winter?

According to the mechanics at my local dealership, there’s plenty of riders who do. Every springtime bikes are brought in to the shop that won’t start because their batteries are dead. (This, by the way, is very good for new battery sales at the dealership.)

Batteries are automatically recharged when the motorcycle is in operation. So, not only do batteries lose their needed recharging when a bike is not being used, but when they are left unused in the cold, that just accelerates their demise.

So, the 2nd point of proper battery maintenance is removing it from your bike for the winter, or any multi-month period the engine will not be operated, and properly storing it.

2nd POINT OF MOTORCYCLE BATTERY MAINTENANCE – STORAGE

As part of of battery maintenance point #2, not only should it be removed from your bike in the winter, it should be stored in a location that is warmer than 32 degrees. This keeps your battery from freezing and/or cracking. (In other words, storing a battery in a cold garage is not good maintenance).

But we’re not quite done with our battery storage maintenance yet!

Batteries can be finicky about where they rest. They’re sort of like that “Princess And The Pea” fairytale, whereby a “true” Princess was revealed because she could not sleep comfortably on a pile of mattresses as a result of a pea lodged somewhere amongst all that padding. Well, maybe a motorbike battery is not quite like that, but be kind to your battery and do not store it on a concrete or metal surface. This isn’t just a result of royal lineage, it’s because this will accelerate the discharging of the battery over time.

So, to repeat the obvious, your Princess battery should not be stored on concrete, and especially a cold, concrete floor, such as what might be typical for a garage.

Instead, place your battery to rest on a wooden, plastic, or thick cardboard surface. It doesn’t need a mattress; any non-conductive surface will do.

With point #2 of battery maintenance out of the way, let’s visit one more item….

POINT #3 AND BATTERY TRICKLE CHARGERS

Point #3 of proper motorcycle battery maintenance is charging the battery while it is in storage. That battery is somewhat of a restless Princess. It just doesn’t like things staying the same. It mainly spends its time either charging or discharging. Which means that when a battery is not in use on a running motorcycle – which is how it gets charged – it is discharging. That darn thing loses charge every day when it’s not used!

The good news is that the solution is simple: regular charging ensures a long life for your battery, even when it’s stored.

Which brings up the subject of motorcycle battery chargers. The last point about taking care of your battery is connecting it up to a charger to maintain the battery in optimum condition and to help get the full life out of your battery.

Some rudimentary advice would be to never user a “car battery charger” to charge your motorcycle battery. On the other hand, there are some chargers that can handle both, and it’s just a matter of setting the charger switch correctly. Otherwise, if you use the wrong charger, you’ll supply more current than your motorcycle battery can handle, which makes for an unhappy battery.

Furthermore, a “smart” or “intelligent” motorcycle battery charger will continuously monitor your stored battery’s condition, and activate the charging mode when it is needed so that it doesn’t get overcharged, even if it’s supplying the correct current. Other motorbike battery chargers need to be connected and disconnected so as to not fry your battery.

BATTERY MAINTENANCE CONCLUSION

In review, the three parts of proper motorcycle battery maintenance are:

1) Keep the individual cells in your battery filled to the indicated electrolyte levels with distilled water. This kind of maintenance is done throughout the riding year. The more you ride, the more frequently it should be checked.

2) Remove your battery from the bike and store it on a wooden, plastic or other non-conducive surface, in a location that does not get below 32 degrees. This would be a long-term maintenance item, such as for winter storage. However, if for some reason you know you won’t be riding the bike for quite a while (for example, if you’re in the service and won’t see your bike for some time), this would be for ANY long-term storage.

3) Finally, connect up your battery to a motorcycle battery charger, to keep it at an optimum level of charge. This would be part of winter maintenance, but, could be used during the riding months, even while the battery is installed on the motorcycle, when the bike is not used regularly.

The benefit of good battery maintenance is not only saving money by not replacing your battery before it’s 3-5 year life expectancy, but it can keep your battery from failing you on when you are out on a ride….

Safe riding!

MCg

MCg

"Wandering Around" is my motto: Up and down the California Coastal Ranges; the Rockies; the Appalachians; the beaches of both North American coasts; and everywhere in between. Any two wheels with a motor and a full gas tank will make me happy.
MCg

47 thoughts on “Motorcycle Battery Tips For the Non-Mechanic

  • Just to add, I have a 1997 Harley which still has its original Harley Davidson sealed battery that still works perfectly, it has been kept on a ‘smart’ optimate charger all its life, assume the battery was of a very good quality to start with.

  • There might be some people who “love” motorcycle maintenance, but I’ve never met any of them! I enjoy tinkering around for fun, but I like to have my motorcycle work when I need it to. I’d much rather pay the money to have my motorcycle repaired than try and do it myself.

  • Any 600 va ups can be used as a trickle charger,just make a pair of wires connected to the battery terminals of ups.

  • gee jay what part of hook up the red on + and black on neg read the meter do you not understand ..yep like I said some people should not own motorcycles …

  • whats the point of asking questions when there is no one answering them? i see everyone on this page asking questions and none of them are getting answered! lol there is got to be a better way to find things out

  • i hav a new yamaha r15 v2 ..i just left in fr 6 days in india,,which is quite cold dese days,,when i strtd it wrkd well but d next day d battery died,,,d bike is nt strting,, nd lights,,kindly help me,,n tell me what to do ??

  • to dan get a mulit meter go to 10 amp reading put red line to batt grd /black to batt cable [ not ]connected to batt of course ..so its in line if it shows 1 amp OR MORE you have a draw on the batt. start pulling fuzes one at a time when it goes to 0 thats the area where the draw is .ALSO. hook /clip/ bolt ground cable up to batt. ..go to volts setting .. red wire on post.+ term black on neg – term…..start up motor should read 13-14 volts going into batt.

  • TO RAY

    If your battery lasts a year,then it is the problem and not the bike. I just did a search for batteries and found the following facts about new batteries. When comparing the cheapest to the most expensive, the range of power available (measured by CCA’s) was 1:16. IE; the more you pay the more power you get. Take a moment to look at what you are using and ask “should I buy a better battery next time?”.
    NOTE: the median power rating was 270CCA.

  • I live in an apt complex, nowhere to plug in a trickle charger( I doubt if they would let me if there were) I ride 2 or 3 times a week in east Texas all winter and still have battery problems. Like, every year a new one. Short of disconnecting it and bringing inside every night, what can I do? It’s brand new, and fill of electrolyte.

  • Guys, Thanks for the positive comments. Sounds like a multimeter is in my immediate future…

    To update you, last week I took it to a third – and my new go-to – mechanic. They at first said there was no problem, and when I insisted there was, took the bike apart and found a burned out connection under the tank. They replaced that but… Curses, it still doesn’t recharge! Grrr…. At the moment, I’m just reconciled to detaching the battery and recharging every night up in my apartment.

    Yep, that 59 St Bridge is still an adventure :)

  • dan did you full charge that new batt. ..new could be new 2 years ago and sitting on shelf..still need to be full charged slow ..deep .. 59th st bridge god ..brave soul … first did it in 64 with a packard going to work in maspeth queens, waited for it to give way every time i went across… your a very brave person to try that on a bike …

  • TO DAN

    The charging circuit could be working, and NOT charge the battery IF there were a faulty connection at the battery. If you are savvy you can do a test with a multimeter at the battery posts/connectors. Otherwise,just take the connectors apart,clean them,and reconnect. Good luck.

  • I bought a new battery a few weeks ago and it completely died a couple of days ago. Flat as a pancake. Five minutes later and I would have been on the 59th St (“Feelin’ Groovey”) Bridge to Queens, so it could have been worse – at least I was able to push it into a side street.

    This battery (YUASA YTX14AH(L)-BS is completely enclosed, so there’s no way to check the electrolyte level.

    I think the charging system must be bad, but two separate shops (Honda, and an independent shop) swear it’s charging just fine. (I commute about 30 miles a day, half of it on no stoplights / 50mph highway, and I’d have thought that should be enough to recharge.) This has been a problem as long as I’ve had the bike.

    Any comments/suggestions very welcome – thanks!

  • low fluid level is water , acid will not evap. ..leak yes but not evap.thats why use only water to keep level up to max … if level is droping and there is no leak its over charging and water is evap … over charge could be the bikes reg or the batt charger to high or fast amps or to long on the batt ,it heats up water and heat means evap

  • slow charge it.. fast charge called a ”flash”or surface charge” if the plates are exposed to air they dry out warp [ fast charge causes heat causes warp ] .. flake crap builds up on bottom and shorts out cells … slow ”deep” charge 1/2 or 1 amp over nite [ battery specs] .. can restore … best is get a batry. tender …charges full slow then shuts off and will come back on as needed canot over charge like old style trickle charger that just keeps going, and going and going…tender has a wire hook to batey up so when you are done riding ,plug it in do not have to pull seat or side covers or take batt out .. unplug and ride..

  • TO WILL
    You can try to recharge,however when the battery plates have been exposed for a few days it is either dead or dieing.

    George

  • ok….so I am not so good on my maintenance lately…..I let my battery fluid level get to low and my bike died….it it possible for me to fill it,charge it, and hope it will last ? or did I toast it? 1989 Kawasaki ninja 600C

  • how if i not start my bike around 14 days…after that i wanna start it….is its posible the battery still can rechargeble

  • Believe me or not, my battery still works after 12 Years!!!
    Still have the original in my 2000 Road King and I’ve never followed any recommendation. Never charged, never winterized or removed from bike, I live in Canada and my garage is not heated (-20 easily in the winter). And in March, click, boom, starts immediately.

    Maurizio

  • Those of us living in snow-belt states have made provisions for maintaining our battery.
    If you do not have a trickle-charger, perhaps you might suggest one as a “gift”. It’s use will save you from having a battery-problem in the Spring

  • Great tips! battery is essential for starting a motorcycle that’s why it is the most important to focus with

  • To heavenlee: Leave your battery plugged into a trickle charger. Even after a hundred mile ride, I plug mine in.

  • Lojak is killing by battery for sure has been an issue since I bought the bike and had it . For example, I was riding everyday for months. Got sick couldn’t ride for 3 weeks wouldn’t turn over not enough juice. Any suggestions. Lo-jack already ‘fixed it” from the dealer’s original installation.

    Thanks and happy riding!

  • To Gena
    You have a problem with the battery,or the charging system in your bike. Read the info from McG on batteries,and you may be able to fix it yourself. IE; buy a battery charger.If it works(a recharge) then the battery is probably OK. Good luck.

  • Should a brand new motorcycle battery be dead after just 5 days of not riding? I can understand a month, but it doesn’t seem like it should go down so fast. Could there be something else going on making it discharge so rapidly?

  • Thank you. It is so hard to find basic procedures for batteries with bikes. We’ve gone through WAY too many batteries. Hopefully not any more!!!

  • im new to motorcycles, but how does the engine get power from the battery. what is the cable called. and what is needed to have a bare engine run? (i.e) i have the engine, headers, harness connected to ecu, rectifier, throttlebodies, guages, ignition switch, kill switch. what am i missing? any relevant comments are greatly appreciated. thanks

  • A battery tender will pay for itself tenfold. Always connect it when the bike is parked. I have had batteries last 6+ years in doing so. Without a battery tender, expect 2 seasons max life from your battery.

  • joe put a volt meter on batry before starting note the reading, charge it up note reading should be higher, then start up bike note the reading…. should be same or higher. unplug the head light note reading….if all goes down to under full charged your chargeing system is bad –if battry never comes up to 12.volts battry is bad…..

  • I need some advice on issues with my charging system. I have a dry cell battery that will hold charge when in trickle charge, when I’m riding the battery will drain and all my signals, headlight, digital tach will not work no power at all but still the engine is running. Anything will help. Thanks

  • I over charged my motorcycle battery was wondering if I fill it with water would it hold a charge?

  • NEVER LEAVE YOUR BATTERY IN THE BIKE WHEN LATE FALL ARRIVES AND YOU WON’T BE RIDING ANYMORE. I GUARANTEE THE BATTERY WILL DIE. TAKEIT OUT AND PUT A TRICKLE CHARGER ON IT. DONT STORE IT OUTSIDE IN A SHED. BRING IT IN WHERE ITS WARM, BUT NOT TOO WARM. AFTER BUYING 3 BATTERYS ,….ONE FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS……..I LEARNED MY LESSON. $67 DOLLAR A POP IS TOO MUCH FOR ONE YEAR OF BATTERY. THIS YEAR I WILL CHECK THE FLUID LEVEL EVERY MONTH AND NOT LET IT GO MORE THAN 5 DAYS WITHOUT CRANKING IT. USE A TRICKLE CHARGER TO MAINTAIN THE BATTERY AND KEEP IT ALIVE.

  • Ijust bought a used bike and the battery started when I bought it, but two weeks later it’s dead. The earlier owner did say the bike hadn’t been ridden much in hte past year but he cleaned it up and had it running before I arrived. I’m betting that the battery was as good as dead and he charged it up before i got there.

  • Hi Barrett—the short answer is yes,it is good to drive at least once a month.

    The longer answer is unless you have an amp meter there is no way to determine when the battery has become fully charged.The older the battery,the longer it will take for it to become “charged” ,and eventually it will not become recharged at all.

  • Hi, would appreciate some advice: if a bike is mostly sitting and maybe only getting ridden once a month, is it good to go out and run it for a bit to charge the battery/keep the engine fresh? If so, how long should I run the bike for and at what kind of revs (e.g. someone told me if the bike is running at idle it’s not really charging that much)? Thanks.

  • Just a question whoever knows. If my battery looses its ability to hold a charge will it cause my bike to now want to accelerate. Like the bike has no torque or power really

  • Hi Jeffrey, That’s a good question. However, there’s not a simple yes/no answer. The age of your battery will be a factor. How frequently and how long you ride will be additional factors. Regardless, if you do continue to use your existing battery, be sure the electrolyte levels are adequate.

  • My battery died over the winter, I am able to push start the bike will riding recharge my battery to an ample level?

    Thank,

    Jeffrey

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