Battery failures are one of the main causes of bike problems so it’s important to choose the right battery – or risk paying the price later. It’s also important to look after your battery properly. As mums across the land have been telling us for years: prevention is better than a cure!
Before you buy…
Have your current battery tested before you fork out on a new one in case it’s the charging system at fault. You can do this yourself with a multimeter.
Choosing the right battery for your bike
Your owner’s manual should help you figure out which battery is best for your bike. You may still wish to upgrade to a different variety, depending on your requirements. Check that any battery you buy is a match with your bike’s performance in cold conditions – zero degrees fahrenheit is when batteries perform at their worst, you can use an amp (CCA) requirement test to see how it will fare in cold weather.
Types of battery
Good old-fashioned lead acid, or ‘wet’ batteries: if you have an older bike, or a tight budget, one of these might be your only option. If so, you’ll need to carry out maintenance on a regular basis to keep things ticking over - these batteries need to be topped up with distilled water and checked periodically to keep electrolytes balanced.
Lead acid batteries are also subject to vibration and heat damage. It’s important that they are kept upright on your bike in order to avoid leaks, and care must be taken when charging and discharging – they emit hydrogen gas, which is highly toxic and explosive
if you have a lead acid battery it will probably bear a serial number beginning with the letters CB, YB, GB, Y, C or G.
Maintenance free battery
There are several varieties of maintenance free battery. AGM (absorbed glass matt) batteries can withstand vibration and heat damage, and come in a sealed case – no topping up with water or acid needed. Other kinds are supplied with battery acid separately, to be added after purchase. Once the acid has been added, there is no more maintenance required and hermetically sealed – so there’s no need to reopen or check the levels.
If you have a maintenance free / sealed battery it will probably bear a serial number beginning with YTX, CTX or GTX. They usually come in a black case.
If you’re riding a newer bike, chances are you’ll already be aware that size does matter! Sports bikes in particular have limited space for batteries – making a gel battery one of your best options. Gel batteries are smaller, lighter and more powerful than their lead acid counterparts so if you race this is a no brainer.
Here’s the science bit: gel batteries get their name from the consistency of the battery acid – which, coincidentally enough, comes in gel form. This means it doesn’t slosh around or leak like liquid acid in lead batteries – the gel can coat the lead plates inside the battery without any problem. This means that unlike other types of battery they can be used at an angle or lying on one side.
Gel batteries don’t need to be filled with battery acid before use, which is often preferable for dealers and consumers. However a downside as a result of them being pre-filled from the factory is that the process of degradation begins sooner, which can lead to problems later on.
If you have a gel battery, the serial number probably begins with YT, CT, GT YTZ, CTZ or GTZ.
When you have figured out which kind of battery you’ll need, it’s also important to check that it hasn’t been hanging around at the dealer’s for too long – check the shipping date and make sure it is under six months old.
Maintaining your battery
Lead acid battery
You’ll need to regularly check for fluid level, sediment, corrosion, sulfation and mossing within the chambers. If you’re only using your bike for short journeys, the alternator may not have sufficient time to fully recharge your battery, which will shorten its life. You can use a ‘float’ or ‘trickle’ charger to counter this.
As the name suggests, there’s really not much you have to do here, although we definitely advise checking hat terminals and connections for damage and making sure the battery is clean.
So, lead, gel or maintenance free? We hope we’ve helped you make the right choice – if you’ve got any maintenance tips for extending battery life, tell us in the comments!