Steed: Built to Ride

Loose Juice, the Zen of Battery Maintenance

Tech Tip Index

It's that time of year again, when you finally found some free time to ride. You go out and push the starter button on your machine to fire up your bike and all you hear is that annoying 'Clickey-Clickety' sound and you know your plans just changed. Your battery is dead. Call your riding partners and tell them to have a good time without you.

Batteries always seem to go dead at the worst time, but they don't have to. All that stands between you having a great day riding or standing beside your motorcycle are a few steps to understanding how your battery and electrical charging system function.

Let's start at the very basics. Most batteries in an American bike store about 12 volts of electricity waiting to start your bike.This power is kept in negative and positive charged sheets of lead 'plates' surrounded in electrolyte or 'acid'.Just like you and me, those plates need to be 'fed' or re-charged to be ready for action.At the same time if they are not maintained properly their lifespan is greatly shortened. The average lifespan for a battery in Arizona is about 18 months if properly maintained, and dramatically reduced if you ignore it.

O.K., how do I feed my battery? First off, you need to start out with a freshly filled fully bench charged battery which right out of the box should be charged with about 13 volts. Cheap batteries are rarely good, and good batteries are never cheap. Make sure that all of your battery terminal connections are tightly secured at the battery, and at the cables opposite ends.

The red color-coded cable should be tightly fastened to your starter motor or solenoid, and the negitive cable should be securely bolted to your frame or chassis. These connections are very important, if they are loose at all, you won't get full current to your starter, and you'll be on the cell phone making excuses why you didn't make the ride.

Here's a very important rule when changing out your battery.Disconnect your negative cable first, then the positive when removing.Then you do the exact opposite when installing the battery, hook the positive up first, then the negative cable.Otherwise you may see a shower of sparks from your cables, and by then you won't have time to run if the acid in the battery decides to explode.

The first thing most people think to do when their bike won't turn-over is to 'jump' start the bike. Don't do it.You'll run the chance of burning out your charging system which could cost you about $400 to repair, and at the least you probably end up pushing the bike at the next time you stop. At the very worst, you could get that shower of sparks that I told you about earlier.

The best thing you can do for your battery is to ride your bike, often. If you get out for a 30-minute ride, your charging system will replenish all the energy back into your battery that it took to get it started.Don't make the mistake of going out into your garage and starting your bike, and then shutting it off, thinking you are doing your battery a service. Every time you start your bike you loose energy out of your battery that must be replaced.

If you don't have the time to get out and ride your bike to feed your battery, the next best thing is to connect a 'battery tender' for your juice box.This is a one or 2 amp (very low) trickle charger, which will make up for the energy that dissipates from your battery when it just sits. There are connectors available that you can permanently mount to your battery that allow for a quick 'plug-in' for the trickle charger so you don't have to hassle with accessing your battery every time you want to hook it up.

If you find that you keep replacing your battery, it won't hold a charge or the new one goes dead right away, you probably have an issue with your charging system in your bike.

The charging system generates electricity to re-charge your battery while you ride.There are basically three components in a domestic bike's charging system; the alternator, which is a (1) magnet that spins around the (2) stator, that is made out of coiled wires.Somehow, magically the action of spinning magnets around coiled wires generates alternating current (AC) and then needs to be converted to Direct Current (DC) by the third component in your charging system, the (3) Regulator.If your battery is not keeping charged, and you are riding your bike, and all the connections are tight, you can be sure one of those three components have failed. The best bet if you consistently have battery problems is to take your bike to a trained technician, who can diagnose what component or series of parts that need to be replaced to get you riding with a grin on your face.

Now that the mystery of the 'Zen' of battery maintenance has been cleared up, with a few easy steps and a few preventative measures, you'll be able to push the starter button on your scooter with confidence.

Keep the rubber side down.
- John at Steeds