With technology constantly evolving, an optimal battery is a must for all modern motorcycles. And though some vintage motorcycles can be prodded to life with a kickstarter, a fresh battery simply makes the riding life easier
But when it’s time to replace that old battery, there can often be some questions about all the different types and what all those designations and specifications mean. Getting the right battery can be critical to the bike’s performance, the life of the battery, and getting home from where you’re going.
To help sort out all the technical issues about motorcycle batteries, we conducted a Q&A with the experts at Odyssey Battery to explain the top 10 things to know about motorcycle batteries.
Ultimate MotorCycling: Like tires, there are a series of numbers associated with each battery — what do those numbers mean?
Odyssey Battery: For Odyssey batteries, the series of numbers associated with each battery is called the model number. Pulse Current (PC), and Pulse-Hot-Cranking-Amp (PHCA) determine the model number, which happen to be the first three to five seconds of high rate discharge to turn the engine over. For example, on an Odyssey Extreme Series PC1200 battery, the PC indicates Pulse Current and 1200 indicates the Pulse-Hot-Cranking-Amp.
Q. I keep hearing about “old style lead acid batteries,” AGM, maintenance-free, high performance maintenance-free, sealed gel batteries and now there are all sorts of new types of batteries for electric vehicles. What is the difference between those types and which are used for motorcycles with gas engines (non-electric bikes)?
A. There are two types of lead acid batteries, often referred to as Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries: Gel cell batteries and Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) batteries.
Unlike “old style lead acid batteries,” which we typically call Conventional AGM or flooded wet-cell batteries, both of these types are sealed and non-spillable, eliminating the need to refill the electrolyte, while avoiding corrosion of the positive terminal and its surrounding area.
AGM batteries represent the latest battery technology, and are becoming more commonplace for motorcycles with gas engines.
Q. In terms of service life in normal use, which is the best type to get—leaving aside initial purchase price?
A. AGM batteries. ODYSSEY batteries employ dry cell AGM technology to contain acid, allowing the battery to be installed even on its side. Additionally, the densely packed flat plates – Thin Plate Pure Lead (TPPL) technology – in ODYSSEY batteries avoid the “dead space” between cylinders in a “six pack” design that is typical of gel cell batteries and other AGM designs.
Q. Which specifications have a little room for variation from the original specifications without causing any problems—for those times when replacement has to happen, but the exact spec battery is not available?
A. There are ways to modify either the location for the battery install or use a hold-down kit to get replacement battery to fit.
Q. What does cold cranking amps mean in terms of battery life or performance?
A. Cold cranking amps (CCA) directly correlate with battery performance. The higher the CCA, the better a battery can perform at start-up. CCA is the current that a battery can deliver for 30 seconds at 0°F.
Q. What about batteries for electric bikes—what different types of batteries are in use for those?
A. Electric bikes tend to use different battery chemistries more usually found in mobile phones. These are expensive and can be unreliable in automotive applications.
Q. I’ve heard that a “quick charge” is better for a battery than a slow charge—is that right and if so, why?
A. A quick charge is better for ODYSSEY batteries as it improves performance from deep discharge and ensures that the battery spends the maximum amount of time fully charged. Fast charging does not benefit all battery technologies and can reduce the life on most products.
Q. I’ve heard that a “wet” or lead-acid battery can “sulfate” under certain circumstances, which damages the battery. What is that and how can it be prevented?
A. Conventional AGM or flooded wet-cell batteries that are not sealed have a tendency to spill acid, which can cause corrosion at the positive terminal and its surrounding area. Consider a replacement battery that has a sealed, non-spillable design. (Also, see the response in the next question.)
Q. What are the key things to do to preserve battery life year-round and for winter storage?
A. Proper maintenance and storage practices will ensure the battery’s reliability and longevity.
Charging: Conventional AGM or flooded batteries wet-cell batteries may experience permanent damage and not recover their full capacity if they are only partially charged when put into storage, even if they are charged prior to reinstallation (an exception is the AGM-VRLA battery, such as the ODYSSEY battery, which has excellent deep discharge recovery capabilities that enable it to tolerate such storage abuses better than other batteries).
Chronic undercharging also will cause excessive sulfation deposits that will not break down with a normal recharge, leaving the battery prone to failure. Only proper charging will break down internal sulfation and prevent its from accumulating in the battery. Consult the manufacturer’s specifications to determine the proper voltage for a full charge.
Storage: In addition to charging the battery, the battery should be stored at an appropriate temperature, especially when the outdoor climate is very cold. Consult the manufacturer’s manual for storage temperatures and recommendations.
Q. What are the key safety steps to take when handling, installing, removing and servicing a battery?
A. Always wear safety glasses and gloves when handling, installing, removing and servicing a battery. Do not hold the old battery against your body. Any spilled battery acid and/or corrosion could damage your clothes, or worse, your skin.
Here are some Motorcycle Battery Replacement Guidelines:
- Disconnect all cables from the battery and return the battery to its place of purchase for proper recycling.
- Replace any deteriorated insulation, as well as cables and components damaged by corrosion and acid.
- Set the replacement battery in the holder and secure it in place.
- Connect the positive cable to the positive terminal and the negative cable to the negative terminal.
- Tighten the bolt, screw or nut to its appropriate battery specifications.