Charge! Keep your motorbike battery healthy while it's laid up

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When a bike’s being used regularly, the battery should stay fit and healthy for several years. But when a bike is laid up – as many are over the winter months, and many more were during 2020's lockdowns – it can go flat in a matter of weeks.

Machines with alarms or trackers fitted are even more vulnerable, as are those with batteries that are already a few years old. But there’s a simple way to avoid the cost and inconvenience of discovering a dead battery when lockdown finally lifts: fit a trickle charger.

Buy the chargers listed in this article here:

Which motorbike battery charger should I use?

First, check whether your bike has a regular lead-acid battery or a new-fangled lithium-polymer one. Lithium batteries remain rare but have become more common on premium Honda, Ducati and BMW bikes in recent years. There’s also a growing market for replacement lithium batteries. Using a lead-acid charger on a lithium battery has the potential to wreck it – so check if you’re in any doubt.

Assuming it’s a normal lead-acid (or any of the Gel / AGM variants based on the same chemistry) then you’re good to use pretty much any mainstream maintenance charger from the likes of Optimate, Oxford, Ring and so on.

Optimate charger

Each uses unique software but broadly follow the same steps: a recovery stage (if the battery is deeply discharged); a bulk charge to fill the battery quickly; and a final maintenance cycle, which uses a controlled, calculated trickle of energy to keep the battery topped up without overcharging. Most are automatic – they don’t need you to do anything other than plug them in and leave them to it.

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There’s tons of choice, but if you just want to keep a healthy battery in good shape, there’s no need to spend a fortune. Optimate’s 1 Duo (£39.99RRP) and Oxford’s Oximiser 900 (£49.99RRP) will do the job, while both costing less than a typical replacement battery.

If you have a lithium battery, you’ll need to use a charger that explicitly says it’s suitable for that chemistry. Until recently, lithium-specific chargers have been expensive – but Optimate’s 1 Duo is suitable and costs less than £40.

How do I connect a motorbike battery charger?

Using the crocodile clips

Either with crocodile clips or using a lead that stays on the bike. Clips are fine for a short-term connection, but a plug-in lead is more convenient long-term. To fit one (which generally comes in the box with a charger), remove the battery terminal bolts (black/negative first, red/positive second), put the eyes from the charging harness on top of the appropriate terminal, then refit the bolts (this time red/positive first, black/negative last). Thread the end of the lead through your bike to somewhere you can access it easily.

Optimate trickle charger harness

Connect the lead to the battery charger, plug the charger into the wall and switch it on. That’s all there is to it – the charger will fire up and start testing the battery. If it’s all good, it’ll move onto charging and then trickle stages. Unless you see red lights, you can pretty much leave it like this until your next ride.

Always undo the negative (black) terminal first

What if I don’t have power near my bike?

If you’re storing your bike outside, one option is to use a solar-powered charger, such as Oxford’s Solariser (£39.99RRP). These aren’t smart chargers, and their low power output will struggle to recover a discharged battery. But if you’re just keeping a healthy battery topped up, their steady trickle of current during daylight hours should be plenty.

The other option is to remove the battery and bring it inside, where you can charge it with a normal smart charger. This also lets you keep a closer eye on its health, giving the confidence it’ll be ready to fire your bike back into life the second the opportunity arises.

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Martin Fitz-Gibbons

By Martin Fitz-Gibbons

Numbers nerd, persistent cynic, SV650S owner