Lithium Motorcycle Battery Pros & Cons
If you have not heard the buzz about lithium batteries for motorcycles then you have probably been hiding under a rock somewhere. There are many different brands available, and although prices have dropped some you may have noticed that they command a premium price. The question for most people is lithium motorcycle battery worth it? Most of the time yes, but sometimes the answer is no.
Of course there are a number of advantages and some disadvantages of lithium batteries in general. The single biggest advantage they have for the motorcycle restorer or customizer is that they contain no acid. There’s nothing worse than to have your battery burp a little acid out through the overflow tube and dribble it all over you freshly restored paint & chrome. Even if you carefully route the vent tube the acid still seems to corrode the battery box, frame etc.
Figure 1 Battery acid damage to a Gold Wing
For the collector & show bike enthusiast who does not ride their motorcycles very often, a lithium battery has a very slow self-discharge rate. Especially on older motorcycles that have zero current draw when the key is switched off a fully charged lithium ion battery will usually maintain enough current to start the motorcycle for up to a year. Please note that it is recommended by all manufacturers that you disconnect and remove the battery for storage. If your motorcycle has any current drawing accessories such as a clock or an alarm system the battery must be checked & charged on a regular basis if you plan to leave it connected to your motorcycle.
In racing or other high performance applications lithium ion batteries have the advantage of weighing much less any other currently available battery configuration with equivalent specifications. I cannot recommend them for total loss ignition systems on race machines unless you are willing to be extremely diligent about checking and recharging them, and you accept the fact that this is basically a non-warrantied experimental use in the eyes of the manufacturers. If your racer has a charging system that meets the minimum charging requirements of your battery then you should not continue to handicap yourself by running a heavy lead acid battery.
Customizers love these batteries because they can be installed in any position even upside down. There are a few different from factors, most appear similar to a standard battery, but there are a few oddly shaped batteries available. Li-ion batteries are much smaller & lighter making them much easier to hide in café racer bum stops or under seat trays.
Figure 2 Conventional and Shorai Lithium Gold Wing batteries for comparison
Warranties are usually better on these batteries running on average 3 years from most suppliers if they are installed in a factory recommended vehicle with a good functional charging system.
This leads to the biggest caveat of them all. Your motorcycle or other powersports vehicle must have a charging system capable of maintaining a steady charging rate of 13.6-14.4 volts during operation. If you have an older motorcycle that has a marginal charging system that is not capable of maintaining this charging rate and you want to run this type of battery some charging system upgrades will be needed. If yours is a fully functional mint condition classic motorcycle with all original parts, I personally would not change it just to run a li-ion battery. For one that is a frequent driver, or just needs a new charging system, look at some of the aftermarket upgrades available, it might be worth your while upgrade your charging system even if you don’t choose a Li-ion battery.
With proper precautions (see the manufacturer’s instructions) these batteries can handle some water spray or a very brief dunking, if you frequently run long deep water crossings on your dirt bike or take your atv and drive it around in the water with nothing but the snorkel sticking up above the water then these batteries are not for you.
Another factor to consider for some is that if something goes wrong & your battery goes dead away from home it can’t be jump started. Once discharged below a certain point these batteries have to be charged back up with the manufacture’s recommended charger, or you risk damaging the battery. So if you’re the life of the party & plan to use the stereo system in your Gold Wing to provide music for the whole campground until late at night & then get your buddy to give you jump start the following morning so you can get home then you shouldn’t even consider a lithium battery.
Since this was published in the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle magazine I must note that if you need a six volt battery, at this time the only manufacturer offering a six volt lithium motorcycle battery is Shorai.
Cold weather operation is a little different & takes some getting used to. When the temperature drops below freezing a li-ion has very different operational characteristics. They actually require a bit of a warming up period to deliver full voltage. For my own personal driver, a 1980 Honda CB650, when the temperatures are at or below freezing I will switch the key on and make sure the headlight is on high beam for about 30 seconds before hitting the starter button. If the engine turns too slowly to start I let go of the button and wait a few more seconds at which point the battery is fully warmed up and will spin the starter normally. It’s just a little thing & I realize most people are not masochist enough to ride a motorcycle in the freezing cold if they have a car, but it is a difference in the behavior of lithium & lead acid batteries that you should be aware of.
To me the advantages of the lithium motorcycle battery outweigh the disadvantages and I hope that this gives you enough information to help you make an informed decision about whether or not you want to purchase one.
This article originally appeared in the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Magazine in 2015. To learn how to join the club and receive this fine publication 6 times a year visit www.vjmc.org
Disclaimer; Motopsyco is an authorized Shorai battery dealer and will be more than happy to help you with selection of your new battery, so if you can’t figure out which one you need from this battery finder link, feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.