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For ages, we didn’t think much about the batteries in our motorcycles. When you only have one option, the traditional lead-acid battery, there’s not a lot to think about. As long as it cranks the starter over and fires up the bike, you’re good. If not, time to shell out for a new one. But like all components on a motorcycle, eventually, new technology emerges to improve the breed. The battery is no different. With the emergence of the lithium motorcycle battery the consumer now has more options.
To the average consumer, a battery is a battery. What separates one from the other? For starters, the internal chemistry is very different between the two, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ll stick to the practical differences. Generally speaking, lithium’s biggest advantage is its drastically reduced weight and physically smaller size compared to lead-acid. Lithium also has a significantly lower discharge rate – the amount of charge lost simply sitting – compared to lead-acid, faster recharge rate, more cranking amps (compared to a similar lead-acid application), and safer handling due to its internal chemistry not featuring lead and, yes, you guessed it… acid. The tradeoff, of course, is a significantly higher price tag.
We've covered the subject of batteries many times，but as an integral part of a motorbike's electrical system, there's always plenty to discuss. We've covered the different types of batteries, how to replace them and how to care for them when not riding. However, I often ask the question, are lithium-based batteries worth it?
The short answer is yes. They are lighter, discharge more slowly and perform better at lower temperatures. But they are more expensive and depending on the type may require special chargers. So let's weigh up the pros and cons.
Next, the advantages. Weight is always touted as a big reason for switching, and there's no denying that a lighter motorbike is better handling. The higher this weight is on a motorbike, the more you will feel it, especially when changing direction.
Then there's the low self-discharge nature of lithium-based batteries. When at rest the battery loses some charge, and over time the lead-acid battery loses even more. If you haven't ridden for four months, a lead-acid battery may have lost up to 15% of its total charge - and that's if the battery isn't drawing a charge. On the other hand, with a loss of about 1% of charge per month, there is no draw, so the storage life is much better. If you're storing your bike over the winter, just disconnect the negative terminal and it should be ready to use come spring.
Finally, cold weather performance is superior. For people with sport bikes or naked bikes, this may not be a big deal, but adventure bikes can see freezing temperatures when travelling the planet. At freezing, 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 degrees Celsius, lead acid loses 50% of its capacity, while lithium iron only loses 10%. It is important to note that when it is cold, lithium-ion batteries need to be woken up. Simply press the starter and let the battery sit for 30 seconds and you should have all the cranking power you need.
So there you have it, lighter weight, lower self-discharge, better cold weather performance and a similar price (without the changer), the advantages of lithium based batteries far outweigh the potential disadvantages.