Maintaining the battery on your motorcycle is one of the easier checkmarks from your list of "to-dos" when it comes to keeping your ride ready to roll.
Unfortunately that's also why it's so often overlooked.
In good company with neglectful motorcycle riders include owners of trail bikes and the growing number of Motocross bikes using batteries, primarily for the electric start. Dirt bikers, riding for years without a battery, probably easily forget their new KTM arrives with a small box under the seat producing an electric charge.
Additionally, many manufacturers market their motorcycle batteries as "maintenance free" which adds to the allure that you simply need to attach cables and forget it. Yes, it's mostly true meaning you no longer have to check the water level every few months. The battery comes sealed. Regardless, keeping it clean and charged goes a long way towards an extended life and preventing an inconvenient breakdown.
It goes without saying, but we'll say it: Before fiddling with the battery shut the engine OFF. And put on some gloves too. The tips below work primarily for lead-acid batteries, the most common. Lithium batteries don't require water or produce sulfation but need some TLC, as well.
A growing number of dirt bikes, like this 2017 Honda 450CRF, use a battery thanks to the electric start
No, we're not promoting email marketing software products. You want constant contact between the cables and the battery or you won't get a full charge. Anything that tightens can come loose. So check the battery terminal where the cables connect and ensure a tight fit. Most battery cables attach using a screw clamp or similar fastener.
That's Not Cocaine
That white stuff forming around the battery terminals is acid leaking from the battery. You don't want to touch or sniff it. Remove the cables and use baking soda or hydrogen peroxide to dissolve it while scrubbing it off with a wire brush. If left unattended it eventually corrodes the terminals.
Mechanic's Note: White residue usually forms around the negative terminal and blue residue forms around the positive terminal. Both bad.
The residue doesn't necessarily mean the battery is toast though it does happen more often to older batteries. An undercharged battery causes sulfation which results in the powdery residue. It's a good idea to use battery terminal spray which protects the terminal, cables and bulkhead from corrosion. But, the best way to prevent undercharging is...
Tend to the Battery
Something happens when it gets cold and wet. Riders stop riding. This is especially true with dirt bikes. If you prefer the indoors of your car when its 30 degrees for commuting or bid farewell to the tracks and trails until next year don't simply store your machine inside for the winter. It is common practice for motorcycle owners to attach a battery tender to the battery when stored for long periods. Why? Because letting a battery discharge ruins it!
A battery tender like this one keeps a charge or a "float" without over-charging - something else you don't want. (Use a Lithium Ion charger for lithium batteries - like those used for the electric start in dirt bikes.) When riding season returns, the battery is no worse for the long slumber.
See all battery tenders and chargers here.
Find a Distillery
If the battery on your motorcycle is not sealed or "maintenance free" you'll need to check the water level every so often. Use a flat head screw driver or similar tool to remove the lids covering the battery cells. Use distilled water. Tap water contains too many minerals that react with the chemical process inside the battery and while work in the near-term eventually degrades the battery, shortening its lifespan.
So, whether you ride a sport bike or dirt bike give the battery a once-over every few weeks. It's a simple check, most located under the seat, which helps reduce the accumulation of dirt and other debris. Clean if necessary and check the cable connection. Add distilled water, if needed, and if setting up for a long nap, grab a battery tender and keep it charged.