It’s happened to me, it’s happened to one or two of my ridding buddies. You roll out of your hotel room, get the bike all loaded up for another amazing day of riding. You hit the start button and hear nothing but the sad attempt of a dying battery trying to turn over the engine. Click, click, click. If you’re with a group or in town, a dead battery may be an inconvenience, but, it’s not the end of your trip. Aside from replacing your battery with a new one, there are ways to get your bike going again and keep it going for the rest of your trip.
Dealing with batteries, cables and potential sparks can make some people a little nervous, especially if you’ve never worked with a battery before. Maybe you’ve heard stories of exploding batteries, but, in reality, when done properly, jump starting your motorcycle battery is very safe.
Avoid a Dead Battery
Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid a dead battery in the first place and you can do this in a number of ways. Most brand new batteries will last around 48 months according to manufacturers. But, there are certain conditions that will shorten battery life.
- When a battery sits for an extended period of time without a float charger to keep the charge maintained, it will slowly lose power.
- If you use your motorcycle to charge up your electronics without the engine running, you are pulling power directly from the battery and can drain a battery over night.
- If you run a lot of electronics such as GPS, Heated Gear, and stereo, and your regulator/rectifier can’t keep up with the output, your battery will drain faster than usual.
So, your first step in avoiding a dead battery is to keep it charged on a Battery Tender, or other charger, when not in use. Avoid using your motorcycle to charge your electronics, and don’t use your on-board electronics without the motorcycle engine running, therefore returning the charge back to your battery.
Signs of a Dying Battery
Another way to avoid a dead battery on the road is to recognize when it’s time to replace your battery. Keep a record of when you last installed a new battery and after a couple years of use, keep your eyes and ears open for tell tale signs. When you start your motorcycle, you may notice that the headlights and dash lights will dim while the engine is cranking. This is normal and you should be familiar with how it looks. However, you can detect a worn battery depending on how much the lights dim. If they slump to a barley visible, dull yellow, it is a sign of a dying battery.
Another clue is when your engine seems harder to start, and the starter sounds lethargic. This can be particularly nerve wracking during a cold start in colder weather. That’s usually the time you start talking to the engine saying things like “Come on, come on, come on. You can do it.”
But a so called, dead battery doesn’t necessarily mean the battery has no more charge. This is usually not the case. It simply means it doesn’t have enough charge to run the electronics necessary to get your motorcycle started. That being said, it is possible to breath life back into a battery that won’t cooperate. Here are a few ways to jump start a battery and how to do it safely and effectively.
Jump Starting from Bike to Bike
If you’re riding with a group then this will be a viable solution to your dead battery problem. The first step is to locate the batteries on both motorcycles, remove any panels, seats or covers to gain access, then park the motorcycle together so that a set of compact jumper cables can fit between them.
Next, inspect the terminals on the dead battery. If you find a bunch of corrosion, clean it off with a brush or a rag. Do Not use your bare hands to clean this off as this will irritate your skin. Then you rub your dirty hands around your eyes and then you have real problems. Often, corroded terminals can cause a battery to not make good contact with the cables and this could be causing your battery issue in the first place. Now that the terminals are clean, make sure you can identify which terminal is positive (+) or red, and which is negative(-) or black.
Your next step is to connect the two batteries together using jumper cables. Motorcycle jumper cables come with smaller clamps making it easier to fit them into the small spaces that manufacturers like to hide batteries.
Start with the good battery, not the dead one. Connect a red clamp to the positive terminal of the good battery. Once you have one clamp connected to the positive terminal, never let the red and black cables touch each other, or other random metal objects. This can lead to a short circuit and fry both batteries, and possibly cause problems in the electrical systems of both motorcycles.
Next, connect the other red cable clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery. Now, it’s time to connect the negative cable clamps, the black ones. Connect the one black clamp to the negative terminal of the good battery first. Lastly, you are going to take the last black cable clamp and connect it to a piece of bare metal somewhere on the frame of your motorcycle away from the battery. No, you do not connect it to the negative terminal of the dead battery. The reason for this is because, when you connect that last cable, there will likely be a spark. Keeping that final spark away from the battery is safer in case there is the presence of hydrogen, a flammable gas, leaking from the bad battery. This is not very common, but, why take chances on an explosion.
Now you’re ready to fire up the engine. There’s no need to start up the motorcycle with the good battery just yet. First, try to start the dead bike. If it fires right up, then you’re done. If it doesn’t start, or if it sounds like the battery is still dead, then start up the other motorcycle and let it run for a minute before you try again. Once the dead bike is running, let it sit and run for another couple of minutes before disconnecting the cables.
Disconnect the cable in the revers order that you installed them. Negative, negative, positive, positive. Install any covers that were removed to access the batter, but remember to keep that bike running to let it charge up. You should be on your way.
Jump Starting from Car to Bike
You can also jump start your motorcycle from any car that’s willing to lend a hand. The procedure is exactly the same except for one very important safety step. DO NOT START THE ENGINE ON THE CAR! A car battery holds too strong a charge and can damage a motorcycle battery if the engine is running. You will get sufficient power from a car battery without the engine running.
So, follow the same procedures outlined above, and once your motorcycle is running again, remove the cables and you can be on your way.
Using a Jump Starter
This is by far the best way to get yourself out of a dead battery jam, especially if you travel alone. Portable jump starters have been around for some time, but now they are getting smaller and some come as small as a cell phone. Read my review of recommended charger here. Most chargers are super simple to use and are less stressful than having to connect your battery to another motorcycle battery. They are also handy for charging up other things like your cell phone. But, remember to keep the jump starter fully charged or it won’t be ready to go when you need it the most.
Bottom line is to keep your motorcycle battery properly maintained when you’re not riding, be diligent about not using it to charge your electronic gadgets, invest in a portable jump starter, and keep a pair of motorcycle battery cables handy just in case.