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Motorcycle Battery Voltage Guide

motorcycle battery being charged

Cars and other vehicles have a battery that keeps them running, and motorcycles are no exception. However, it helps to check a motorcycle battery for adequate charge more often than a car. Most motorbikes and motorcycles are fitted with a 12-volt battery. There are several methods for measuring and gauging the amount of battery charge at any time before or after a ride. Of course, it’s also a discussion of safety and precautions, as working with batteries can come with a few chemical hazards. So, here’s everything you need to know about and how to be safe when dealing with your motorcycle battery voltage.

What is There to Know About The Motorcycle Battery Itself?

12-volt batteries are commonly used in several automobiles -not just cars and motorcycles, but RVs and even boats too. They come in varying sizes, but only one cube shape. Like the batteries you put in your TV remote, 12-volt ones don’t create their own power or energy -they just store a finite amount and channel it through the vehicle. The lifespan, if taken care of, is anywhere from three to five years. Batteries such as these contain hazardous materials like acid and hydrogen gas which can start a fire. So, there’s a degree of know-how and safety materials you will need before diving in.

What Are The Basics to Remain Safe Around a Motorcycle Battery?

The good news is you won’t be doing any exploratories in the battery with your hands. The inner workings are protected by a polypropylene cover which also helps to keep it protected in harsh conditions. More technical and safety details about the battery are included in your motorcycle’s owner’s manual, so it helps to give that a read or closely gloss over.

Before testing or fixing a motorcycle battery, you should:

  • Keep open flames away - Like at a gas station, open flames, sparks, and combustion are a big no-no near a battery. If it was damaged, the acid could catch.
  • Ventilated area - It also helps to store the motorcycle in a well-ventilated area to better take care of the battery. Naturally, any maintenance or checkups on the battery should be done in the same area.
  • Wear goggles or eye protection - You never know if the battery will spark or sputter. The chances are low, but it should be a precaution to wear goggles or protection for your eyes.
  • Wear gloves - Rubber or latex gloves should be worn when tinkering with your motorcycle battery. Even though the hazardous materials are concealed, you never know if there’s a leak or break.
  • Specific battery tools - There are special tools used for measuring battery life and making fixes. A voltmeter typically reads the voltage by tenths -this is known as the DC scale. We’ll get into the specific measurements and what they mean later.

How do You Test The Voltage of a Bike Battery?

There are actually two types of tests to run on your motorcycle battery -static test and load test. The main difference is that a static test is done when the bike is turned off, while a load test can be done while it’s on. Both require a voltmeter with a DC scale.

Here’s how to do both tests on a battery:

  • Set voltmeter to DC scale - Again, the DC scale is used to measure the battery’s voltage by the tenth. This is represented by the numerals 0 through 24, depending on the read.
  • Attach voltmeter’s lead to terminals - A 12-volt battery is built with two terminals -a positive one and a negative one to correspond with the electrical charge. The voltmeter had two leads meant to be connected to each one like jumper cables. So, match the positive with the positive and the negative with the negative.
  • Record voltage reading - The voltmeter will display the voltage amount. It will read anywhere from 0 to 24. A full battery would read around 12.6. A great precaution would be to allow it to charge if it reads 12 or lower. Any reading between 12 through 12.6 may not be reliable to ride. The unit these are represented in is VDC.

What do The Numbers on The Voltmeter Mean?

Now, let’s talk about what you should do with your battery when the voltmeter reads a certain amount. More often than not, you may have to allow it to charge before going for a ride. Some readings may indicate that it may not be able to work again.

Here is what voltmeter readings mean you should do:

  • Full charge - A reading of 12.73 or higher indicates that the motorcycle battery is fully charged and ready to go.
  • Charging is necessary - With a voltmeter reading as high as 12.62, the battery life would be 90%. Even so, a charge before riding would never hurt at this point. Any reading from 12.06 to 12.62 is worthy of charge, but the battery life is still above 50% capacity.
  • Must charge - Any reading lower than 12.06 means that the battery is less than half full. You’ll always have to charge here as the chance for a battery breakdown is increased the lower the battery life is.
  • Possible battery replacement - A reading of 10.50 or lower is serious and takes a lot of neglect to get to this point. The battery may not even be able to register a charge and might as well just be a brick inside the motorcycle. A replacement might be the only option.

How do You Charge Motorcycles When You’re Not Riding?

First and foremost, you should never use a car battery charger to charge a motorcycle battery. It’s too much power and will cause the battery to overheat or even short out. The chargers for 12-volt batteries are typically much smaller, with an output that isn’t greater than three amps. Specialized chargers are available for lithium batteries which most motorcycle batteries are. These charges plug into the wall with an AC adapter and convert the power into DC via jumper cables connecting to the battery’s positive and negative terminals. Remember to do this in a well-ventilated area and keep the battery cool as it charges up. Never smoke or have any combustion by the charging battery. That may have been mentioned already, but it can save your life.

How Will You Know When to Charge The Motorcycle Battery?

You should check up on your bike battery once every month. While the lifespan of three to five years is considerable, you never know when it can run into issues. It should always be charged at 100% or a voltmeter reading of 12.73. Some telltale signs of a battery that needs charging will be the headlights going dim, weak starting sound, or if the battery has remained inactive for more than two weeks. Every month you should check the electrolyte level via another measuring device called a hydrometer. Distilled water can be added to improve the electrolyte level. Only distilled or deionized water, that is, not tap or drinking. The battery should always be kept clean and free of grime as well. The battery also connects to the motorcycle exhaust tube, which should be checked for kinks or breaks. These monthly checkups can maximize your battery’s lifespan.

How Much do Motorcycle Batteries Cost?

There are several different makers and types of 12-volt batteries for motorcycles. You can get them from any automotive part dealer from anywhere between $30 to $400, depending on their specifications. A lead-acid-based battery would be cheaper than a lithium battery, for example. Other types of batteries include absorbed glass mat, factory activated, gel, and even vintage for those with older bikes. At least the good news is that replacing a bike battery doesn’t have to be an expensive ordeal if you choose. They all work the same way, and maintenance and tests should still be run on a monthly basis. But above all, please use the safety precautions and equipment we discussed, as your safety is far more critical than a replaceable battery.