22 Jan 2015

The Great Motorcycle Battery Kerfuffle

It was the middle of winter but for once it wasn't raining, so I decide to take my Triumph Street Triple out for a spin

The Triumph in its lair

I keep the bike in the garage. Motorcycle batteries are quite small and lose charge quite quickly, especially when it's cold. They need hooking up to an electrical umbilical, or an optimiser, which maintains a constant trickle charge to keep the battery topped up.

Perfect for when you want to take the bike for a spin in mid-winter.

I had the time, it wasn't too cold, the roads were dry. Yes, I decided, I will go for a 10 or 20 mile spin to blow the cobwebs out of the bike and out of me.

In order to make sure everything would be fine I checked the bike over. It had an MoT (its first ever) in November and I'd changed the oil and filter at the same time. The Triumph never uses any oil between services so predictably the oil level on the stupidly designed screw-in dipstick was fine.

The tiny water reservoir for the cooling system is located under the seat. That was fine too.  I checked the tyres for pressure and they were fine.

Aside from a light sprinkling of sawdust (I've been making bird boxes out of off-cuts of wood in the garage) the bike was in fine fettle.

With one exception.  The battery was flat. Hmmm. I checked the optimiser. 2.3V and 0 amps. Despite the bike being only three years old it was on its third battery.

Bike batteries might not last long but the Street Triple seems to abuse its batteries particularly harshly, with the result that they don't last long. There are plenty of complaints on on-line forums about them. It just kills them.

I've previously had to bump start the bike (which can only be done with someone else pushing - I know, I tried doing it by myself for about 60 minutes). My old Yamaha Fazer could be bump started just by me pushing it along in gear and closing the clutch. The Triumph needs more speed than the rider alone can muster.

Anyway, back to the present. The battery was flat and was obviously dead. Bollocks.

I tried it another 24 hours on the optimiser but alone this time, out of the bike. Nothing. Not a single amp - or fraction thereof. Knackers.

So I bought the bike's fourth battery. Fortunately my local motor factors had one in and fortunately it didn't cost a great deal - £40.

Motorcycle battery manufacturers don't do 'elf n'safety. Take a look at the photos and you'll see that what you get in the box is the battery itself...and six tubes of a clear fluid.
The sulphuric acid is in the box

On closer inspection the fluid is sulphuric acid. A look at Wikipedia suggests sulphuric acid can cause severe burns, readily decomposes skin and other bodily bits, causes irreversible internal organ damage if ingested and induces permanent blindness if splashed into the eye.
And here it is in its full glory - eek, acid!

You know that girly screech Richard Hammond makes when he's mildly scared. That's the noise I made when I read the above.

Anyway, not wanting to be a girl (sorry, girls) and being a motorcyclist and therefore extremely tough and manly I got to it.

You have to rip the cap off the tubes of acid and turn them upside down, pierce the seal on the battery then leave the acid to pour down into the battery. Once that's done you have to remove the tubes and push a black cap on to the holes in order to seal the battery.

The operation proved to be a success. The actual pouring of the acid into the battery was straightforward but the cap seals very tight and just pushing it in place with your hands isn't enough so I had to gently push it in place with a hammer. It is during this phase that you are most at risk of death, blindness or both.
Pouring the acid into the battery is thankfully quite straightforward

Anyway the battery was now complete, acid and all. I put it in the bike and left it on the optimiser overnight.

The next day was a work day but at lunchtime the weather was reasonably dry and cold but not freezing so I thought I'd take the bike for a run.

Hoorah! It started first time!

I left it warming for five minutes whilst donning my jacket, gloves and helmet, cocked a leg over the seat and set off on a 15 minute dawdle round the local lanes.

It felt like heaven. A small taster of heaven but heaven nonetheless.

Yet again I have vowed to ride the bike more this year. Let's hope I do, it is a wonderful way to travel and just to experience and enjoy life.

By Matt Hubbard