October 16, 2013 - San Diego, CA
Have you ever wondered why the cell phone in your pocket or the laptop or tablet you own use small, light, modern lithium power cells, while your bike still carries around a big, heavy, antiquated lead-acid battery? It's odd that, with all the thought motorcycle engineers put into designing high-performance bikes, utilizing cutting-edge technology and lightweight materials, they still all use a clunky block of acid and lead to fire them up. Lead-acid batteries were invented in 1859, and the technology hasn't changed much in the last 150 years. They are still big and heavy, and in the world of motorcycle performance, big and heavy are two things we strive to avoid.
This choice is cost-effective to manufacturers. But for the true motorcycle enthusiast, it really creates a huge gap in the performance of not only your ignition system, but of your bike's performance all around. Luckily, it's a shortcoming that is easily fixed, by replacing your OEM unit with an ultra-light and powerful lithium battery. This simple, drop-in upgrade will radically improve not only the way your bike fires up and retains a charge, but how it handles all around as well.
In terms of sheer battery performance, lithium is an improvement over lead-acid in every way. Lithium batteries are approximately 80% lighter than their OEM counterparts, hold more power, and store long-term with virtually no maintenance. They have a remarkably low self-discharge rate; months without a battery tender is no problem. This is a big plus as we enter the cold months, and our bikes see less time on the road. And in the event they do lose their charge, they also recharge many times faster than their lead-acid counterparts.
But that's not the real fun stuff. For the serious rider, the real bonus is the dramatic weight savings these batteries offer, and way it translates to pure performance on the road.
Weight savings is critical to motorcycle performance; even more important than adding power. It is often said that decreasing weight has the net effect of adding useable horsepower - but it's really even more than that. As Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars, is famous for saying: "Adding power will make you faster in the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere."
How big is this difference, really? Consider this comparison. An OEM battery from a newer sport bike weighs about 8 pounds, but its lithium replacement will weigh about 1.5-2 pounds; a remarkable weight savings of 75-80%. The sudden loss of over 6 pounds is something you'll feel immediately on the first ride, from acceleration to braking. And with the weight reduction occurring near the top of the bike's mass, tip-in will feel quicker as well. On smaller street bikes and dirt bikes, the difference will be even more dramatic, as the battery consumes a much bigger percentage of total weight on these smaller bikes.
To measure the bang-for-the-buck impact of this simple upgrade, consider some other weight saving alternatives you have to choose from. The one other area of the bike you'll typically be able to shave such a big amount of weight would be a performance exhaust – usually, one that eliminates the catalytic converter – an upgrade that will cost from several hundred to well over a thousand dollars. Other weight saving mods could cost thousands just to add up to the same total drop in weight.
And because they are not only lighter, but smaller than OEM batteries, the space they leave in the battery compartment is an ideal spot to put a tuning module, such as the Bazzazz Z-Fi or a DynoJet Power Commander. If you don't need the space, they also usually ship with foam inserts to ensure a precise fit.
Several companies have been instrumental in driving lithium battery technology to the motorcycle aftermarket. One of the leading names in the industry is Japanese manufacturer Shorai. Shorai lithium batteries are encased in a compact, durable Mil-Spec carbon composite case, and carry a 2-year warranty. Shorai provides multiple variations of their lithium batteries: the most popular Standard model, the ideal balance of lightness and cranking power; and a Duration model, for use with extra electrical accessories or in below-freezing temperatures.
Another one of our favorites is Ballistic Performance. Assembled by hand in the USA and carrying an industry-leading 3-year warranty, Ballistic boasts exceptional shelf life, with only a 10% total charge loss over 12 months of static use. Ballistic's distinctive bright red cells also ship in a foam carrier that can be trimmed to ensure a precise fit in your bike, and their completely "dry" technology allows the battery to be installed any direction, perfect for custom applications.
Another uniquely featured entry to the market is the Western Power Sports Featherweight lithium battery. They've incorporated an innovative onboard LED test gauge to display your charge instantly that I really like, and if it does lose its juice, they claim an incredible 90% recharge in only 6 minutes!
So what are the downsides to this upgrade? These high-tech batteries are usually more expensive than OEM replacements; but considering the performance upgrade, the increase in cost is very justifiable. Lithium carries a lower amp/hours rating, so if you plan to leave accessories on for a long time, you may have to consider your application to make sure it is right for you. In addition, even though lithium batteries rarely need to be charged, you should be cautious about the type of charger you use as lithium batteries can be damaged when overcharged. We recommend a model specific charger (although you can use any charger that has an auto-shut off feature to prevent over-charging.)
If you are looking for a replacement battery for your bike, and still aren't convinced that lithium batteries are the way of the future, there are other alternatives that are improvements over stock. A popular favorite is the BikeMaster TruGel, which has higher cranking amps and lasts twice as long as a conventional battery, and is a great low-cost alternative.
But if you are really looking for a quick, headache-free, inexpensive way to improve cold starts, shave weight, and enhance your bike's performance overall, you would be hard pressed to find a better alternative than one of these cutting-edge lithium batteries. It really is a clear and noticeable upgrade that every kind of rider from street to dirt can benefit from, and its affordability also makes it one of my top picks for Bang-for-the-Buck mods you can buy.
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