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The Buyer's Guide to Motorcycle Electronics

>> Ashley Benson

The electrical system on a motorcycle is about as easy to understand as the human cardiovascular system. It's made up of several components that all need to work seamlessly together for the battery to be able to pump power through the channels of your ride. If one part fails, the whole system fails and it can sometimes be hard to figure out where the clog in the electrical veins of your motorcycle is. In order to prevent plaque build up, or should we say power failure, it's important to properly maintain all of the little bits and pieces of the electrical system on your bike.


A motorcycle engine is nothing without power and unless you want to try to "bump" start your engine every time you ride (which could actually be good as a daily work out but will more likely just get old quickly) a battery is what will do the trick. But just like with everything else on your motorcycle, these come in many different styles and knowing which one is best can be difficult. If only it was as easy as knowing the difference between a AA or D battery. Instead, motorcycle batteries come in six different types of categories:

Standard motorcycle batteries are your basic 6-volt and 12-volt dry batteries (dry meaning that they are composed of alkaline, nickel metal hydride, nickel cadmium or carbon zinc) and are typically used for older modeled engines newer batteries are not made for. When installing a new standard battery, you'll need to add your own acid (remind anyone of the all too familiar "batteries not included?") and charge it before plopping it into your bike. Otherwise you might find an empty and uncharged battery to be about as useful as a wool coat during summer. Because of evaporation and possible spillage, it's important to check your battery's liquid levels often and refill them as necessary to keep them at the proper amount.

A YumiCron battery is a 12-volt dry battery that has been used more recently and is a trademark of Yuasa. Just like standards batteries, Yumicron batteries also need to be filled and charged before first installing them and may need to be refilled from time to time.

A Maintenance Free battery is a bit easier to take care of. The battery comes with pre- measured tubes of acid that can be easily poured into the battery and includes a seal that caps off the top of the battery and ensures that there is no spillage or comes pre-filled and already sealed depending on the supplier. Without the possibility of loosing necessary fluids, maintenance free batteries won't need to be refilled but may need to be charged back up every now and again.

The bigger the bike, the more power it needs. With that said, a High Performance Maintenance Free Battery puts off up to thirty percent more power than a YumiCron battery. Additional plates in the battery give it more cranking amps and that little bit of extra kick you might need for engines requiring more power.

Factory Activated High Performance Maintenance Free Battery: the name may be a lot harder to say but it's certainly easier to install. All of the messy filling and monotonous charging is done at the factory instead of by you or your dealer. All you need to do is remove the battery from the box and drop it into your engine. These batteries even cut down on maintenance because they never need to be refilled.

For motorcycles dressed up in expensive paint jobs and chrome, Bikemaster Platinum High Performance Sealed Gel Batteries come completely sealed as to not spill on or corrode your precious wares. These batteries are also ready to go straight out of the packaging and don't require any maintenance.

Of course the higher tech you decide to go with your battery, the more bucks you'll have to shell out. And it's important to know which battery is best for your motorcycle's engine. Each bike's power demand is very different and requires a different type of battery power. Be sure to know what fits your bike and double check that it's the correct one before installing it.

Battery maintenance should be added to your list of things to do at least once a month. A battery's sole purpose in life is to be charged. Try not to deny your battery of that and check its charge often. If you notice it getting low, you should give it a charge with a battery charger such as a Battery Tender Junior, even if you don't plan on riding again soon. Storing a battery uncharged will only damage the battery.

When refilling a standard or Yumicron battery, make sure to check the gravity of the cell and make sure they are correct according to the specs in the service manual. Only use distilled or de-ionized water in order to avoid the minerals in tap water that can build up inside your battery and damage it. Keep the top of your battery free from grime, clean the connectors and terminals, remove any built up sediment, mossing and sulfation and any clogs in the exhaust tube.

Spark Plugs

Motorcycle spark plugs can be one of the most confusing yet helpful parts of a motorcycle's engine. They have two primary purposes within the mechanics of an engine. First, the spark plug carries an electrical charge that is used to ignite the air/fuel mixture and turn it into working energy. This is what we in the biz like to refer to as "Electrical Performance." "Thermal Performance" is the second primary purpose of these little gizmos' existence. The plugs regulate the heat in the combustion chamber by transferring heat out of it and into the engine's cooling system while also making sure that the fuel is not prematurely ignited when entering the cylinder. Different spark plugs have different heat ranges that indicate how much heat they can dissipate from the combustion chamber in order to keep it at a manageable temperature.

Not only do spark plugs ignite the air/fuel mixture and transfer heat, the firing end of your spark plugs can also be read to diagnose your engine. If understood correctly, they can help determine the root of a problem or determine air/fuel ratios in order to tune your engine to perfection. Unfortunately spark plugs can't exactly be read like a book. Some translations need to be made before you can figure out what they're trying to tell you. The color or build up on the end of the plug can indicate if your engine is running to rich or lean or if you have a problem with other parts of your engine such as your oil control. If you feel confident in your spark plug translation skills there are many useful charts and websites that can help you understand the signs and what problems they correlate with. Otherwise it's never a bad idea to take them to get looked at by a skilled mechanic.

With time and wear, the efficiency of your spark plug will diminish. As the plug looses its sharp edges and material is eroded away the gap between the two grows and more voltage is needed in order to ignite the fuel. Eventually the ignition system will be outmatched by the gap and will not be able to efficiently burn the air and fuel mixture. Once this starts to happen, change your spark plugs. Though many people believe that a new spark plug will greatly increase your power, it may only help moderately.

For Starters

We all need to start somewhere and the same goes for your motorcycle. Your bike has a starting system that is constructed of multiple bits and pieces that keep your engine from starting in unsafe conditions.

Turning on your motorcycle starts with the starter relay. Aptly named, the starter relay is the switch that transfers power to the starter motor and is the first place that your battery will give electricity to. If you're lucky enough to have an electric start model, the starter motor will spin the engine until you release the starter button and the ignition system does its job and begins to power the motor. If you have a bike without a starter motor you'll just need to do a little extra work to kick start that bike of yours.

There are numerous fail safes built in to the started system of your bike. For instance, in case you forgot to put up your kick stand, your starter system has a sidestand switch. This switch detects the position of the kick stand and will only allow you to run in neutral if it is still down and prevents you from driving away in an embarrassing, if not dangerous, show of sparks.

Regulators and Rectifiers

If you've spent the last few hours trying to find an individual regulator part and a separate rectifier part you might not be happy to learn that you have just wasted your time. While the regulator and rectifier do perform two different tasks, they usually coincide in a single unit. If you're thinking back to your childhood and that bike that you and your dad put together over the summer which had a separate regulator and rectifier, it is possible since some older models may have them as two parts. While we do not recommend tossing your regulator/rectifier in the pool to see if it swims, you can recognize most units by the fins which are built into its outer casing in order to disperse heat.

While a battery on a motorcycle is the initial source of power, it really only puts out enough for the engine to start and to keep any lights or accessories on while the engine is off. After that the stator takes over and becomes the main provider of electricity. Once the engine is on, the crankshaft rotates a series of magnets that produce the energy that is used to keep the engine running. This energy, however, is produced as AC voltage and must be converted into DC voltage before it can be used to power the electronics and charge the battery as the motorcycle runs. Thus enters the rectifier. The rectifier has the job of converting the voltage put out by the stator. Because the amount of energy that the stator puts out can fluctuate from time to time, the regulator keeps a consistent and healthy flow of voltage to run the bike and charge the battery. With their forces combined, this duo make powering your engine possible.

Gauges and Indicators

Motorcycles can use two different types of systems for their gauges. Some motorcycles use electric gauges that get their readings from sensors built into the bike while others get their readings off drive cables such as a speedometer cable. Electronic gauges can fail for a multitude of reasons. There are a variety of fuses throughout the bike's circuits to protect your electronics in case of a short. If the gauge stops working it might be because the fuse has been blown. A cable operated gauge may fail if the cable snaps or the connection comes loose.

Lights and Signals

While going through that monthly maintenance check that you should be doing, do a quick check of your lights, turn signals and break lights. You may notice if a headlight has gone out but sometimes other lights can go unnoticed. Check for any cracks and clean and dirt or grim from the surface. A head light isn't going to do much if there's two inches of mud caked on it from your last dirty ride. Bulbs can also burn out and should be replaced immediately. If a light still doesn't work after it's been replaced, it's possible that its fuse was blown. If you notice that all of your lights don't seem to be at their brightest when your motorcycle's engine is off, it's probably that your battery is to blame and you should just give it a charge.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011 3:17:07 PM
James Gruenloh said:

I didn't find what I was looking for yet found the information useful. I still can't figure out why I go through so many batteries.


Saturday, November 5, 2011 6:00:26 PM
Deuses said:

Thank you for your info! What can I do to check to see if the stator is generating proper voltage and the regulator is converting proper voltage as well? Do you recommend a trickle-charger or a float charger. Weekend riding in the south. is the web's largest powersports store with more than 8 million factory fresh motorcycle parts, apparel, accessories and more online, including motorcycle helmets, motorcycle boots, motorcycle gloves and more.