When it comes time to replace the battery in your motorcycle, what do you choose, AGM? Or the new wave of Lithium options out there? There are great cases for either style of motorcycle battery. The best question while shopping around is what is going to suit your application? Many aspects should be evaluated when making your choice such as:
- Amp hours
- Cranking power
- OEM requirements
- Brand preference.
Any or all these aspects can influence your purchase. To find the product best suited to you, you may need to find a compromise of these aspects. You will have your battery for years to come, making the right choice now will pay off in the future.
Cost is often the first defining factor with any replacement battery. The cheapest is not always the best value, and the most expensive can be money for features you don't need. Finding value is getting what you need that will serve you for years. Motorcycle manufacturers will always state in the handbook the required battery specifications. Sometimes, they will list it on the bike itself. These requirements consist of the Amp hours needed and the Cold Cranking Amps. I will use the example of the YTX12-BS with 10Ah and 180CCA, a relatively common battery. Cheaper options look good on the wallet but compromising the Amp hours reduces the battery's reserve power. Alternatively, a drop in CCA reduces the output of the battery. Limiting its ability to deliver the required power on starting when you need it. Sure, these batteries can do the job when new, but they are going to suffer over time. They are already starting behind the requirements and only diminishing over time. There is no harm in exceeding the minimum requirements with higher ratings. For example, the MBTX12U with 14Ah and 200CCA is physically the same size as the previously mentioned YTX12-BS. But through improved technology in the core of the battery outperforms and outlasts. You will have something that is going to meet all the needs of the motorcycle and with more to give in reserve. Over time all batteries will drop in performance as they are used. Going with higher ratings will extend the lifespan, improving your return on investment. It is also possible to overshoot and go too big. Battery size and weight can exceed the manufactures design, plus consideration should be given to the charging system. Is it up to the task of a larger battery that will have a higher resistance? The best value is often found close to or above the original specifications. Motorcycle manufacturers spend a lot of time and money balancing out the requirements for the best result.
Lithium batteries are the latest technology on the battery market. They bring some big ideas and changing opinions on what a battery should deliver. Typically, lithium batteries cost twice as much but with less than half the weight as a comparable AGM. They also have little voltage drop off across the capacity of the battery before the voltage plummets. Whereas an AGM battery will have predictable voltage drop off for the duration of the battery's capacity. This means they each have very different characteristics in use. An AGM will slow as it ages, where as a lithium will be strong for its life and then drop off almost instantly. The higher cost of a lithium battery comes from the difficulty of manufacture of the product. Not only is the material of lithium expensive to obtain and manufacture. But lithium batteries should also contain an inbuilt cell balancing circuit (CBC) for safety of use and charging. Alternately, AGM batteries are the premium design of lead-acid batteries refined over years of research. They are simple, well understood and the industry standard.
An often-overlooked factor is how you use the bike that you are putting the battery in. Is it used for more extreme scenarios than intended? Trail bike competition or using a street bike for track days are often outside the original manufactures design. Is the battery you're looking at capable of these extreme environments of heat and weather, or excessive vibrations? There are good reasons to choose either AGM or Lithium. Often, it’s the specialised individual battery manufacturers that will find the best solutions. Some research into a battery brand or asking an expert is the best solution.
You also might only use your bike for a special ride on those sunny days to tour the hills or search along the coast. For these bikes, it is confidence you are buying so that it will not let you down. An AGM in conjunction with a maintenance charger is by far the best solution. Keeping the charge topped up to 12.6V an AGM will be ready to take you out and back home again safely, while not stinging you in the wallet. A Lithium will also do the job with the same charging, but it is unlikely to give you more than twice the life that an AGM will give.
There is no simple one answer that fits everyone. There are many different bikes. Many different applications. And many different riders all wanting the best for them. In most cases an AGM will comfortably fill the role for any bike. It is after all, the battery chosen by most manufacturers to fit to their products. Value is key. Tailor your choice to how you use your motorcycle. The most expensive doesn't always last twice as long. The cheapest may lead to low life performance.
One thing that both AGM and Lithium batteries respond well to if left for lengthy periods, is a good maintenance trickle charger. This cannot be understated. When not in use, a trickle charge topping up any battery will lengthen its lifespan. And that gives you more days to enjoy a ride.
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