By Alan Dowds
WINTER is coming – and the dark, cold nights mean your bike electrics are under more stress. The problems come on several fronts: normal batteries work less well when the mercury plummets, cold engine oil is thicker and causes more drag for the starter motor to overcome, while add-on electrical loads like heated grips and auxiliary riding lights take more juice out of the bike's electrical system.
A bit of preparation can pay dividends though. These five steps below will make sure your battery and charging system are up to the long winter months ahead…
1. Inspect the battery
Lead-acid batteries were a wonderful technology a hundred years ago – and they still do a great job today. But they're not fool-proof, nor do they last forever. So the first thing to do is make sure your battery is in good order – and if it's more than a few years old, pay extra close attention.
If it's a conventional vented lead-acid type, look at the acid levels, and top up with distilled water if necessary. Look in the bottom of the cells for any sediment or flaking material – this is bad news, as is any distortion in the outer case or in the visible lead plates. Sealed batteries don’t lose any fluid so there's nothing to check there, but look for swollen casings.
Buy a cheap multimeter if you don’t have one – and spend some time learning to use it. With even a basic meter, you can look at the voltage on the battery under various loads. A lead-acid battery, fully charged, should show around 12.6 volts when completely disconnected from the bike with no drain from alarms, clocks, trackers etc. If you turn on a large load like a 60w halogen headlight (with the engine stopped), the voltage will drop to about 11.8 volts. When you press the starter, the volts will drop again, but if your fully-charged battery drops much below about 10 volts when turning the engine over, then it might be on its way out.