Testing Batteries in the Cold

Jan 25, 2014 View Comments by

Testing Batteries in the ColdIf there’s one good thing to be said for the recent spell of intensely cold weather (What is a polar vortex anyway?) it’s that it offers a great opportunity to see how tough your battery really is. Last winter I lived in a townhouse and the only place to keep my bike was in the parking lot out back with only a thin nylon cover between it and the elements. I could barely stand it. My 2000 Suzuki SV 650 has always been a bit cold blooded, not wanting to start easily if the temperature was much below 50 degrees. It would start, of course, but not without letting me know that it wasn’t happy about it. Below 30 degrees, however, was a different story. Usually, if it had been less than three days since its last start it would grudgingly struggle to life, longer than three days and it would usually turn over a few times and then go back to sleep.

Since the little SV was stuck out in a communal parking lot, I would have to remove the battery in the cold and bring it inside to charge on a tender (since my starting attempts would invariably drain the battery). Once charged, I would head back outside with the battery and all my tools. After replacing the battery, it was time to raise the tank, take out the air filter, and send a couple shots of starting spray into the carburetors. Then, and only then, would the V-twin choke and cough its way to idle. It was a rough winter.

Testing Batteries in the ColdOf course, I thought my problems might stem from the battery, but after having it tested the battery checked out just fine (it was less than two years old). Spring came and with it temperatures more conducive to engine ignition. The starting problems went away only to return with the first cold snap of fall. This time, however, I was ready. In spite of having a lead-acid battery that seemed to be working just fine, I went ahead and replaced it with a Shorai LFX lithium-iron battery. The difference has been night and day, though my SV still doesn’t enjoy starting at low temperatures, the extra cranking power of the LFX simply overwhelms its resistance.

The ultimate test came after the aforementioned polar vortex brought temperatures in the low single digits to the ‘zuke’s current residence in a proper garage. After over a week of not being run and subjection to the frigid arctic air, the SV sprang to life with the first stab of the start button. I’m now a believer. Lead-acid batteries, while cheap, are old and outdated technology that will most likely be phased out over the next decade or so. Already, Erik Buell Racing uses a Shorai battery as original equipment in their new 1190RX, and more OEMs are sure to follow. With superior performance, dramatically lighter weight, and longer life, lithium based batteries are the way of the future. Now, if they’d just get a bit cheaper…

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About the author

There’s something relentlessly romantic about riding a motorcycle. I’m blessed to know that feeling. With a background in photography and a love for motorcycles, I’m interested in the beauty and honesty of the open road. You’ll find me riding Carolina’s roads on my Suzuki SV650.