Here we’re going to look at the differences between a trickle charger, battery tender and battery maintainer and why a battery tender is one of the best ways to keep your battery healthy.
Motorcycle batteries are tricky things, if they aren’t kept in top condition they usually end up failing and the chances are you will have a dead battery on the first day of riding season when the weather is perfect and the route has been planned.
It is a nightmare!
Don’t worry though, there are ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, you just need the info on how to stay on top of your battery maintenance and fortunately for you we have all the details here for the best method of battery charging.
Let’s get straight into it.
What’s the difference between a regular trickle charger and a battery tender?
The difference between these two is really quite simply a trickle charger will push through a current to your battery regardless of whether it is fully charged or not; whereas a battery tender only charges the battery when it needs topping up or when the battery reaches a pre-set level.
Therefore a battery tender is best to prevent overcharging and prevent damage to your battery.
To understand a bit more why battery tenders are a better choice for your motorcycle battery charger let’s quickly look at the types of batteries used in motorcycles.
Flooded lead acid batteries work by the individual cells charging, but they often do at different rates and so to prevent the fully charged cells from overcharging, the battery boils off the water surrounding them. Generally as an automotive battery this system holds up well as it only requires the occasional water top up.
In recent years motorcycle battery systems have changed with many manufacturers heading toward AGM, gel cell and lithium batteries. On a motorcycle these types of battery are less susceptible to battery acid spillage and therefore make a great option.
However, each type of battery has a specific way that they need to be cared to remain optimum.
Flooded lead acid batteries, AGM and gel cell batteries all need to be charged long and slow then immediately removed from the battery charger to prevent over charging. AGM batteries need a specific AGM specific charger.
Lithium batteries should not be charged to 100%, rather 80% charge is sufficient to maintain good battery health. Gel cell batteries also should not be charged to 100%.
Trickle chargers are battery chargers that provide a constant charge and this can cause wear on the battery over time even though the charging mode is very low voltage. They tend to be much cheaper than a battery tender and therefore have been the go to for riders to maintain their motorcycle battery when they aren’t riding for long periods of time.
When you use a trickle charger on flooded lead acid batteries and AGM type batteries, the continuous charge means that the battery will wear down quickly as to protect the cells the fluid around the battery cells is constantly being boiled off and eventually the cells themselves which over extended periods of time can cause battery damage.
This can be resolved by simply removing the trickle charger when the battery hits full charge. However, this requires you to constantly be aware of the batteries health and monitor it over the period of time that your bike is stored away (such as over winter).
Equally gel cell and particularly lithium ion batteries should not be charged beyond around 80% of their capacity. This can be quite difficult to monitor with just a trickle charger as many simply tell you when a battery is full.
A standard lead acid battery is relatively inexpensive and so are trickle chargers so that is a very big bonus for those on a budget. Should your battery die and you be unable to save it, purchasing a new battery isn’t going to cost the earth.
A battery tender has built in safety features and should be considered a smart charger; while it has the same job of a trickle charger (to charge and maintain your battery charge) it is a better choice for your bike.
A good battery tender is designed to be left connected to your bike for as long as you are not riding, they can spend an infinite amount of time on your motorcycle battery without causing it harm. The battery charger will put out a very low amperage.
They also operate automatically without needing to be monitored, so you can just hook the battery terminals up and forget about your bike until it comes to ride again.
They utilise four different modes:
- Initialization – Safety checks to verify correct voltage, secure connections and correct polarity
- Bulk Charge – Full current mode using a higher amperage to charge to battery from 0-100%
- Absorption Mode – Lower current to top off the battery from 80-100%
- Float mode – Very low current to keep battery topped up
This is why battery tenders are better for your battery:
- They have built in safety features that kick in when your battery reaches full charge (or a pre-set level you select); they will stop putting a current into the battery at this point.
- The long and slow charge thanks to their low amperage is perfect for all types of battery.
- Modern motorcycles are loaded these days with extra tech that can run the battery down even when the bike is in storage such as GPS and USB ports. These are considered to be parasitic drains, so hooking a battery tender up will ensure that when the battery loses charge below a set level, it intervenes top it back up. A trickle charger does not have this smart system in place.
- Equally batteries are known to self-discharge depending on the season and conditions they are kept in. By keeping the battery topped up, you prevent sulfation occurring (mainly lead acid batteries) which can cause serious loss in cranking amps and capacity. While a trickle charger can prevent this too by keeping your battery charged; battery tenders do so without overcharging which can be just as harmful.
What’s the difference between a battery maintainer and a battery tender?
A battery maintainer and battery tender are the same thing. Battery Tender is a trademarked name for a brand of battery tenders however, there are non-branded products that do exactly the same job. A battery maintainer is a battery charger that cuts off when the battery is fully charged and then maintains the full charge for as long as needed.
So if you hear the words battery tender or battery maintainer used, know they are interchangeable. Just remember battery chargers that can maintain your battery by only putting a current through it when needed are much better than trickle chargers for your battery health.
A battery maintainer/battery tender uses a mode called ‘Float mode’, this is constant low voltage regulation that matches the batteries natural self-discharge rate, to keep it safely topped up at all times.
When should I use a battery tender on my bike?
You should use a battery tender on you bike whenever you are putting the bike away for a period of time. It is good practice to hook your motorcycle battery up every time you store it away for more than a few days.
Hot weather, cold weather, the amount of electrical accessories on your motorcycle are all factors that affect how quickly your battery discharges. By having a battery tender hooked up you can maintain your batteries health at all times.
How do I hook up a battery tender to my bike?
The good news is a battery tender is easy to hook up to your bike and to disconnect so you won’t be spending hours in the garage trying to set things up.
Here is what you need to do:
- You might need to remove your battery in some cases to fit the quick connect cable to your battery (this will depend on where your battery is on your bike)
- The quick connect pigtail has two connectors that go under the nuts at the top of the battery terminals (positive and negative). Be sure to put the correct connector on the right terminal as reverse polarity can be dangerous, good tenders will have polarity protection for this exact purpose if you have hooked up to the wrong terminals
- Check the manufacturers instruction manual to make sure you do this part correctly
- Once the quick connect system is connected you don’t have to mess around with removing the battery or the terminals again
- Find a wall socket that you can plug the device into, plug in but do not turn the power on just yet
- Decide on your charging mode
- Once you are all connected up between the device and battery, turn the power and battery tender on and your device will do the rest of the work for you
- Be sure to just check that the smart charger is working as it should with no issues, check the display for any warning lights etc. After that you can leave your vehicle and rest assured your battery is being taken care of
- If you decide not to fit the pigtail system or your charger does not have a quick connect set up, then the process is the same but you will just connect an alligator clip to each respective battery terminal
3 Recommended Battery Tenders for Motorcycles
Now we will take a look at 3 of the best battery tenders currently available. When shopping for battery tenders there are some basic features you should look out for:
- Quick connect option
- Spark proof clamps (alligator clips)
- Automatic amperage and voltage regulation
- Short circuit protection
- Reverse polarity protection
- Manufacturer’s instructions – great for those who aren’t technically minded like me
- Specific battery compatibility
- Indicator lights for charging progress
Keeping these key features in mind will help you make your choice a lot easier to ensure you get the right charger for your motorcycle.
TecMate Optimate 3 battery charger
Optimate is the most well known and popular brand of motorcycle battery charger in Europe so they know a thing or two about what users want from their chargers.
The Optimate 3 is fully automatic and completely protects against user error thanks to its safety features. It is an affordable option as a long term battery charger and battery maintainer.
The Optimate 3 is a great choice for lead acid batteries. The charger comes with several different connection options all of which are spark proof, plug it into the wall outlet and "Connect and Forget" as the packaging states.
- Battery checker
- Desulphation and recovery stage - Tests for extreme discharge or sulphation and then will instigate a special charge to recover the battery
- Bulk charge
- Verification stage - checks the bulk charge has held and completed the cycle to full charge, if not it will repeat earlier stages
- Voltage retention test every 30mins
- Float mode
NOCO Genius 5 Charger
The NOCO Genius 5 is a battery charger, battery maintainer and battery desulphator all in one compact package.
It is suitable for 6v and 12v batteries, and is suitable for lead-acid automotive, marine and deep-cycle batteries, including flooded, gel and AGM types. The charger isn’t just great for a lead acid battery though as it also works with lithium batteries.
Along with the key modes associated with a battery charger and maintainer the NOCO also includes that bit more clever tech that makes it stand out from the pack.
It is has an integrated thermal sensor which detects the ambient temperature and adjusts the charge to prevent it overcharging or undercharging in hot or cold climates. It can also revive dead batteries from as low as 1 volts or use the new Force mode, to begin manually charging from 0 volts.
- Works on both 6 and 12 volt batteries
- Temperature compensation
- Croc clips may mean you will have to remove battery to charge
CTEK MXS 5.0 Charger
The CTEK MXS 5 is a battery charger that is suited just for lead acid batteries, it will not work with lithium batteries.
Just like the NOCO it comes with an automatic temperature adjustment system to make sure you get the best charging performance.
It has a battery diagnosis setting to ensure your battery can take and sustain a charge and a patented desulphation program. There is also a specific AGM battery mode and is capable of reviving very low charge batteries.
The unit comes with an easy to read display, and is reverse polarity protected and short circuit protected.
How to Check Your Motorcycle Battery
The most simple way to test your bikes battery is to use a multimeter.
With the exception of old classic motorcycles most modern bikes use 12v batteries.
All you need to do is take your multimeter and set it to the nearest setting to 12v which is usually 20v. Then you take the black transmitter and put it on the negative and red on the positive.
Take a reading while the bike is turned off and your battery voltage should have a reading around the 12v mark.
Next turn the bike on and take another reading, the bikes alternator should be generating a good current to the battery and hopefully the reading will be slightly higher.
If your readings are a bit lower than they should be, then your battery might be worn down and at some point will need replacing if your battery charger can’t revive it back to full health.
Can I Leave My Battery on a Battery Tender Overnight?
Yes you can leave your battery on a battery tender overnight.
Battery tenders are designed to be left on your motorcycle battery for an infinite amount of time.
They monitor the state of the battery and keep it topped up (float mode), when completely charged the device will stop the current from entering the battery, to prevent damage and overcharging.
Can you charge a motorcycle battery without removing it?
Yes you can charge your motorcycle battery without having to remove the battery from the motorcycle.
A quality battery charger will have quick connect options so that you can hook up the charger to a wall socket and use a simple ‘pigtail’ style system to plug into the battery.
If you don’t have a quick connect option, you still don’t need to remove the battery from the motorcycle as long as you have room around your battery location to use the supplied alligator clips to connect to the battery terminals.
Note that you might have to remove the battery initially to set the quick connect system up, but after that it stays on the motorcycle so you won’t have to take the battery off again.