What is a Battery Maintainer: Are You Ruining Your Motorcycle Battery?

what is a battery tender for motorcycle
Battery maintainer, trick charger or whatever you call it - They help keep your bike ready to ride.

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No doubt about it, dead batteries suck. Do you know the difference between using a battery tender vs using a trickle charger?

In this post I answer the question “what is a battery tender for motorcycle”, and talk about some fundamental differences between battery tenders and chargers that you should be familiar with.

Not knowing the difference can cost you money and riding time, and nobody wants that.

Every motorcyclist knows this;

A battery tender is one of the most essential devices you need if you want to store your motorcycle for long periods and still have a battery that can get your engine started.

What is a battery maintainer for motorcycle?

A battery tender for a motorcycle is a device that plugs into any standard AC wall outlet and transfers power via amperage to a motorcycles 12-volt battery to keep it charged.

This power transfer helps to keep the battery ’tended’ while still attached to the motorcycle and keeps the battery at optimum levels during long periods between rides or if you’re going to store the bike seasonally.

A good battery tender has smart technology built into it (I can’t think of any that don’t) that knows when the battery has reached its full charge and shuts down automatically.

Of course, once the battery loses a bit of power from sitting, the battery tender will ‘know’ the power drop and start trickling power to maintain the power levels in your battery.

Battery tenders help to extend life of your battery year-round.

Best battery tenders for motorcycles 2020

Ideally you want a tender that’s easy to read, keeps your battery at its best level and will do its job in the background when you’re not riding the motorcycle.

Basic features that you need for your tender are:

  • Float mode monitoring
  • Auto adjust amperage for maintaining or charging
  • Easy to read indicators that display charging status

When to use a motorcycle battery tender

This is an easy question to help you with – Every time you store your motorcycle.

Battery tenders are set up to make sure that your battery is fully charged and ready to go anytime so you can be ready to hit the road.

Let me tell you;

There’s nothing worse than being all ready to jump on your motorcycle and hit the road, only to hear clicks (or nothing at all) when you hit the starter. Bummer.

what is a battery tender for motorcycle

Once that happens, forget the battery tender, you’re going to have to level up to getting yourself a battery charger and breathe some life back into it.

Yes, there’s a difference between the two.

You may also want to load test the battery to make sure any accessories are not causing your battery to drain even quicker.

In fact, not knowing the very important difference between a battery tender or a charger is one that can cost you money and cause damage if you don’t know what it is.

That’s ok if you don’t know – Keep reading, I’ll be covering the difference between the two later in this post

I’ve made it a habit to always keep my bike hooked up to a tender anytime I’m not riding.

Why is that?

In my experience, excessive heat (100 degrees plus. I’ve lived in Vegas and now Florida) can and does cause the battery to drain much faster than it normally would. I’ve had motorcycle batteries in these conditions drain substantially inside of a week.

Most of the time, the battery won’t be dead, but the motorcycle is struggling like hell to start, which isn’t good.

Usually there’s just enough power for 1 or 2 times to crank the engine over. If it doesn’t start, your screwed and then it’s time to put the battery on a charger.

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An Important Piece of Gear

In addition to all of the basic motorcycle safety gear you need to buy to start riding, I’d rank having a battery tender right up there as one of the most important things you need to buy.

Keeping your battery maintained helps to extend the life of the battery, keeps the bike ready to ride and keeps you from wasting money on new batteries – at $100+ for a new battery, that’s kind of important.

Remember this;

Once a battery has been drained and needs to be re-charged, it’s never the same (this goes for cars as well as motorcycles). Plan on replacing that battery sooner than you otherwise would have.

 A Battery Tender Buying Guide

Functionally, tenders are a fairly simple devices to understand. They plug into a standard wall outlet and into your motorcycle, assuming you’ve set your bike up properly for that. For the non-electrically inclined, there are a couple simple things you need to be familiar with.

Amperage Selection

Amperage to put it simply, is the flow rate of electricity into your battery. Think of it like the flow rate (or speed) of water through pipes.

Many battery tenders are going to give you an option to select different amperages or the unit may have a set amperage and even an automatic setting. Automatic is preferred, to you can ‘set and forget’.

Tenders that allow you to select a higher amperage are giving you the ability charge your battery at a faster rate. But if your aim is to simply keep the battery at a good level that may not be your best option.

Since the job of a battery tender is to ‘tend’ or maintain the battery, you don’t need a super high amperage rate.

For most devices your better off not messing with this adjustment and leaving it on a safe automatic setting.

motorcycle battery

Basic Safety Features You Should Look For

When your dealing with electricity, your going to want the tender/maintainer to be safe for the motorcycle and yourself.

Safety features that you should keep in mind whenever you’re looking getting a battery tender for a motorcycle:

  • Automatic amperage and voltage regulation to make sure the battery doesn’t get overcharged. Overcharging the battery will ruin it and may cause damage to the bike.
  • Quick connect – A good tender comes with a quick connect ‘pigtail’ that you connect to your battery terminal. This makes it easy to just plug your motorcycle in after every ride.
  • Clamps that are spark resistant – In the event that you may have to connect it directly to the battery terminals, you want clamps that will hold the sparks down to a dull roar.
  • Short circuit protection
  • Reverse polarity protection – If you are using the clamps (instead of the quick connect) this feature helps to prevent damage to the battery if you hook the tender up to the wrong terminals. If you correctly install the quick connect, this will never be an issue.

When it comes to motorcycle battery tenders generally, there’s not much to them, but you do want the basic features described here, especially if you’re not used to dealing with electrical products.

honda goldwing at homosassa springs

Other features to look for

A visual indicator lights. From what I’ve seen, all battery tenders have a light (or multiple lights) that tells you the level the bike is at, and the charging progress. You want these lights to be easy for you to read and understand.

Usually these lights are multicolored (green, yellow, red for example) to help check the status at a glance.

Lightweight plastic construction. Trickle chargers are generally designed to be lightweight, compact with decent length of cord that you can plug into the home outlet. But you also want to take a bit of punishment. They will be in your garage after all.

Constant charging – When AC (wall plug) line conditions are low, provides full output to  your battery. A good batter tender will give you full output power low AC line voltage.

Battery tester onboard. This gets back to making sure there are simple visual controls on the device. The onboard battery tester is generally tied into the light system of the device. This will give you some idea of the condition of the battery.

Time it takes to charge on average. Battery tenders can vary from charger to charger on how long it takes to get your battery up to capacity.

The industry average for a charger can be anywhere from around 2 hours to upwards of 10 hours (give or take) to get complete charge.

Faster chargers exist, but be prepared to open your walled to get the speed.

Realistically, it’s not about how fast the tender will work, but how well it maintains and protects your battery.

The tender may have a setting for ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ rate, but really all you need is the slow rate.

If you’re never using the tender as a charger (some devices are an all in one) you don’t really need to worry about the charge rate.

Does it come with an instruction manual? If you’re not an electrician or understand all the electrical mumbo jumbo (like me) you going to want the charger to come with an easy to use manual.

Compatibility with specific battery. While I have never run into an issue with a battery tender not working with specific batteries, just be prepared for this possibility.

Before you go looking for a trickle charger, get all the information you can off of your battery and your motorcycle. The compatibility of the charger may depend on the type of battery you have and what bike you have.

This is where your phone camera comes in handy. Take enough pictures of the battery to insure you have all the info you need. This will keep you from making multiple trips out to your bike if you’re trying to order online.

For the motorcycle itself, you can either take a picture of your registration (which I do anyway just to have on my phone) or the VIN plate. Make sure you get all the important info in your pics.

Battery Tender vs Battery Maintainer: Are they the same?

If you’ve spent any amount of time online trying to do some research on this topic, you’re going to run across different names for these devices that can make it confusing.

Here’s the answer;

Yes. Battery tenders and battery maintainers are both different names for the same type of devices that do the same job.

Both of the terms ‘tender’ and ‘maintainer’ are used interchangeably with a variety on online stores for the same type of devices which can make it confusing.

Just remember;

These are interchangeable words for devices that feature smart technology that you need to keep your battery at optimum levels without ruining it. Smart technology simply means that the maintainer/tender supplies power to keep the battery charged as it needs it, but shuts off when the battery is ‘full’ or completely charged.

Trickle Charger Vs Battery Maintainer

Here’s where understanding the difference between a variety of electrical devices can get a bit sticky.

With some websites you’ll see the term ‘trickle charger’ used the same as ‘battery tender’ and in other places you’ll see it defined different.

Let’s break it down so you can understand difference between tenders and chargers:

Battery Maintainer (or tenders) – A battery tender works just like I’ve described previously; It plugs into a wall outlet and into your motorcycle (we’ll talk about how to set your bike up to do this later) and provides power to your motorcycle battery.

However, tenders/maintainers have an intelligent mode or settings (special circuitry and other functions) that sense when the voltage in your battery has dropped. The tender then starts to charge the battery again, then shuts off once the battery is fully charged.

And so on…

Trickle Chargers The operative word here is charger. Battery Chargers or Trickle Chargers apply a constant stream of power to your battery. A constant stream of power to your battery is bad (when left unattended to charge for too long), because it can cause your battery to boil over.

With battery chargers, you need to disconnect your battery from time to time to keep your battery healthy.

The problem is this;

Trickle chargers are devices (see more here) that often get lumped into the same type of devices as a battery maintainer being the same device, and that’s not always true.

However, the device can also be a charger and a maintainer doing both jobs. Make sure you understand what the device can and can’t do.

In fact, trickle chargers have a nasty reputation for destroying batteries.

It’s important that you pay close attention to the device to what exactly its functionality is.

If your still confused about the difference you can also check out this guide here.

What Job Do You Need Done?

Maintaining vs charging your battery are similar, but distinctly different jobs and you need to know the difference.

Just like anything else, you need the right tool for the job.

Use a battery tender when:

  • Your storing your motorcycle for extended periods
  • The battery is in good ‘health’ and you’re just trying keep it ready to go.

Remember: Although it depends on the device, A battery tender will not be able to ‘jump start’ a dead battery. It’s too late.

Use a battery charger (or trickle charger) when:

  • Your battery is dead or at very low voltage. This could be If your battery died overnight, or the battery is too old and doesn’t take charge or any number of other reasons etc.
  • The battery needs to charge for a predetermined period of time. You charge the battery, then disconnect the charger when you’re done.

Remember: Don’t use a charger to maintain a battery.

It gets down to this for using a battery tender vs battery charger

Tenders have smart circuitry to turn the power on or off to your battery and do not supply a constant charge.

Chargers do one thing and do it well;

Supply constant power to the motorcycle battery and don’t know when to quit.

Can you leave your motorcycle hooked up to a battery tender?

Yes, I leave my motorcycle hooked up to a tender whenever I’m not out riding.

That’s the beauty of using a tender;

It’s ‘Fire and forget’.

Because it knows when to start and stop you don’t have to worry about your battery getting roasted.

I’ve made it part of my personal post ride ritual to plug my bike in after I pull into the garage.

Occasionally I forget, but remember a couple of days later to plug the motorcycle in.

All that being said, you do want to make sure that you’re keeping an eye on your bike will it’s hooked up and just sitting.

Just in case you didn’t know;

Do you have a couple of bikes that you need to keep on a tender? There are battery management systems that can help you with multiple motorcycles at one time.

How To Connect a Battery Maintainer To Your Motorcycle

Using battery maintainer on your motorcycle really couldn’t be any simpler. Here are the basic steps to get you going:

  • Find a wall socket to plug the device into. Preferably in a place where nobody will trip on over the power cord.
  • Plug the device into the wall, do not turn it on.
  • Install the quick connect to your battery terminals. You may need to remove the battery from the motorcycle to get this done.
  • Check your battery terminals and clean them if needed.
  • Re-install the battery in your motorcycle (if you had to remove it). Make sure that you leave the quick connect ‘pigtail’ exposed so you can get it whenever you want.
  • Decide on the preferred charging mode and select it. Automatic is usually recommended.
  • Turn the battery tender on.
  • Monitor the tender before leaving on its own.

This seems like a lot of steps, but it really is a simple process. The only problem you may run into is dealing with the removal of the motorcycle battery. Depending on what you’re riding, this can be a pain in the fanny.

I’ve logged a lot of time swearing at swearing at a Vulcan 750.

As a friendly reminder, make sure that you’re following all of the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations when installing your battery tender.

Starting A Motorcycle Hooked Up To a Trickle Charger

I’ve had friends stop by as I’m getting ready to ride, see the bike is still plugged into the wall as I fire up the bike.

So naturally the question then becomes, “Is it ok to start the bike while its hooked up to the charger?”

It’s not a problem at all. In fact, I do this most of the time.

Sometimes however, I will unplug the motorcycle from the maintainer and then start it up. I do this as sort of a test to make sure the tender is doing its job by making sure the bike starts right up.

gl1800 goldwing battery

Summing it up

If you don’t have yourself a nice battery tender, I would highly recommend that you get one. Any of the tenders I listed above will do the job, and my personal favorite on the list is the Battery Tender Junior.

It’s simple and straightforward to use.

A Battery tender/maintainer will potentially save you a lot of aggravation of a dead battery and help protect your battery.

As motorcycle owners know, batteries are not exactly cheap and you want to extend the life of the battery you have so get at least 2 years out of it.

A tender is a must have basic maintenance item you should have, just like having a tire pressure gauge no matter what you ride.

Now that we’ve dealt with the whole ‘what is a battery tender for motorcycle’ question and set you up with some options and features to look for, take care of your battery!

Keep it in tip top shape and be ready to ride!

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