My Bittersweet Love Affair with Modern Batteries
Make no mistake about it; I appreciate a good ribbing as much as the next guy but some observations are simply more thought provoking than they are comedic. Take, for example, an alert reader named Pete who recently decided to drop an electronic note that went as follows:
I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme in your articles in a disdain for batteries. Knock on wood but the battery on my 1993 Suzuki 500 has been replaced only once in the bike’s entire life and she still fires up even after months of winter inactivity. I’m not sure if I’m doing something right or everyone else is just doing something wrong.
As much as I long to rebut Pete’s observation with the perfect blend of sarcasm, scientific fact and wit, the truth is he’s right! Upon going back through a few randomly chosen columns of the past three or four years, I can indeed confirm a tendency of mine to discuss various headaches and heartaches that have stemmed directly from that little black box of acid assigned the task of getting adequate voltage to the starter motor.
Like any true motojournalist, I made it a personal mission to delve deeper into this mystery as; after all, much of my own biking history is littered with strange but true tales of battery woe. A few examples include the XR650L and it’s battery that decided to conk out once and for all mere hours before it’s new owner was set to arrive for pickup. An emergency run to the closest Autozone resulted in my having purchased an inexact replacement for merely four times the original’s
One of the many examples of battery trouble the author has experienced is with the XR650L and it's battery that died just before he sold it.
MSRP. I consider that one a parting gift to the new owner. Or just last season when I learned through days of cuss-laden trial and error that the fuel injection system on an ATK 440 depends on a fully charged battery to function (a jump start from the battery charger will apparently not suffice, regardless of how hard you kick said charger).
Then there was the time this past winter when I needed parts from a cardboard box being stored in the Chevy Blazer parked next to my garage (the world’s most expensive closet as it has become). Apparently, in my haste to dismount from the abandoned SUV some years ago, I hadn’t realized that the driver’s seat had been moved back far enough to crush said box of parts that had been resting on the floor of the backseat. Hence, I only realized this once I attempted, in subzero temps naturally, to retrieve the parts some months later. All I had to do, theoretically, to rescue my stranded parts box was to move the driver’s seat forward a bit. Did I mention it’s a power seat and that the car’s battery was deader than the proverbial doornail? Long story short- it took a few hours and jumper cables running to my fiancé’s idling Dodge Dakota from across a snow drift to get the seat to complete it’s quarter-inch forward trek.
So indeed, Pete brings up a very valid point about my misgivings toward batteries of late but has this always been the case? Why, I found myself wondering, don’t I remember these concerns in the glorious days of my misspent youth? The answer, it turns out, is that until recently most every machine I had the pleasure of riding upon came either with a
Jason's first ATV may have had minor issues with its starting process, but there wasn't a battery that you had to rely on.
starting method other than electric or had a backup means to accompany the handlebar-mounted button.
Example 1: 1983 Yamaha TriMoto YT125
If humble beginnings are a requisite for greatness, I’m in the running with this one. My first ATV had recoil only starting, which, much like your average weed whacker, liked to alternate between being too tight to allow a good pull and becoming loose enough to make you go flying into the weeds when you gave in and put some back into it. In the grand scheme of things, the starting procedure was the least of this vehicle’s problems but in its defense, there were no battery issues.
Example 2: 1985 Honda ATC250R
The machine came stock with a kick starter but by the time my cousin, who was probably the tenth owner himself, was finished with it, the only way to compensate for the lack of cylinder compression was to find the biggest hill in the area, push it to the summit, have someone push you forward, then pop the clutch about half way down. It fired in an explosion of blue smoke and noise 3 out of 5 times; we rarely remember what happened the other two since it was usually a blur of sky and dirt down the mountainside, 3-wheeler in hot pursuit, after having been pitched over the bars.
Example 3: 1991 KX250
Somehow I managed to locate the hardest starting KX ever to leave the Kawasaki factory. Since it was well-used by the time I purchased it, there is a good possibility a cracked reed or some other internal malady was to blame for this phenomenon and probably would have been worth fixing, if the trouble was consistent. The thing with this bike is that it would start in two kicks whenever you didn’t need it to. Examples include the night before a big race, when attempting to show others how hard it is to start and so on. Lured into a false sense of confidence, I would load it up and get it to the track only to discover it required seventy good hard stabs before it would light up again- when I was to be at the staging area in twenty seconds.
While models like the ATC250R didn't have a battery to complicate matters, they had enough problems already with its kickstarter.
Often I would make it in the nick of time just before they dropped the gate. The trouble was I’d be so exhausted from the pre-race kickboxing match that I had no choice but to pull off the track and lay in the lawn chair after only half a lap. I still don’t like to think of the cash I flushed in wasted entry fees that season.
The list goes on and on- Kawasaki KZ750s that with all my weight on the kickstarter managed only two small coughs from the exhaust, a Honda TRX250X that kicked forward and loved to retract soundly against your shin, a Suzuki LT230 with a kickstarter that would vibrate itself free somewhere along the trails and so on.
So in conclusion Pete, yes, I have a lot of concern with electric starting, and batteries in particular. However, considering the alternatives, it’s a safe conclusion my gripes of yesteryear would have been enough to make even a hardened sailor blush.
Then again in those days I probably wouldn’t have had enough energy left over afterward to write them down.