Batteries are the unsung heroes of motorcycle components. They sit quietly tucked away, getting on with their job and never really get noticed until they go wrong, and then suddenly you realize just how important your motorcycle battery is.
For the most part, modern batteries are pretty reliable – they can sometimes degrade over time, or if you leave them drained for too long without keeping them charged up regularly, and occasionally they can be killed by very cold weather. But even though the traditional zero-maintenance lead-acid battery (used by most motorcycles) is fairly bulletproof, there have still been some improvements in the design.
Gel motorcycle batteries are one of the most popular upgrades. A conventional battery contains a liquid electrolyte (sulfuric acid) and even though the battery is sealed, it still needs to be positioned correctly to keep that liquid acid where it needs to be. A gel battery, as the name suggests, does not contain liquid but a gel electrolyte, which does not splosh around.
The key benefit of using gel in a motorcycle battery is that it allows the designers to fit the battery into different positions in the frame because it does not need to be upright like a traditional battery. A gel motorcycle battery can be on its side or upside down with no problems. This means there’s more flexibility in the way the bike can be designed, which is especially popular among sports bikes and custom café racer builders.
There are other benefits to gel batteries too. The electrolyte cannot evaporate or get spilled, and are better at coping with vibration and high impacts, making them safer. Gel motorcycle batteries have a shorter recharge time than ‘wet’ batteries, but they are more likely to fail if they are accidentally overcharged, so for this reason you should always ensure that you only use a battery charger that is designed to work with gel batteries.
Another plus point for gel batteries is that they cope well with deep-discharge, so they can recover from being completely drained better that wet batteries, although this will still degrade their life if you do it too much. Gel batteries can also hold their charge better, so do not lose power as quickly if they are left charged up but unused.
Typically, gel batteries are more expensive than conventional motorcycle batteries, although as they become more widely used prices are falling thanks to economies of scale. It’s also worth noting that they have a shorter life-span, so might not last as long as other batteries. Another drawback of gel batteries is that they do not perform as well as other batteries in cold conditions, and can lose power under freezing point more readily that different types.
Are there alternatives to gel batteries?
While gel batteries offer several useful benefits over conventional wet lead-acid batteries, they might not always be the best option. Another type to consider is an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery, which uses spongy glass matting to store the electrolyte, rather than suspending it in gel.
The end result is a type of battery which has many of the same benefits of gel, but without many of the drawbacks listed above. AGM batteries cope with extreme temperature ranges a lot better, so if you live somewhere cold they’re a better option.
AGM batteries perform better than gel in situations where a quick burst of energy is required, for example, cranking a starter motor.
So, with all the same benefits as a gel battery, but with fewer disadvantages, our advice is that AGM batteries are a better alternative. And that’s reflected by most motorcycle manufacturers, which typically favor AGM over gel batteries as OEM equipment in their bikes.