If your bike has a lithium battery or you’re thinking of switching power supplies, you’ll need a lithium battery charger. You may have heard stories of lithium batteries overheating and catching fire, which is mainly due to the wrong power supply.
Lithium batteries require a specific voltage and limited current to avoid overcharging, which is why investing in a lithium battery charger is the best choice. A lot of Li chargers come with automatic cut-offs so your battery won’t overcharge, and they also emit the correct voltage, so you don’t have to worry about any unwanted fire situations.
This article explains the pros and cons of lithium batteries and exposes some myths surrounding them so you can make an informed choice. We also give you some recommended Li chargers, which won’t break the bank.
You may see lithium batteries described as LiFePO4 batteries. This is the chemical name for Lithium (Li) Iron (Fe) Phosphate (PO4) which is essentially the chemical makeup of the cell.
Table of Contents
- Lithium batteries are a lot smaller than lead-acid varieties. They weigh a lot less too, around four times less than a lead-acid battery
- Lithium batteries eliminate the risk of leaking battery acid
- They have a higher cranking power relative to their size and weight
- Lithium’s have a low self-discharge rate compared to lead-acid batteries
- Lithium batteries take less time to charge than standard batteries (roughly 1 - 2 hours compared to 12 hours for a standard)
- Economically better based on their lifespan
- Your regular battery charger won't charge a lithium battery properly
- If your battery is cold it will not perform as well
- They can cost up to 30% more than their lead-acid counterparts
- If a Lithium battery runs down too much, you cannot recover them (which could be a problem for those in a colder climate or bikes laid up for a very long time)
- There's a chance of overheating if too much voltage is used during charging, so you need a dedicated lithium charger
- Using a charger which isn’t designed for Lithium batteries can damage them, resulting in less battery life or irreparable damage
Myths about lithium batteries
Like anything new, lithium batteries have got bad press and myths about their reliability have circulated. Here are a few of them we can debunk.
Catching fire – Larger lithium batteries for motor vehicles are larger and made from a Lithium-ion-Phosphate blend (LiFePO4) which is a lot more stable and carries a lower risk of chemical instability.
Lithium battery failures – the technology has advanced enough to include Battery Management Systems (BMS) which balance the discharge and recharge loads. BMS shuts down the battery if an overcharge is detected to prevent overheating and the potential to catch fire.
The lifespan is significantly reduced compared to lead-acid batteries – Before BMS were incorporated, lithium batteries could be run down so much they couldn’t be recovered. A lithium battery which has a built-in BMS will prevent this happening. If you’re looking for a lithium battery, a quality brand will usually use a battery management system but these are not essential.
Lithium batteries won’t work in the cold – this is true to an extent. They produce less cranking power when very cold. However if you live in a colder climate, warming up your battery before use prevents their unreliability. Turning on your lights or attaching your heated gloves will start to draw from the battery and will warm it up.
The best motorcycle lithium battery charger
We’ve picked out two really good dedicated lithium motorcycle battery chargers. Now only will they charge a battery from almost dead to fully charged but they’ll also maintain the battery with a trickle charge function meaning you can ‘fit and forget’ and know your battery will be ready whenever you are.
What makes this ultra-compact lithium motorcycle battery charger our pick is the fact it will also charge lead-acid batteries and 6v/12v batteries. Despite its compact size, it’s not just a trickle charger; it’ll also desulfate batteries and bulk charge them. It comes with crocodile clips and a quick-connect charging cable. It can do it all and it is, as they say, Genius.
TecMate OptiMate Lithium 0.8A Battery Optimiser
Specially designed to charge and maintain 12V Lithium batteries, the OptiMate 0.8A is fully automatic and protects against user errors as there are no switches to operate it. This compact charger is perfect for LiFePO4 12V batteries from 3Ah – 50Ah. It’s a quality make but, unlike the NOCO, it isn’t designed to also charge lead-acid batteries.
Why I rate the Noco
Truly a do-it-all charger, the Noco Genius 1 isn’t just the best lithium motorcycle battery charger but you could argue it’s the best option for standard lead-acid batteries too.
The charger is integrated into the plug, meaning it’s very compact in size. It’ll recondition batteries from close-to-dead, back to full life and it has a trickle charge feature too, meaning it won’t just carry on trying to bulk charge and ruin your battery.
The fact it can charge lithium and lead-acid batteries means it’s a solid bet for any biker, as over the next few years more and more bikes will be supplied with a lithium-ion battery as standard.
It also comes with a quick-release cable, meaning you can wire your bike’s battery up to an adapter and then quickly plug it in, rather than having to remove the pillion seat and then rider’s seat (thanks, Kawasaki) or entire seat unit (thanks Honda) or lift the tank (BMW, what were you thinking?!) to get access to your battery.
How to fit a smaller motorcycle battery
If you want to upgrade your motorcycle battery to a lithium one, check out our lithium motorcycle batteries guide. We recommend going for a JMT or a Shido motorcycle battery as, even though they are as light as other lithium batteries, they cleverly use the same size housing, so they are a straight swap for your lead-acid battery.
Other lithium motorcycle batteries can be approximately 50% of the physical size of your conventional lead-acid battery, which can cause a problem.
Your bike is designed with a battery box to accommodate the standard battery and keep it secure. A lithium battery will rattle around in this battery box and it’s likely that your terminals won’t connect as the wires won’t be long enough.
If you do go for a smaller motorcycle battery, the best solution is to use a dense foam that you can cut to size in order to easily position your lighter and smaller lithium battery and properly connect it to your bike’s electricals.
Any dense foam will do but we’ve picked this modeling foam which comes in handy sheet size and is easy to cut. Use some double-sided tape and it’ll be a factory-job!
Modelling Foam / See it on Amazon
Other Decent Lithium Battery Chargers
CTEK MXS 0.8 Lithium Motorcycle Battery Charger
I also got one of these CTEK chargers in for review. It is designed to maximise Lithium battery performance and lifespan, the Lithium XS is a compact microprocessor-controlled charger recommended for LiFePO4 batteries. For use on cells from 5Ah – 60Ah, this charger automatically charges upon connection and stops when the battery is fully charged, so you don’t run the risk of over-charging.
It’s a decent bit of kit and a very well respected-make, but it’s pricier than its rivals.
Lithium Battery FAQs
How do I know what size lithium battery my motorcycle needs?
You can convert from a normal lead-acid to a lithium battery using the conversion chart in this link.
Which bikes come with a lithium battery as standard?
High-end bikes such as Ducati’s Panigale V4S and V4R, where weight saving is a priority. As lithium batteries reduce in price more bikes will feature them.
Can you charge a lithium battery with a normal charger?
Theoretically, yes, although it is not recommended. A standard charger for a standard battery can be used as long as you check the voltage, inputs and outputs of power match your lithium battery’s requirements. If you don’t know what you are doing, the risk of you getting this wrong and killing your battery is very high.
By using a lithium charger, there is no risk of overcharging, overheating or power supply issues.
Should lithium batteries be left on a charger?
You can leave a lithium battery connected to a charge as long as the charger has an automatic shut off. If your charger does not have this feature, you run the risk of overpowering your battery which leads to failure and overheating.
What is a 18650 lithium battery?
A 18650 is a rechargeable lithium-ion cell battery which is often found in flashlights, laptops and other small electronic devices. The name is derived from its 18mm x 65mm size.
Can I fit a lithium battery to my bike?
In theory, any bike built after the early ’80s is capable of running a lithium battery. Your bike must charge between 13.4V and 14.6V. Any less, and the battery won’t charge, any more and it is likely to overheat. If your bike falls out of this voltage range, you need to replace your charging system.
How do I know what battery size I need for my motorcycle?
Check out our motorcycle battery finder chart to choose the right battery for your bike.