For close to 100 years, motorcycles and cars were all dependant on a very inefficient and environmentally nasty source of electrical power: the lead acid battery. What’s surprising though, is most car and motorcycle manufacturers still use lead acid batteries. There has been a huge lag in new technology for this specific need. This may be soon to change, as one inventor has invented something truly exciting in the motorcycle industry: The lithium ion polymer motorcycle battery.
Battery technology has always been a little slow moving. But probably the most proactive industry when it comes to battery technology is the cell phone manufactures. The cell phone builders are actually where this advancement in motorcycle batteries gleaned its technology.
First, let’s start with a little battery history lesson. Since the dawn of cell phones, battery technology had been a major concern. They were constantly striving to make cell phone power sources last longer between charges, smaller in size, charge up faster, and extend the life of the battery as long as possible. This all started with old-fashioned cadmium batteries, which were the mainstay for years (this wasn’t really new technology - In 1899, Waldmar Jungner invented the first nickel-cadmium rechargeable battery.) These cadmium batteries were of course better than lead acid, but still not idea for several reasons. They are first of all large, and second, they had a "memory". The "memory" issue was a problem because if you charged your battery ½ way through its charge cycle, it would remember this after a while and end up only holding ½ the charge it was supposed to. The only way to get around this would be to completely discharge the battery before you re-charged it, which most people found burdensome.
Next in line was the nickel metal hydride battery. This battery was slightly more efficient in size and didn’t possess as much of the "memory" problem as the cadmium batteries. Although not perfect, they were a much welcome change. Cell phone manufacturers were still looking for something better.
Now this is where it gets good. Here comes the lithium ion battery. With one of the best energy-to-weight ratios, no memory effect, and a very slow loss of charge when not in use, it’s easy to see how it became the current standard of all cell phone batteries.
So, know we’ll get to the crooks of the matter and how all this cell phone technology made it’s way to the world of motocycles.
Matt Hoch, who is a guru in his own field of motorcycles, took this lithium ion technology and applied it to his own field of expertise: Super high performance motorcycles. He did however, make it one step better. He took some recently de-classified military secrets and developed the first lithium ion polymer battery for the motorcycle industry - polymer being the important word here.
Lead acid batteries are very large and very heavy. Large sizes and heavy weight are not welcome in any motorcycle design, especially on a customized chopper type bike that Matt Hoch builds. His design trademarks are lightweight, svelte lines, and extreme minimalism. With this idea and a "smaller is better" mantra, Matt Hoch enlisted help from a battery maker TekBattery and developed the lithium ion polymer motorcycle battery.
It’s even an improvement over the latest standard lithium ion batteries. Instead of using a liquid chemical, the battery is filled a polymer version of the same chemicals, "foam" filled if you will. This leads to even more beneficial traits for the motorcycle building industry. They can be built in a variety of configurations with the contacts positioned wherever they are needed. A nice benefit as custom motorcycle builders continue to try to make their bikes more and more minimalist looking, allowing less and less room for important components like the battery. They’re much more environmentally friendly and weigh about one quarter of the weight of a conventional battery. What really makes these batteries a revolution in motorcycle technology is what they can do.
In the video above, Matt Hotch is running a test on a custom bike of his with a 113 cubic inch high performance engine. He pulls the spark plug wires making the bike impossible to actually start, and begins to attempt to start it. At just under two minutes, the battery is still cranking fine but the starter is smoking so he stops for a brief moment, then cranks again for another minute or so until the starter begins smoking again. He waits another 30 seconds and then cranks until it finally quits, at which time the starter is practically on fire and the rubber insulation has melted. Under normal conditions, a conventional battery would have quit after about a minute and a half of constant cranking. With a large displacement motor such as the 113 ci motor he was testing it on, you’d be lucky to get 10 to 12 cranks out of it. A conventional lead acid battery would also have not nearly enough power to make the starter motor anything but a little warm.
As always, there is a price to pay for cutting edge technology, literally. These batteries are not cheap and a lithium ion polymer battery for even the smallest motorcycle will cost hundreds of dollars. This is probably the main reason why this technology hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. But, if you’re looking for the smallest, safest, most powerful, most technologically advance power source for your next motorcycle project, this new lithium ion polymer battery is once cool invention.