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Common Tread

The first mod I do to every motorcycle I own

Aug 29, 2019

I’m no stranger to motorcycle modifications. You’ve probably done a few yourself. In fact, I’d argue that modding is part of motorcycle culture.

We like to set up our bikes just the way we want them. From new grips to engine swaps, some of us are simply compelled to do these things. And sometimes that’s a response to a feature that the manufacturers have chosen not to build into the bike. The first mod I do to every motorcycle solves two of these issues.

Problem number one: Most motorcycles do not have an easy way to keep the battery charged up between rides. Batteries are usually tucked away under a seat or behind a cover. You can certainly access them, but popping the seat off and putting alligator clips on the terminals gets old pretty quickly.

Problem number two: Most motorcycles do not have a way to charge a phone or other device using the bike’s electrical system. Imagine being stuck by the side of the road, or worse, with a dead phone that could get you out of the jam... if only you had a way to connect it to the bike and charge it back up. Other devices, like navigation systems, Bluetooth comms, helmet cameras, and SPOT GPS messengers, also rely on periodic recharging.

Battery maintainer motorcycle
My FZR600's charging system isn't strong enough to run many accessories, but it'll charge a phone without complaint. I mounted my USB outlet to the fairing stay for easy access. Photo by Andy Greaser.

I solve both these problems in about 15 minutes with an SAE lead and a USB charging adapter. Access the battery terminals, attach the SAE lead with its ring terminals, and snake the lead to an easy-to-reach spot, preferably up near the handlebar. That way, you can mount your USB charger in the cockpit, where you’ll probably keep any devices you need to reference while riding. There’s usually a fuse in the middle of the lead. If you can, put that somewhere relatively accessible in case you need to get to it. Secure with zip ties and you’re all set. Don’t forget to stash the correct USB cables somewhere so you can actually, you know, use the outlet. If space is tight, you can use adapter tips to make one cable work for multiple devices.

Connecting an SAE lead to your battery means you can easily connect stuff to it with a fairly universal connection. One nice feature of the SAE connector is that you can't accidentally get the polarity backwards. (That's assuming you put the right rings on the right terminals!) To attach a USB charging adapter, for example, just plug the adapter into the harness, and you're all set. If you already have SAE leads on multiple bikes, you can just swap that USB adapter from bike to bike. Or, you can just get a setup for each bike and leave it in place, like I do.

There are, of course, some bikes that shouldn’t use a setup like this. Pretty much any modern bike with a battery and 12-volt electrics should be fine. Also, some devices should not be charged by a system like this. Be sure to match your device’s requirements to your outlet’s rated output. Across many bikes, phones, cameras, and communicators, I’ve never had an issue, but I encourage you to do your research before connecting something you’re unsure about.

Battery tender motorcycle
A battery maintainer keeps my battery healthy while I'm riding other motorcycles. Photo by Andy Greaser.

This mod is cheap, unobtrusive, and reversible. (Though once installed, I’ve never had a reason to remove one!) As an added bonus, my electric tire pump plugs directly into the SAE lead. It’s helped me with a flat or two, as well as airing back up after riding off-road. Other accessories can be hooked up to your lead, including flashlights, voltmeters, and cigarette-style powerlets.

This isn’t the most glamorous mod, or even one that you can see if you run your wires just right. But I value knowing that my battery will be ready to go next time I ride, and it’ll be maintained until then. I also like knowing that I can charge my devices, especially my phone.

One word of caution: Leaving the USB end plugged into the lead can result in a very slight draw, which could run your battery down over a long enough period of time. If you plan on leaving the USB charger hooked up all the time, consider wiring it to a switched power source on the bike. I just leave mine unplugged from the lead unless I’m using it.

Aside from that, I can’t think of any downside to this mod. Wish I could say the same for a few others I’ve tried.