Pros: Maintenance Free! Direct replacement, high reliability, cleaner
Cons: Price, some applications require adapters
The Odyssey is a true no maintenance motorcycle battery that is a direct fit replacement battery for most BMW, Ducati, Laverda, and Yamaha Viragos. Good cranking power and no unwarned total failures. The only answer for newer BMWs.
What Is An Odyssey?
Odyssey batteries are AGM, no maintenance, direct replacement batteries from many of todays modern motorcycles. They are generally lighter and more rugged than others, and have a cleaner appearance. They come fully charged, can sit on the shelf for months without recharging, can be recharged in less time than others, and can be shipped via the good old US Postal Service. What more is there to ask?
Most of todays motorcycles are designed with as many electronic systems as the high end cars showcased on television commercials. So in order to meet the electrical requirements of customers for heated seats, grips, and clothing; digital instruments; navigation, cell phone, and sound systems; powered windshields and center stands; better fuel efficiency; and higher performance; followed by the manufacturers need for ease of production; lighter weight; and better weight distribution; then the overriding restrictions of the DoT, EPA, NHTSA, and for all I know the USDA, motorcycle batteries have become one of the most critical components in the basic design. In order to meet these requirements, manufacturers designs call for very consistent electrical power any time the key is turned.
Maintaining the sleek styling sought by customers, a modern motorcycle has to have the aerodynamic look of a space shuttle or a Ferrari, but then there is no pretty or light battery. So designers are prone to bury the battery deep within the frame, and cover that frame with Tupperware like plastic panels. The market loves the look, and owners who do their own maintenance experience battery services that can take up to an hour to complete! Removing five body panels and the fuel tank became the first steps in cleaning the batter terminals. It has always reminded me of my old Chrysler Cirrus where I had to remove the left front wheel just to check the battery fluid! So owners ignored the battery until it failed and manufacturers sought out low maintenance units, both with less than perfect results. BMW appears to be the worst case brand in this battle. Starting is not possible with less than a ten and a half volt charge, and pushing it to around eleven volts will likely render the ABS systems inoperable. This is not what anyone wants after plunking down a bunch of thousands of dollars for weekend rides in the spring.
No, I am not a electrical engineer (or Double E, as they tend to call themselves with a knowing wink), but I have had to live with the results of one of their most unglamorous products the automotive battery. Without having the sexiness of fiber optics or micro circuitry, batteries have pretty much remained a heavy box filled with lead slabs and acid for the last century. Hardly anyone cared about them until automotive designers realized pushing weight around lowered fuel economy. So in the past few years a number of new technologies have come into the market. Like I said, I am not an engineer, but I have learned that there are four basic technologies out there to spark up your ride. Here are the quick basics, in the form I have been able to figure out.
The first is the trusty flooded lead acid battery. You can spot one of these by the screw on caps in numbers half of the voltage produced. That heavy box billed with lead slabs and acid has been around since the electric starter showed its face in cars. It provides great cold weather surge power (you need that when starting a very cold engine in very cold weather) and fairly long life. The drawback is that you do have to watch evaporation of its fluid and corrosion on the terminals. They need to be serviced at least twice a year when the vehicle electrical system is in perfect working order, and a whole lot more often is anything is less then perfect. Anything can be worn parts, loose connections, corroded connections, or even high temperatures. Oh, and if left in a serious cold climate with less than a full charge they will break open! Because of the acid content, do not even try to mail one of these. Yes, maintenance intensive is a good description of your life with one of these.
Next came the sealed lead acid battery. It was a major step forward, even using the same technology, and did not require as much attention. But again it was really heavy, and still worried about the vehicle charging system, and these cannot be mailed either.
The nickel cadmium (Ni-Cad) batteries (like those rechargeable ones for your iPod), charge slowly, are expensive to manufacture, and do not produce all that great cranking power in very cold temperatures. Charging rates can differ from traditional batteries, so it is a good idea to check with both the manufacturer of both the battery and your bike to make sure you have the right kind on hand. Yes, then can be put in the mail.
Gel batteries came on the scene as aircraft adopted them because of their ability to be mounted on their sides, or even upside down! Instead of acid surrounding lead plates, the liquid that created the electrical reaction to the lead evolved into a gel. They do not have as much cold cranking power, and do have a tendency to fail completely without warning. I do not know exactly why, but their reputation on the street is less than stellar. You can buy them fully charged and they can be mailed.
Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) have the acid absorbed into a fiberglass mat. This means that you could cut the battery open and the acid would not spill out (this is not recommended by manufacturers). So they can be mailed without any concerns from the US Postal Service. They have good cold cranking power, they hold a charge very well, and can be stored for up to two years without a charge. Again, charging rates can be very different from traditional, Ni-Cad, or even gel batteries, so do check with the battery bike manufacturer to be sure you have the right kind of charger.
Question and Answer
So it should come as no surprise that it was a significant emotional event when the battery of my BMW R1150RT started showing signs of age last summer. I know that part of the reason was that even I hid from the hour and a half battery service, so I was not completely taken by surprise. But after putting my ear to the ground, I became seriously confused as to a replacement. I knew I did not want another flooded lead acid battery that I was going to hate servicing, and kept hearing horror stories about just about everything on the market. So I call or emailed all the folks I knew who had serious experience and great reputations with BMW electrical systems and batteries. One was an independent BMW motorcycle electrical specialist and another was the foremost BMW motorcycle maintenance expert not in BMWs employ. The independent electrical specialist gave me an hour long primmer on motorcycle batteries, but the best advice came in a three word email from the maintenance expert: Don, Odyssey, Paul.
Opening The Box: What The L?
Buying mail order did save me a couple of bucks, and it also had the battery delivered straight to my front door. But opening the box gave me a couple of surprises. First was the bright orange color that did make me glad that it would be buried inside. Using my unscientific analysis, it did feel a bit lighter than the lead acid one coming out of the bowels of my RT, so this seemed to be a good thing. But then I noticed that it did not have traditional posts to hook up to the electrical system. One thing to be aware of is that some sellers will include copper L brackets for proper installation. I found that one bike connector required the L and the other could be bolted directly to the battery. Interesting. Installation was a breeze. The PC680 was a perfect fit in my battery tray, and replacement took less time than a normal battery service. This is good since the service life is expected to me at least 5 years! I like these fire and forget replacement items.
With only a few months experience I am still impressed. My plug in to the bike accessory plug magically charger analyzes the battery and produces the correct charging rate. It then will indicate the state of charge so that you do not try to start the bike with a low battery level. Plugging it in to the bike after the PC680 was installed that warm green light let me know that it was, indeed, fully charged. Considering that the bike has been subjected to temperatures ranging from near the century mark to below freezing, storage for up to almost a month, and has had to power accessories like heated clothing, heated grips, electric windshields, and the like, not once has there been the slightest hint of impending failure. Yes, I am happy and expect to continue being happy.
Those Boring But Important Specifications
Considering the critical and sophisticated circuitry in modern motorcycles, it is important that battery buyers match a number of specifications to the requirement of their bike. I strongly recommend compare these numbers to those found in their owner manual:
2 year full warranty I will bet that the one that came with your bike has a warranty of one year or less.
680 cranking amps for 5 seconds Very few motorcycles will draw this much power
595 cranking amps for 10 seconds, 525 cranking amps for 20 seconds Motor hard to start? This is longer than you should ever run a starter so your battery will be the least of your worries.
17 amp hours This rating must be the same or higher than in the manual
Length 7 1/16", Width 3", Height 6 9/16" Always double check the size of your battery box before spending the money on other than a factory supplied battery.
It is called a direct replacement, and while I do agree with that, some decisions will have to be made about the necessity for the L bracket adapters. Even on the same year and model of motorcycle I have seen different adapter requirements, so be forewarned, and ask for the adapters when ordering. AGM batteries can require different charging rates, so you could be faced with the purchase of a specialized charger for long term storage of the motorcycle. There is one version with MJ attached to the model number. This model as designed specifically for Harley Davidson motorcycles and is about a quarter of an inch larger on all sides (due to a metal jacket to further protect it from shock and vibrations). I was able to prove that it will not fit in the battery box for my BMW (yep, one day I will come up with some attention to detail). These are easily slight nits at best for most all motorcycle owners, but should be considered when making a battery purchase decision.
Ah, this is a bit more than a nit. The best internet price I could find for this battery was $117. Yep, it was almost enough difference in price to offset a premium grade fill up in my Mercedes-Benz daily driver! I understand that there have been some significant price increases in materials recently, but you should balance the good points with your pocket book. That said, you likely spent thousands of dollars for a motorcycle to ride (rather than one to service) so I like to think of the cost difference as a payment for an extra afternoon of riding every six month.
The PC680 is a direct replacement for BMWs 1970 today; Ducati 500 GTL, GTV, Sport, most 1990 2000; Moto Guzzi 750 and 650; Yamaha V-Max 700 and 750 Virago; Suzuki Quest and Traxter ATVs and all Laverda motorcycles.
What Do I Really Think?
Based on my experience I will wholeheartedly recommend the Odyssey battery as a replacement for any appropriate motorcycle. The community wide respect and expected reliability screams louder than anything I could say. Yes there are a couple of slights nits, but all are easily overcome by the most fumble fingered of us, and are seriously outweighed by the benefits.