Battery and Soul

When Little Red had her post-purchase checkup two months ago, she received a fuel stabilizer to keep her gas from getting gummy over the winter. So I thought she was all set. Although I knew that owners regularly wake their sleeping beauties during periods of not riding by starting their engines, I thought that was just an alternative to adding fuel stabilizer. This past holiday week I did some reading and learned there is more to winterization.

Cold temperatures and not riding can cause a lead acid battery to lose its charge, moisture can cause rust or damage the tires, and water spots and squashed bugs can cause corrosion. Plus flat spots can develop on the tires—like bed sores, from weight on the same area too long.

Yesterday morning when I tried to start her, I had a Little Engine that Could Not. After several I-think-I-can’s, I consulted the Honda Shadow forum, watched a few YouTube videos, and downloaded my bike’s service manual. By the afternoon, along with just enough theoretical know-how, I possessed a motorcycle toolkit worthy of someone who knows what they’re doing and a battery tender

A battery tender simply monitors a battery’s charge and gives the battery some juice whenever the charge drops a little. You can keep it hooked up to the battery indefinitely. There’s really nothing scary about it.

But I’ve got stories in my head authored by three influencial people: My electrical engineer father who taught us to always respect the current, my mother, who remembers inserting a bobby pin into an electrical outlet as a little girl and being shot across the room, and mostly my ex-husband whose father was tragically electrocuted while installing an attic fan and later died. These people have made me extremely careful, if that’s the right word. And when I see that my kids have left the toaster plugged in I get twitchy.

How to access the battery…  for my bike at least, it involves an undoing of things and a handling of dismembered parts. That mental image made my stomach feel funny. I couldn’t, and still can’t, even remember the last time I removed a dip stick from a car. At the same time, the mental image roused me like a thrown gauntlet. And yesterday was not cold for a New Year’s Day in Indiana. I was comfortable in my garage and I was singing along to Hootie & the Blowfish when I pulled off Little Red’s side covers.

On the right side, I pulled back an initial rubber cover, tried and failed to remove the fuse box (not even necessary), removed the battery cover, and found the positive terminal. On the left side, I found the negative terminal deep inside. A  pair of clamp wires came with the battery tender. I attached the negative clamp to the negative terminal, passed the wires through Little Red’s middle, and back on the right side, I attached the positive clamp to the positive terminal.

I plugged the battery tender into a plugged-in extension cord, eyed a couple of leftover fireworks, mentally noted an escape route, considered pulling my like-new car out of the garage, and nearly ran inside to check the toaster. Cringing, I plugged the connector at the other end of the clamp wires into a connector at the end of a wire coming from the battery tender. And I lived.

The green light on the battery tender blinked, indicating that the battery had at least an 80% charge. Maybe Little Red would have started if I had tried longer. (Later the green light shone solid, indicating a full charge.) I knew my accomplishment was basic, still I danced to “Only Wanna Be with You” out there in my cave, one wall of which might soon display a calendar objectifying firemen. I might also get a beer frig. And get carpet scraps to put under Little Red’s tires, buy a good, breathable cover, give her a nice bath and blow dry (leaf blower), and occasionally move her around until spring.