Blog: Shorai Lithium-Iron Battery Follow-up Review

We thought that September would be a good time for desert travel; the weather thought otherwise.
We thought that September would be a good time for desert travel; the weather thought otherwise.

Four years after putting a Shorai battery (previous story here) into my BMW F 800 GS, I was on a dirt road in eastern Nevada with a bike that wouldn’t start. No, it wasn’t the battery. Instead, the Shorai cell in my bike was a hero for helping keep the bike alive for nearly a week while the stator died a slow, agonizing—for me, anyway—death. It was Sunday, we were 200 miles from a BMW shop, and it was starting to rain. Our adventure ride was beginning to live up to its billing.

The day had started well, if a bit gloomy. Route-finding consisted of heading for a bright spot in the sky, stopping when the clouds closed in, then looking for a road pointed to the next bit of blue. My three long-time riding buddies and I had turned off of Nevada Route 618 to confer, for at least the fourth time that morning, about our heading. Meeting complete, a single word – west – was recorded in the minutes. As the others fired up their bikes and clicked into gear, I pressed my starter button but got nary a click. For the first time in its 41,000 miles the GS refused my thumb’s urging to fire.

It's roads like this that made the battery swapping worthwhile.
It’s roads like this that made the battery swapping worthwhile.

“Hmm,” was the consensus after I flagged down the guys and explained the problem. Helmets and gloves off, we dug in. I uncovered the battery while Jim pulled out a voltmeter and jumper cables. The Shorai showed just 9.6 volts. Was it not getting a charge, or not taking a charge? No telling at this point, so we concentrated on getting me moving. After some, uh, polite discussion, Kail graciously offered his KTM 950 Adventure’s battery for a jumpstart.

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It worked. We saw 12.5 volts at the battery with the engine revved. Not enough to charge it, but it might get me down the highway if I kept the rpm up. No stopping the bike, though—numerous engine starts that morning had already frittered away precious electrons and accelerated the battery’s discharge. With a deck of ugly clouds gathering overhead, I high-tailed it north to Ely, 80 miles away. At the 40-mile mark my instrument panel went black as the speed and tach needles dropped to their stops. Then they were back. Then down again. This happened every few minutes. But as long as the electrical torment continued, so did the GS.

Keeping the bike moving was critical after turning onto U.S. Route 6 and aiming the 800’s beak at Murry Summit. Ahead rose a mountain smothered in soggy gray clouds and lashed by curtains of rain. Light spatters on my face shield turned to a mean downpour as I climbed. Hailstones pelted me at the summit, dancing off my tank bag, and started to accumulate in the wheel tracks I was following. I slowed a bit but didn’t dare stop for the maelstrom, finally descending into Ely to warm up and find a bike shop.

It may look parked, but the 800 is idling during a break. To avoid battery drain from starting, It was only shut off two or three times a day. We also removed the headlight bulb to save juice.
It may look parked, but the 800 is idling during a break. To avoid battery drain from starting, It was only shut off two or three times a day. We also removed the headlight bulb to save juice.

Could it be this easy? At the end of the street stood a tall Yamaha/Suzuki sign. But beneath was only a former bike shop, now occupied by another business. Sheesh, can’t a guy catch a break? Apparently not—the bike quit as I left the parking lot.

The boys caught up while I was pushing the GS toward the center of town. After a good laugh at my predicament, they helped me manhandle the 800 to a motel, where we tore into it again. An hour later we retired to the comfort of pie and coffee at the Jailhouse Coffee Shop for technical discussions. Nothing was certain, but the stator was suspect #1.

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On Monday morning we got serious. With no bike shops in town, we thought of jetting to a BMW shop for repairs. But the closest dealer was in Las Vegas and they wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. We chose Plan B, an auto parts store, and struck gold. Parts Plus had a form-fit-function AGM replacement for my bike. In a town full of casinos, I bet a swipe of plastic on the chance of saving the trip.

The new cell, supposedly fully charged, registered 12.8 volts on Jim’s meter. Not what we’d hoped for, but it would get me going. Roger reckoned that if the bike wasn’t going to charge the batteries once the GS drained them, we’d need to do it. Back to Parts Plus for a charger. Plan B.1 was to stay at motels or camp with electricity available to charge at least one battery for the next day’s ride. We were fortunate that many Nevada State Parks are so equipped.

What you don't see in this photo are the BMW parts and tools scattered on the ground during a battery change.
What you don’t see in this photo are the BMW parts and tools scattered on the ground during a battery change.

In the main, it worked. We rode some fantastic roads over several days while charging and swapping batteries…until the AGM cell started to give less and less of itself. This is where the Shorai showed its mettle. Recharged from 6 volts or less, the Shorai would still juice the bike for a day with little help from the stator. Once the stator failed completely neither battery lasted as long, but the Shorai was good for over twice the distance as the much newer AGM.

On our penultimate day, as we motored south along State Route 93 with the AGM in place, the instruments died. A bad sign for the lead-acid unit, just minutes left until the engine would stop. I flagged down Jim and we swapped in the charged Shorai. Leaving Las Vegas after slogging through traffic, the instruments started acting up again; now the Shorai was suffering. Preparing for another emergency stop, I hugged the right lane all the way to Primm, our planned gas stop.

The bike quit when I backed off the throttle on the off ramp. Parking the bikes at the end of the ramp, Jim and I settled into camp chairs on the shady grass nearby while Kail and Roger retrieved the truck. Three hours later, we were enjoying cold beverages and an excellent meal at our Mojave retreat.

The beleaguered GS sits at Kershaw-Ryan State Park in Nevada bfore the final day's ride. The batteries were charged overnight in the campground's upscale restroom.
The beleaguered GS sits at Kershaw-Ryan State Park in Nevada bfore the final day’s ride. The batteries were charged overnight in the campground’s upscale restroom.

Once home, I contacted to the Shorai folks to see if my battery should be replaced. They suggested alternate sessions of Store and Charge on a Shorai charger to revive the weary cell. With a new Electrosport stator in place and three iterations of the charging regimen, I dared a 100-mile round-trip commute, making it in style with 13.6 volts showing at the end of the day. I’ve been checking this tough little battery regularly as a science (and self-preservation) project, and 800 miles later it was still working like new. I tried to revive the AGM as well, to the point of giving it 10 amps after it wouldn’t respond, but it refused to take a charge. I thanked it for its service and set it aside for recycling.

In talking with Shorai, I learned that the LPX18A1 battery in my GS isn’t the recommended model anymore, but was the best fit available when I first tested it. They now make an LPX21A6 model for my 800, which boasts 21 amp/hours instead of 18 and 315 cold-cranking amps vs. 270. At 3.1 pounds, it weighs a pound or so more than my LPX18A1 and is still a featherweight compared to the stock lead-acid cell. I can only wonder how much farther this beefier battery may have taken me when the stator went south…and hope I never have to find out.

Would I trust my original Shorai for another such trip? Of course—it has proven its durability and resilience. But I’d feel better running with the LPX21A6 and its extra juice, perhaps carrying the 18 as a spare for anyone whose stator suffers the same fate. Are you chuckling at the idea of taking along a spare battery? At just 2.2 pounds, the little cell that dipped to less than 6 volts more than once and continues to perform after excessive abuse is light enough and small enough to find a place in my kit. I almost think it deserves to.

1 COMMENT

  1. Arden is a very resourceful and resolute rider! I need him along during some of my remote rides. He and his group did great!

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