Electrical Accessory Installation Best Practices

Should you crimp or solder your connections? A reliable joint can be made with either method if the proper technique is used. Soldering kits are cheap and the process is easy to master with some practice. Photos by the author.

Adding electrical accessories to your bike is an age-old custom for street and touring riders. Heated grips, fog lights, USB charging ports, GPS systems, sound systems, gear-position indicators and auxiliary brake lights all add to our comfort, enjoyment and safety out on the road. All of these devices need power, however, and it’s important that any electrical connections you make are done properly and that your bike’s charging system is up to the task.

Before you ask anything more of your motorcycle’s electrical system (it’s already supporting a headlight and taillight, fuel pump, gauges, an ignition system, and the occasional turn signal, brake light and horn) you’ll want to verify the health of your battery. A good place to start is by checking the resting voltage with a multimeter. Despite being a “12-volt” battery, it should actually show closer to 12.6 volts when fully charged, with 12.0 volts correlating to an unhealthy 50-percent state of charge.

Proof that Iron Butt Rally riders are either completely loco or some of the most resourceful long-distance strategists on the planet. This rider has used the Farkleshelf for the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing from Firecreek Accessories (firecreekacc.com) along with some ruthless ingenuity to connect and support a redundant array of GPS units, satellite communicators and half-a-dozen electronic devices we can’t even identify.

Modern absorbed glass mat (AGM) and gel batteries have a lifespan of about four to seven years, so you would be wise to swap it for a fresh one if it’s getting on in years. If there’s any corrosion on the terminals, remove the battery and scrub the lugs with a wire brush and a one-to-one solution of baking soda and water. It’s important to keep those terminals nice and clean to reduce resistance to current flow.

Next, you’ll want to make sure your bike’s charging system is doing its job by checking the voltage at the battery with the bike running at about 3,000 rpm. You should see 14.4 volts or more. Verifying that your charging system has enough surplus wattage is a good idea if you intend to run especially thirsty accessories like head-to-toe heated apparel, but alternator output can be an elusive or nonexistent spec in the owner’s manual. Thankfully, most modern charging systems have plenty of strength to support your bike’s vitals plus another 100 or so watts’ worth of accessories.

If your new farkle is a factory part, it’s possible that the manufacturer has already provided an electrical plug to power it. Check your fuse-box lid for an “aux” circuit and reference your owner’s manual for the plug location. (Hint: It’s often under the seat or behind the dash.)

Without a factory connection, the easiest way to power your new gadget is to tap right into the battery. While this may be convenient, bolting up to the lugs poses two major problems. For starters, there’s only room for a few ring terminals before those battery bolts run out of thread, so if you’re aiming to add more than one or two accessories you may not have room. Second, there’s the very real possibility of draining every available volt out of the electrolyte if you were to say, leave your heated grips on accidently after parking the bike for the night. You think you’ll never forget to turn ’em off, but when you eventually, inevitably do, your battery is going to be as useless as a brick when you come back to the bike.

A better alternative is to use switched power, so current only flows when the key is on. Tapping into the headlight or taillight wiring will work for low-draw items like a cellphone or GPS charger, but if you ask too much of an existing circuit you’re liable to blow a fuse.

So why not run dedicated, switched, fused circuits for accessories? The best way to do that is with a relay and a fused distribution block, both of which can be sourced at your local autoparts store or purchased as a single, integrated unit from companies like Twisted Throttle, Aerostich, Centech and others. With a relayed setup your accessories will only pull power when the key is on, and using a distribution block allows you to easily add or remove accessories, consolidate wiring and keep your battery top tidy.

However you decide to pull power, it’s critical that the new component be fused to protect both the accessory and your bike’s wiring. Push too much current through an unfused connection and things may melt or even catch fire. Good grounding is another key consideration for any electrical component. You can connect to the main chassis ground, tap into the wiring harness or connect directly to the battery’s negative terminal.

It’s gotta be fused! Fuses are a critical safety feature that protect your bike’s circuits from being overloaded. Every accessory you install should incorporate a fuse of the appropriate amperage.

Speaking of the negative terminal, disconnecting it is the first thing you should do when working on your bike’s electrics and the last thing you should reconnect when you’re done. With the negative terminal unplugged there’s no risk of a sparks show if a live wire touches the frame or your wrench slips while fiddling with the positive terminal.

Finally, it’s important to ensure that any electrical connections you make are secure and well insulated. Shield bullet and spade connectors with rubber boots or plastic covers, and use heat-shrink tubing for any soldered joints. Don’t be tempted by electrical tape — the adhesive often fails after just a short time, exposing wiring and making a sticky mess.

Vampire clips (top) and Posi-Taps (bottom) are two common ways to tap into wiring. Posi-Taps, while usually a special-order part, provide a more secure connection and are less likely to sever the wire.

Electrical accessories can keep you warm when the weather is miserable, provide a soundtrack for your journey, make you more visible on the road and improve your riding experience in numerous other ways. Outfitting your motorcycle with the latest farkles is a time-honored tradition, and if you follow these tips and precautions you’ll be powered up in no time.


  1. Great article thanks for the information. Looking forward to connecting some goodies to my Fjr1300. It has fuse block and this article helped me understand it a bit better. Thanks again!

  2. Just purchased a 2003 BMW 1200 Lt…and looking to add some fog lights…phone accs…gps unit also….i just received today a power distribution unit. From local motorcycle vendor …after read information about it …im looking forward to a weekend project….hooking up all the toys….best way to keep emhonr compartment clean and neat

  3. I know lots of riders that think solder is the only way; they use the $8 crimp tool they bought at Walmart. I’ve been adding accessories to motorcycles for years and I use a T&B crimp tool I purchased while I was working electrician 40 years ago (lot more expensive today) but the point is a good crimp will last as well or better than factory connections.
    For those who think I might be a “poser” I made my sixth trip to Alaska/BC/Yukon/NW Territory in ’19 on my fourth different bike.

  4. I wired fog lamps that came with a relay and fuse and all. It worked fine and I was able to take it for a ride, but then next morning the battery was flat.

    I wired it to the battery directly, I had no idea on how to wire it for a key-on only operation. Do you think if I did a key-on only wiring. It would fix the battery drain issue?

    • Although it is possible to do it like that Neil, it does have a sort of “parasitic drain” on your battery. There’s a few ways to add more longevity to your battery now that you have all that delicious brightness in the form of foggies on your hell hound. One, keep it that way and upgrade to an AGM or Deep Cycle?Cell Battery. This should avoid the battery going flat overnight, however, if you do have other forms of transport and leave it for a number of days the battery will go flat. Also, depending on the age of your battery in a number of cases with predicate the number of consecutive days this method will be beneficial before going flat. Second option is to either splice or wire in a 2 prong toggle switch, just don’t forget to switch it off (ask me how I know, lol). And/or, splice it into your Ignition Switch wire. Having both certainly eliminates any overnight, or any drain on your batt that might occur at a more rapid occurrence. Or, just simply add a trickle/float charger from your local Harbor Freight or equivalent auto parts/hardware store. There’s give and take to each, some more drastic in the variables than others but with a little of your separate reasearch and applied effort I’m positive you’ll find a solution my guy! Keep on, keepin’ on!

  5. The alternator spec is missing on all the bikes I’ve looked at. I often ride in cold weather with heated gear, Jacket 55w, Gloves 20w, Boot Inner Sole 20w, LED Aux Lighting 40w, and UPS Power support for GPS, Phone, backup Lithium Battery, GOPro Batteries 20w. Well over the 100w safety that might exist. In the past, I’ve changed all my lighting to LEDs which gains about 80w, but the new bikes already have LED lighting and I expect the engineers have adjusted the new alternators for this reduced load.
    I’m riding a Kawasaki Concours which has a 400w @ 6,000 RPM alternator and has worked great, even when I ride slower. Now I’m looking at a lighter bike in the 600cc range. will any of these have enough extra power for me?
    Years ago I burned out my stator with my heated gear!

  6. I have an 2018 xt250, it has a 12v accessory plug from the factory which matches the plugs on most chargers. Can I trickle charge by battery via this plug safely?

  7. Hello. I’m wanting to install a wireless charger on my motorcycle. A 12 volt direct battery connection harness is available. I’ve done it with heat gear wiring harness. I’m wondering, can I snip the battery Connect rings off the end and then plug the wires into the appropriate place on my auxiliary fuse panel to wire in for switched power?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here