Saturday, January 26, 2008

Isn't motorcycling dangerous enough already?

The motorcycle was starting to get very tricky to start — either I got it on the first or second try, or the battery would go dead, and I'd have to hook up a trickle charger. Finally, the day came when the thing went dead, even with the charger hooked up. Time for a new battery.

It was hardly surprising; this was a 2001 motorcycle, with the original battery (and, I occasionally joke, the original oil) and batteries rarely last longer than five years or so.

So, I started calling around to see who had the size I needed. I was in for several surprises. For one thing, motorcycle batteries — despite being about an eighth the size of a car battery — cost the same as a car battery. I can fit this thing on my hand, and it was still $62. And yes, that's the cheapest price I was quoted.

The scale there is in inches.

The next surprise I got was that the battery I got was a kit. You had the box with the lead over here, six bottles of acid, a top, and some instructions which mostly consisted of warnings. Gulp.

Fortunately, it seemed to be a fairly well-thought-out system: The bottles had foil tops, and the holes in the battery were sharp, which let you invert the bottles and push them down onto the battery, which would drain them into the individual cells. I still dressed for the worst.

I've gotten acid burns before; I wasn't eager to repeat the experience. I sealed the top VERY tightly.

Part of what I found vaguely amusing (and a little unsettling) were the warnings on the battery. For starters: DO NOT TIP. Uh, hello? This is for a motorcycle. We steer by tipping. We park using a kickstand. The battery installs in the bike at a 45° angle. How am I supposed to avoid tipping...?

The warnings about explosions were no less comforting. This is, possibly, because the battery is installed under the seat...

Despite all that, the thing works fine, and the bike fires right up. Next time, though, I might look into installing a kickstarter, instead!


Jonadab said...

The warnings are what they are because product labelling (inside the package) has been completely taken over and run by liability lawyers. (The outside of the package is still done by the marketing folks, of course.) Even products that are inherently safe have multiple warnings. Most of these warnings are either too obvious to bother about, or utter nonsense, but the lawyers figure that a larger number of scary warnings is better because it'll hopefully make people more careful and result in fewer lawsuits. Or something.

They have a valid point about the sulfuric acid being corrosive, but you already knew that.

You can ignore the warnings that make no sense. For example, battery acid is not generally known to be particularly explosive. You can make some kinds of batteries blow up by hooking them up to a charger backwards, but if you hooked up the motorcycle battery backwards the vehicle would not start (and so the alternator would not run). Lithium ion batteries have been shown to heat up and catch fire sometimes if they discharge too quickly (e.g., if the device they power has a short circuit), but I've never heard of a lead-acid battery doing that. No, I'm pretty sure the explosions warning is nonsense. The motorcycle battery is probably NOT going to blow the seat off the cycle at any moment, sending the rider flying head-over-heels across three lanes of traffic, and frankly no quantity of terrifying warnings on the label would be adequate to protect them from lawsuits if it did.

That could be an amusing scene in a cartoon, though. Imagine, for instance, if Wile E. Coyote were using an ACME motorcycle to pursue the Road Runner...

Andy said...

Uhhh... but lead acid batteries *do* explode. Battery acid isn't explosive, but hydrogen gas... well, remember the Hindenburg?

Food for thought: