Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is Bigger Really Better When It Comes To Getting Her All Charged Up?

There is a Timex watch in the top drawer of my desk. It has been running for about 18 years on a battery that is the size of an aspirin. This is in contrast to my other timepiece, the dash clock on my 1995 BMW K75, parked in the garage. This is a German clock. You can tell because it is on metric time, where 1pm is displayed as 13:00 hrs. Metric time is different from regular time in that it takes a lot more electricity to work out the conversion process.

I know this because over a five-week period that German metric clock will suck enough electricity out of a 10-pound battery to leave it gasping when I press the starter button. Typically, the K75 will explode to life when you just think about touching the starter button. But if you let it sit for 5 weeks without being on a battery tender, as I did, you will only get the famous K75 “Start Fart” the next time you hit the button.

Contrary to the comforting combination of a whine and snort that comprises the standard K75 start-up, the “start fart” sounds exactly as advertised. It is the sound one hears before the starter relay sacrifices itself to prevent further embarrassment to the battery.

I have a GMC Suburban sitting in the driveway. This truck is 111 years old with 17 million miles on it. It too has a dash clock, but one that does not do the metric conversion. I mention this because this vehicle has been squatting in the driveway without being driven for two months. It started at the first turn of the key yesterday, and gave me the right time to boot.

Now it could be argued that there is a substantial difference in the size of the timepiece in relation to the size of the battery. The battery in the Timex watch is about 1/5 the size of the overall unit. In theory then, the correct size of the battery in my BMW should weigh about 90 pounds, and have the mass of a small bookcase. But if that formula were applied to the battery in the Suburban, it would be the size of a piano, providing enough power to roast a turkey.

The battery in this K75 has been the subject of suspicion (as far as I’m concerned) since I got the bike 18 months ago. Not because it has been troublesome and failed to start the bike. That has only happened once. But because it is smaller than the tray it is mounted on. Based on on the fact that the Germans give nothing away, I can only conclude this machine was designed to accommodate a much larger battery. (Have any of you seen the movie classic “Forbidden Planet?” It is one of the few times Leslie Nielsen has played a straight role. There is a scene in which Walter Pidgeon says, “No one has ever seen the Krell, but this is one of their doorways.” We are made to assume that the shape of the Krell is defined by their doorways. That’s how I feel about this battery tray.) My knowledge of things mechanical is well known and my attempts to arouse interest in this mystery have been met with ill-disguised derision.

Anne Francis was a silver screen sizzler in "Forbidden Planet."
The space car is electric powered and will be available in the US 
next year from a Japanese company who thinks like the Krell.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

There should be an accurate gauge for everything. I once designed a gauge that would indicate when my girl friend wanted sex. It was a baseball cap modified to hold a little German chalet, that looked somewhat like a cuckoo clock. You know the “little house” that used to predict rain. When the witch popped out of the little house, it was my cue to take a cold shower. But when the naked “Black Forest Barbie” popped out, it was time for “Thor’s Hammer” to strike.

Traditional German "Weather Haus..." I modified one to serve as a gauge 
of passion potential and built it into a hat to take the guess work out of foreplay.
Black Forest has great cuckoo clocks too.

I want a gauge that clearly depicts the mood of the battery and the vitality of the charging system. It pisses me that I cannot tell at a glance the status of my bike’s battery or charging system. My bike sports a 50-amp alternator which should be ample to power the limited farkle (MotoLights and flashing LED stoplights) on this machine. But I have yet to see the low battery or charging system failure light come on, other than the automatic system test when the bike is first started. And still I ended up with a weak battery. So I decided to make a modest investment in two separate voltage monitors.

The first is the “Heads-Up L.E.D. Voltage Monitor” from SDC (Signal Dynamics Corporation). I got it on sale for $20. It is alleged to check the charging system 50,000 times a second, and to transmit the results via a single colored L.E.D. This is a rather cool device, made in the U.S. of A. The gauge part consists of a glass bead (L.E.D.) the size of small jelly bean, that sits in a bezel than can be mounted just about anyplace (though the dash on the K75 is ideal). The wiring runs to a modest sized microprocessor, about 1”x2”x.5,” which is hung someplace out of sight, then connected to the battery, via a line that becomes hot when the bike is switched on.

The "Heads-Up" L.E.D. Voltage Monitor by SDC
A single light emitting diode tells you everything you want to 
know about your battery and charging system -- 50,000 times a second!
(Photo courtesy of the author -- Click to enlarge)

When initially powered (ignition switched on and engine off), the system first performs a self-test by flashing all three colors in sequence: green, amber and red, before giving you the status of the battery. As you would suspect, green is okay, amber is cause for some concern, and red is bad news. With the engine running, green indicates a steady 12-15 volts. Amber means 11-12 volts. And red is below 11 volts. A red signal on the road indicates the bike may not restart if switched off. The unit flashes green if the battery is overcharging and red if it is severely undercharging.

The system dims after 7 seconds so not to blind the rider if it is dark. I thought this was pretty cool.

The second one is not as sophisticated. Made by Daring Kuryakyn Products in the proletariat paradise of Red China (where environmental concerns rank right up there with the purity of dairy products for kids), it is a simple black gauge with a range of voltage values -- from 8 to 16 -- crudely printed on top. The gauge is about a quarter of an inch thick, measuring little more than an inch and a half long by half an inch wide. (It comes in chrome plastic or black plastic. I chose black.)

I relate to gauges with numbers, and the less sophisticated unit from 
Daring Kuryakyn Products has flashing lights on a dial -- like something the
Krell would have built in "Forbidden Planet." I can just see the scientists and 
engineers in my riding group scratching their respective heads and saying, 
"Riepe really is an idiot." 
(Photo taken by the author -- from space, with a camera on a satellite that he built 
all by himself in the basement, while ragingly shitfaced. So there.)

A curved row of colored L.E.D.s match the printed voltage values. Eight to ten volts are red; 11 to 12 are yellow; 12 to 14 are green; and 14 to 16 are red. A serious discharge will give you a blinking red. A light sensitive cell dims the L.E.D.s at night. When first energized, it runs through a testing sequence. It too tests the battery first, and then the charging system.

A close-up of the face on the Daring  Kuryakyn Products L.E.D. Battery Gauge
The flash on the camera brought out some green on the instrument's face.
This is not really evident in the working model. Oddly enough, this one appealed to me.
(Photo by the author -- click to enlarge)

I hooked both of these up to a simple 9 volt alkaline battery to see what they looked like. The amber setting for the SDC unit was more like a pale green, but there was no mistaking their bright red or equally bright green. The less sophisticated Kuryakyn model actually held greater appeal for me. I just thought it was a little cooler. It is the one I will probably install. And it was cheap enough that if it breaks or aggravates me, I’ll just switch it out.

The simplicity of the Kuryakyn gauge intrigued me. I wondered if it could measure other things. In a instant, I wired it to the dog’s bark collar. This device responds to the dog’s desire to bark at anything that moves with a little buzzing sound and a variable electric shock. A passing squirrel caused the gauge to light up like a little pinball game.

Using heart monitor tabs, I then hooked the gauge up to “Big Jim and The Twins” and watched Sharon Stone in selected scenes from “Basic Instinct.” It registered “16” every time, and then flashed for an “overcharge.” With Halloween only eight days away away, I have a great idea for a couple of costumes. Leslie is going to be Miss Bavaria, with the little German cottage on her head. And I am going to be the “Human Dynamo,” with my gauge indicating a massive charge.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


redlegsrides said...

Outstanding halloween costume ideas Jack! I hope pictures are forthcoming? : )

I like having a voltmeter on my bikes, no sense finding out the hard way that your bike is no longer charging the battery while riding.

I'll be curious to see which of the two you picked up last or works best for you.

Being the frugal sort myself, this is what I did for my 1150RT:

LINK Works pretty good and uses same light system as yours.



Redleg's Rides

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Fatass Shithead:
Disconnect the clock and wear your Timex. It won't matter much, because you're always late!

Unknown said...

Dick, I almost busted out loud, which isn't wise in the middle of cubeville. :) Jack, I like the idea of the "heads up" single LED. Seems elegant. Keep us informed. How the hell did you get the cardiac pads off??

Dave Misevich
Dexter, MI

Unknown said...

So is the Kuryakyn "water resistant"? Now that I broke down and picked up a Gerbing jacket liner and glove, I was thinking that a volt monitor farkle.

My bad lab would have ignored any kind of bark collar.

Anonymous said...

Jack, you really must get out more often. Question, does L. ever edit or even have interest in what you post? Inquiring minds wish to know.
My Victory has all of the necessary electronic monitors built in. Problem is, after a lack of a few weeks riding, the battery is capable of only providing a grunt, when attempting to fire up.
At this time, it is tethered to its' battery tender. When cold weather sets in this it how it spends its' 24/7 but is always ready to go.

Grandad 43
PS 14

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

The installation you ended up with will be identical to the gauge arrangement I end up with. I am going to use the Kuryakyn voltmeter first, solely because I think it is cool.

These were cheap enough to play with.

Thanks for dropping by and for providing this link.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

Sticks and stones ma break my bones, but nothing will dissolve our friendship until you buy me breakfast.

Fondest regards,

RichardM said...

I'd be interested in your evaluation. The charging system on my R100RT seems to be happy with barely a bit over 12 volts at the battery. The gauge happily reports 12 even. The bike never seems to crank very fast, in my humble opinion, so I'm wondering how the bike would do on a long trip i.e. no battery tender in sight.

John said...

I like the idea of the single LED as well. If you wind up not using it, I'll be the long term test monkey for it. I will buy it from you too.

John said...

I like the idea of the single LED as well. If you wind up not using it, I'll be the long term test monkey for it. I will buy it from you too.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dave Misevich:

Why are you encouraging Bregstein? He's like a bad drunk with a little praise. I had lunch with him yesterday and it was , "Hey Fatass, pass me the salt." Or, "Hey Shithead, what do you think?" I just sighed.

Dick's getting another bike this weekend, naturally it's bigger than mine. So the taunts to start riding again will begin in about a week.

Thanks for commenting. Your name has been entered into the monthly riders contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Jeffry:

As to the water-tight integrity of the Kuryakyn battery monitor, I have to say I don't know. It looks like it should be... Then again, I look like Brad Pitt, so appearances can be deceiving. I'll have to let you know. Your name has been entered into the monthly readers meals contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Grandad43 (Dave):

I am occasionally surprised to discover that Leslie (Stiffie) does read my blog and has stormed into my office with a raised eyebrow every now and again.

I must point out that BMW I am riding, at 13-years-old, does have an alternator/battery idiot light, which does not provide the on the spot data that I want.

I have have had the idle speed on the bike reset from 900 rpm to 1200, to guarantee that battery is getting a charge whenever I get stuck at a light or in traffic.

As ever Dave, your name has been dropped into the monthly readers' meals contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard:

If you haven't figured this out yet, you are posing a very serious and logical question to an idiot. I have, however, posted your question to a panel of experts. I should have your answer pronto.

Plus your name has been entered in the monthly readers' meals contest.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John:

The single L.E.D. approach is not without it's charm. Since both systems entail drilling a tiny hole in the dash, I may end up trying out both systems.

But I may have an extra of these, and I'll be delighted t offer it to you at discount for its pretested condition.

Fondest regards,

Jon said...


No need to worry about battery power - there is a simple solution introduced by the renowned Erich von Däniken in the mid 1970's. Pyramids!

You never see anyone from Memphis (Tennessee or Egypt) bitching about dead batteries - 'cause they both have pyramids! Its a fact, Jack.

It only takes a 10" leg base to keep razor blades sharp, but you are looking at about a 50' base to keep the K-Bike running. Yes, there is a bit of investment, but I am sure your home is zoned for tetrahedrons, so at least you won't have trouble with the city. And you then you can toss that damn battery tender! Score!

Regarding the Kuryakyn; it is the shit! I love it. When I am riding with the PIAAs and the heated grips on in stop-n-go traffic, it reminds me to snap on the throttle enrichment to keep the lights on green(charging) rather than yellow (discharging). And yes, it has proven to be waterproof, in my experience.

Jon in Chicago