This Buyers Guide: Heated Riding Apparel was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Rider magazine]
It was cold. Colder than a banker’s heart. Colder than a letter from your ex-wife’s lawyer—I mean it was cold! I was riding to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, it was March, and patches of ice glittered beside the road. The sun was setting, the elevation was around 7,000 feet and it was probably the coldest I’ve ever been on a motorcycle. Right then all I could do was hang tough and hope to reach Grand Canyon Village before my hands stopped working. Man, what I would have given for the electric blanket off my bed right about then!
Well, that’s not such a ridiculous idea, as we riders can do essentially that anytime, and with ease, with today’s heated motorcycle clothing. Be it a vest, jacket liner, pant liner or gloves, heated gear will add a great deal to your cold-weather riding experience, and could even be a life-saver.
How it Works
The electric clothing in our test is powered by the motorcycle’s battery and charging system, which provide an endless supply of electrons so long as the charging system is up to snuff. On the road at cruising speeds the charging system of most modern motorcycles should provide sufficient watts to power at least two electric garments. If in doubt, ask your dealer or consult your owner’s manual.
An electric vest or jacket liner should be worn over your shirt, but under a sweatshirt or sweater to keep it closer to your skin. To utilize these garments you will need to install the battery connector that is provided with them. Remove the positive and negative bolts from your battery posts, slip the leads from the battery connector (the fused wire goes to the positive post) over them and bolt them down; that part stays connected to the battery. Now plug one end of the wiring harness provided into your electric garment, and the other into the battery connector. Some wiring harnesses simply have an on/off switch, but the more sophisticated will offer a heat controller, which I strongly recommend as some garments can become too warm.
Aerostich Kanetsu Airvantage Quic2 Electric Vest
($227; Zip-on Sleeves $75 additional)
In standard mode the Airvantage came up to heat in about a minute, and applies it all around the chest and back. Made of Windstopper nylon it appears to be a standard vest…till you open the zipper in the chest area to expose the inflation tube. Just three puffs inflated the vest to the point it took up the empty space between my shirt and jacket, and the difference was dramatic. I relate it to the difference between a shower and a bath—with the vest inflated it seemed I was immersed in heat rather than having it run over me, and it truly was much more effective. The vest is also reversible, but turned inside-out the heat level was much lower. Our Airvantage came with a lighted on/off switch, but by using it inflated or not, or reversed, it presents three distinct heat ranges. Aerostich also offers an in-line thermostat ($70), and a panel-mounted version (for $80).
Aerostich Kanetsu Windstopper Quic2 Electric Vest
($187; Zip-on Sleeves $75 additional)
Aerostich’s Windstopper vest has a longer trunk length to cover more area and a thinner collar so it doesn’t bunch up, and its shell is waterproof. For packing, the entire vest can be folded into itself and this little package can be zipped up and tossed in your luggage. As electric torso wear goes it’s the simple and basic version that has no sleeves (they’re optional), pockets or temperature controller, just a lighted on/off switch.
Out on the road the Windstopper delivers warmth, but with its 45 watts not as much as some others here that have double the power and will have you reaching for the controller or on/off switch when they become too hot. If you want electric heat on a budget, to keep it small and simple, and a product that won’t likely strain your charging system the Kanetsu Windstopper is a good choice.
Firstgear Men’s Warm and Safe Heated Jacket Liner ($199.95) and Wireless Dual Temp Controller ($139.95)
This jacket liner has a polyester shell with nylon lining and also includes a pair of handwarmer pockets. The liner is also pre-wired for electric gloves, should you choose to add them (you should). The high neck is also provided with heat, and overall this 90-watt unit puts out a lot of comfort that will have you cozy in no time.
Rather than having to deal with bulky and intrusive wires, Firstgear’s Wireless Dual Temp Controller is a nice alternative. It can hang off your wrist or belt by a tether, and to get started you only have to synch it to the jacket controller, which is easy. Now it will wirelessly control two separate garments (such as the liner and gloves) with precision. Together they make a nice team that will precisely control where the heat goes, and how much there is.
Firstgear Men’s Warm and Safe Heated Pant Liner ($189.99)
These pant liners are easy to slide on as they’re made of Spandex fabric, which is relatively light and slippery, then they cinch up around your middle with a pair of side drawstrings. Separate versions are available for men and women (do they make my butt look fat?), so the fit should be more precise than with unisex versions. They also include integrated sock plugs should you suffer from cold tootsies.
The Pant Liner did not offer as much heat as the Jacket Liner, and the specs reveal that it only puts out about 35 watts to the thighs, knees and upper seat. But that’s OK, as generally if you can keep your torso warm, your legs will require much less heat. If you tend to ride long distances in the cold they will add welcome warmth, but would be your third choice behind a jacket liner and gloves.
Firstgear Men’s Heated Rider Gloves ($129.95)
While heated grips are a plus, the advantage of heated gloves is that they also provide heat to the backs of the hands. The Firstgear Men’s Heated Rider Gloves are made of Grade-A, top-grain, drum-dyed cowhide leather with a polyester lining and inner PVC wire. Turn on the wireless controller and 15 watts of heat radiates from each glove within about 20 seconds, and runs along the fingers and the backs of the hands with no hot spots. The gloves are provided with an Agrotex “waterproof, breathable” liner, which is indeed breathable, but I did not test them for water resistance.
The gloves were size large, as I ordered, but with the heating elements installed were now a very tight fit. The heating performance of the gloves was first-rate, but I would suggest that you order one size larger than normal to compensate for the heating elements.
GERBING’S HEATED CLOTHING
Gerbing’s Heated Jacket Liner ($199.95)
Gerbing’s Jacket Liner includes full sleeves and Thinsulate insulation so it is a bit bulkier than other garments here, but it is also warmer. It features Gerbing’s “Microwire” technology that utilizes essentially a webbing of thin wires rather than more widely spaced individual thicker wires, and is thus able to place them closer together for a more even heat all over the body. The 77-watt Jacket Liner became so warm that I strongly recommend the purchase of the Temperature Controller with it, which allows the wearer to dial in a very precise level of heat.
Think of it as a lighter jacket you wear under your riding jacket, and custom sizing is available at no extra charge. It’s also appropriate for walking around town when you don’t want to wear your full gear, and has a pair of handwarmer pockets.
Gerbing’s G3 Heated Gloves ($139.95) with Dual Portable Temperature Controller ($99.95)
The G3 gloves are made of soft leather, feature a gel palm for vibration isolation, and now the palms are heated for additional comfort. They connect to plugs stashed in the sleeves of the Jacket Liner, or can be purchased separately with their own wiring harness. Though not waterproof in and of themselves, the gloves may be treated with waterproofing materials for added versatility. They’re flexible, properly sized, and with the Temp Controller the 27 watts of heat can be dialed in precisely.
The Dual Portable Temperature Controller plugs into up to two garments and allows the rider to control the temperature of each precisely and simultaneously, with separate controls. It plugs into the Jacket Liner at one end, the battery hookup at the other and is highly recommended.
Powerlet Rapid Fire Heated Jacket Liner ($249.95)
and Wireless Dual Temp Controller ($139.95)
This full-sleeve jacket liner offers a breast pocket, a large rear pocket and a heated collar. You’ll feel the heat from its Far Infrared technology with Carbon Nanocore filaments within about 20 seconds, which produces a full, oozing heat—possibly more than you’ll want. If your bike’s charging system is marginal and cannot handle its full 105-Watt draw, you can disconnect a couple internal wires so it will draw only 60 watts—and of course produce less heat.
The Wireless Dual Temp Controller (available for less as a package price) is the same as that used by Firstgear and synchs easily to the main wired hookup; it can be stashed wherever is handy to precisely dial in the amount of heat of two separate products simultaneously. I utilized it on the Jacket Liner and another brand of heated gloves (hookups come standard with the Jacket Liner) and they worked flawlessly.
Tour Master Synergy 2.0 Heated Vest Liner with Collar ($179.99)
With a Taslan shell and 100 grams of Polyfil insulation the Synergy 2.0 offers a bit of warmth in and of itself. It includes a pair of zippered handwarmer pockets, and the collar zips to right up under the chin. The collar is heated, too.
The heat is provided by a series of steel fiber heating elements, and the vest includes a “Powerlead” dual thermostat that allows for the use of additional heated gear. Turning up the thermostat brought up tangible heat within seconds, and turning it down was likewise as effective. According to the literature it has a temperature sensor that regulates the maximum and minimum temperatures, and indeed it can become quite warm without being too hot.
Here is your basic heated vest, functional but not fancy, and with the dual thermostat included it sells for a very comfortable price.