Unless you live where the snow piles up hip-deep in winter, there’s no reason to stop riding when the mercury takes a nosedive. Heated clothing can extend your riding season far into winter, and kickstart it earlier in the spring.
There’s no mystery to how it works. When you pass electric current though a wire, the wire heats up. That’s what makes electric blankets work, and the same principle is used in heated riding gear. Start with a vest or a pair of gloves, sandwich a mesh of small-diameter wires between the inner and outer layers, and connect it to a 12-volt power supply, in this case your bike’s battery. As long as your engine runs and maintains the battery’s charge, you stay warm.
It’s possible, however, to draw too much juice from the battery, making it impossible for the charging system to keep up with the demand. Most motorcycles can power an electric vest without a problem, and many can also handle a pair of gloves. But add another power-hungry accessory like driving lights, or equip your passenger with heated gear, too, and you could be asking for trouble.
To get a rough idea how much electrical power your bike consumes during normal running, add up the wattage of all the bulbs that are on while you’re riding, and toss in a bit more for electronic instruments and the fuel pump. Subtract that from the alternator’s total output and you get the surplus available for accessories. A more accurate method is to temporarily connect a voltmeter to your bike and monitor the voltage drop as you switch on various accessories. If the system voltage drops below 13 volts at highway speeds you’re on the ragged edge. Avoid running everything at once, and turn the power down around town where lower engine speeds produce less voltage.
A heated vest should be sized to fit closely, with no more than a T-shirt between it and you, with your outer layers acting as insulation to keep the heat in. Size gloves the same way you would non-heated gloves. Some riders prefer heated grips so they can still wear thin gloves, but heated grips are subject to the same power-draw warnings as heated clothing.
You’ll need a way to turn the heat on and off. The most basic way is a simple on/off switch, but sometimes you end up swinging back and forth between too hot and too cold, groping for the switch when your hands should be on the controls. A variable controller that lets you adjust the current running through the garment is a better choice. It operates like a home thermostat to keep the power at a comfortable level, leaving you to concentrate on enjoying the ride.
Once you discover the joy of heated riding gear you’ll take it with you often, even when it’s not actually winter. Start a long ride in sweltering temperatures at sea level, and end it in the mountains in the evening, and the riding buddies who laughed at you for packing an electric vest in the summer will be wishing they’d done the same.