It's one of those motorcycling truisms most long-time enthusiasts know well: The only folks who pooh-pooh electric clothing are those who've never had their shivering, freezer-burned butts saved by the stuff.
Motorcycles can be rolling Frigidaires. Combine cold and/or wet conditions with a 70-mph windblast and you've got a first-class frostbite generator. But a simple flick of a switch can transform a frigid flog into...if not a summer day's ride, at least a tolerable trek.
Trust us: Once you experience the cocoonlike warmth of electric clothing, you'll never leave home without it. Here are a few of the latest offerings...
Firstgear Warm & Safe Gloves
Heated grips are all the rage these days, but lost in all the gum-flapping is the venerable heated glove, which is literally and figuratively a more flexible item. (Hard to swap grips from bike to bike, eh?) Firstgear's new electric clothing line includes two gloves: a standard top-grain leather pair ($129.95) with a waterproof-yet-breathable Porelle liner, Thinsulate insulation, pre-curved fingers and an elastic wrist mated to a hook-and-loop closure system, and a second, sportier pair ($169.95) featuring carbon-fiber armor on the knuckles and wrist. Both versions come in men's sizes S-2XL, and the standard version comes in women's sizes S-L. Special passenger versions with heated palms will also soon be available.
Eclipse offers only one piece of electric gear, the Nordic Liner. Which is a touch ironic, as the company offered several different well-known heated products years ago. Still, the $189 Nordic is a relatively new design, first available in '05. It features a lightweight nylon shell uncoated for breathability, a fleece-lined collar and specially located heating panels for even warmth on the torso and arms. Stretch panels offer improved comfort and wired glove connectors are designed into each sleeve. The Nordic can also be folded up and zippered into its own pouch for easy totability, and it's good-looking enough to wear on its own.http://www.eclipseluggage.com
Widder's roots go back to 1944, when at the age of 24 company founder George Widder found himself at the controls of an Army Air Corps B25, flying hops over the Himalayas and northern China. Knowing he and his crew wouldn't have survived the freezing temperatures without the heated flight suits they wore, the aeronautical engineer eventually put his knowledge to good use, opening Widder Enterprises in the early '70s. Today Widder offers five Lectric products: two vests-the collarless System 1 and collared System 2-plus gloves, chaps and arm chaps with integral gloves. The $137.25 System 2 vest we sampled is a well-made, solid piece, featuring a heated, ultra-suede-lined collar, Thinsulate insulation, a dual-slide zipper that operates both ways, and two non-zip front pockets. Electronics and wiring are easy to use even with gloved hands, and the company's arm chaps attach easily to either vest via a Velcro/snap flap behind each arm hole.
Gerbing's has made heated clothing for nearly 30 years, and today the Washington State-based firm offers a dizzying array of heated products. These include jacket and pant liners, several glove designs, socks and a line of fully heated outerwear-jackets, pants and suits. The company's basic, $139 vest liner, which we've sampled, is designed to keep the body's "core" warm. It's an especially nice piece, with a soft and comfortable outer nylon shell, a form-fitting cut, Thinsulate insulation, evenly distributed warmth throughout, a micro-denier collar, and four pockets-two zippered ones on the lower exterior, another inside the left chest and a non-zippered one on the left breast. The wiring and controls seem well-made and are easy to use. Both men's and women's sizes are offered: 37 to 60 for men, 34 to 47 for women.
Tour Master Synergy
Tour Master's brand-new Synergy electric lineup includes two vests (one collared for $124.99, one not for $119.99), leather gloves ($139.99), pant liner ($139.99) and long-sleeve jacket liner ($179.99), a design gaining popularity as folks discover the benefits of warm arms-as opposed to only keeping one's trunk toasty with a vest. All pieces offer carbon-fiber heating elements that are safe in wet conditions, three temperature settings via an electronic thermostat, easy-to-use plug-in connectors and sizing from XS to 4XL. Tour Master claims the carbon elements' light weight and flexibility allow the various pieces to fit comfortably beneath riding gear. We plan to try some as soon as the temperature drops below 50 degrees here in Southern California.
Maker of the famed Aerostich suit, Andy Goldfine's RiderWearHouse offers five articles of electric clothing: two sleeved jacket liners (the $267 waterproof Windblocker and $237 TLtech fleece Windstopper) and three vests (the $227 Airvantage, $147 Tltech fleece Windblocker and the $167 Gore-Tex Windstopper). The Airvantage makes the highest-tech statement: Like a life vest, it allows the wearer to inflate internal chambers via a tube on the upper right chest. Getting cold? Just inflate the vest. Too warm? Simply bleed off some air. Neat. The technology comes from Gore of Gore-Tex fame. Zip-on sleeves are available for all three vests, making them truly convertible, weather-dependent designs. Neat again. Sizing runs from 38 to 54.
Therm-ic Basix Foot Warmers
These heated insoles are primarily a snow ski boot accessory, but because they can keep your lower digits toasty during a cold ride, they fit nicely here. Basically a plastic/rubber footbed with heating elements buried within, the $99.99 Therm-ic insoles replace those of your riding boots and attach via wires to a set of battery-powered modules containing a brace of AA alkaline (or rechargeable) batteries. Three heat settings are offered, the mildest giving 12 hours of warmth, the most powerful 2 hours.