Nothing sours a tour faster than being too hot or too cold. There's not so much you can do to beat the heat, but modern electric motorcycle gear can extend your tolerance for chilly weather, improve your on-the-road endurance, and make you safer. Are you a sharp rider while shivering uncontrollably? Didn't think so. We used these four garments on our recent 2200-mile sport tour-and used extensively, as in every day and for nearly every mile. Here's what we think.
Aerostich Kanetsu TLTec Wind Blocker Electric Vest
WORDS: Aaron Frank
Just call me the anti-Cook. While our techno-geek EiC loves feature-rich farkles, I’m more minimalist. My mountain bike has one gear. I use a push mower on my lawn. And my preferred electric vest, Aerostich’s Kanetsu, with its Spartan design and idiot-proof, on/off operation, is in my opinion the best heated garment on the market.
“If you’re cold, turn it on,” says Aerostich owner—and Kanetsu designer—Andy Goldfine. “If you’re warm, turn it off. It’s that simple.”
Made in America from TLTec wind-blocker fleece and incorporating a full coverage electric grid that extends into the compact collar for maximum heating efficiency, the Kanetsu is everything you need and nothing more. There are just two pockets—one to hold the coiled cord and another that the vest folds into for storage. The 45-watt/3.3-amp draw is compatible with most power systems, including BMWs, and the vest is available with QuiConnect, SAE, or BMW connectors.
The Kanetsu puts out enough heat to quickly overcome even sub-freezing temps, and operation couldn’t be easier. While Cook fussed at each bike stop to stash six feet of extra cable and a thermostat, I just plugged in the correct adaptor and toggled the on-off switch—oversized, so it’s easy to operate even in thick gloves and illuminated to indicate whether the vest is on or off—as my core temperature dictated. Easy and effective, and when it’s cold and dark and you’re many miles from home, you don’t need any more than that.
|VERDICT: 5 out of 5 stars
|Simple, foolproof, and effective. The Roadcrafter of electric vests.
Gerbing's Heated Jacket Liner
WORDS: Marc Cook
I take exception to Aaron's characterization of my gadget fetish. All I wanted to do was stay warm-exactly as warm as I wanted to be. Because of the specificity of that desire, I was forced to jury-rig the Gerbing's Portable Temp Controller every time we switched bikes, and that only applies to ride-hopping journalists.
Andy Goldfine’s exhortations that an on/off switch is all you need aside, fact is the Gerbing’s jacket liner is simply too powerful to leave on high. Indeed, it delivers enough heat that despite temps at or near freezing I rarely ran the controller above halfway to maintain a comfortable core temperature.
Gerbing’s liner benefits from Thinsulate insulation as well as the company’s Microwire heating system, which uses bundles of “microscopic stainless steel strands...12 microns thick” whose composition can be tailored to manage heat output. That way the front of the garment can have Microwire ribbons that produce more heat than those on the back. Gerbing’s jacket liner also has a heated collar, a small cord pocket, and a pair of outside pockets.
No question the Gerbing’s garment is superbly effective, but it’s not cheap. The liner itself is $219.95 but you’ll definitely want a controller—a single-circuit portable controller is $69.95, a dual-zone (liner and gloves or pants) unit runs $99.95, while permanent mount versions cost $99.95 and $129.95, respectively. The issue of where to put the controller and how to string the wires becomes moot on your own bike. The Gerbing’s gear is money well spent, in my gadget-addled opinion.
|Price: $219.95 (liner);
|VERDICT: 5 out of 5 stars
|Powerful, comfortable, sophisticated...and incredibly warm.
Firstgear Heated Liner Jacket
WORDS: Thomas Kinzer
My usual choice in machinery involves charging systems that require rationing how much I use the headlight, so operating heated gear has always been out of the question. But now I'm converted. My "come to Jesus" moment was facilitated by Firstgear's Heated Liner Jacket. The liner has a black nylon shell with stretch panels on the side and sleeves allowing a more snug fit, which is important for heat transfer. The heat output is nearly instantaneous and almost uncomfortably high when run wide open. The liner has a heated, fleece-lined collar plus two exterior pockets and small wrist pockets containing outlets to plug-in glove liners.
Firstgear's Heated Liner Jacket costs $199.95 in either 65W or 90W, but you'll want to fork out additional cash for Firstgear's not so cleverly named Heat-Troller, which is available with bike-mounted, portable, or remote-control connection configurations. The most affordable single-circuit portable setup will set you back $69.95, while the dual-circuit portable unit I was using costs $99.95. A newly installed modern alternator on my vintage ride means I'll be indulging in this smart-guy approach on all of my future cold-weather tours.
|Price: $199.95 (liner);
|VERDICT: 5 out of 5 stars
|Smart > tough. Spread the good word.
Mobile Warming Softshell Heated Vest
WORDS: Zack Courts
Bottom line, my coworkers are wussies. Every kid from Vermont knows when the mercury drops you just layer up!
Rather than being tethered to the bike with a figurative umbilical cord, the Softshell Heated Vest from Mobile Warming conveniently gets its energy from a rechargeable 7-volt lithium-ion battery pack that tucks neatly into a pouch in the left pocket. The battery is about the size of three AAs, weighs 0.24 pounds, and delivers heat to two sets of steel-alloy elements in the chest and one long one across the back.
When I did switch on the vest’s electricity I typically had it cranked to the maximum surface temp, listed at 135 degrees. I used the lower settings at dinner mostly, in a drafty restaurant or simply chilled to the bone amid one of many questionable culinary decisions we made on the tour.
The battery pack includes four LEDs to show which setting is selected—25, 50, 75, or 100 percent—or to show how much battery life remains.
Problems include being at the mercy of a battery pack that only lasts about half a day (4 or 5 hours) on the two higher settings, and getting blasted with heat at gas stops.
If you’re a true four-seasons rider, plugging in is the ticket. But to keep the chill away when the weather catches you out, the Mobile Warming vest is a suitable option.
|Contact: Mobile Warming
|VERDICT: 5 of 5 stars
|Not as warm as plug-in options, but cheaper and hugely convenient.
Made from wind-proof and water-resistant laminate, FREEZE-OUT's line includes everything from full body suits and neck warmers to glove and boot liners. Prices vary, but warmth is priceless. Check your options at www.cyclegear.com.
Heat Factory Hand Warmers
When exposed to air these hand warmers react exothermically to create lasting natural heat. Average temperature is claimed to be 124 degrees, and each pack is said to last 10 hours. $16.80 buys 20 pair at www.heatfactory.com.
Aerostich Warm Wraps Grips
Hook-'n-loop these wraps to your bike for $45 and enjoy warm hands all winter. Not as slick as full heated grips, but quite a bit cheaper and Aerostich claims they pack up neatly when you don't need them. Available at www.aerostich.com.
Still not warm enough? There is a whole world of electric gear available, like heated booties and heated pant liners. In addition to checking your favorite brand's catalog, ask Google about Aerostich, Firstgear, Gerbing's, Mobile Warming, Tourmaster, and Venture Heat.