WHATS THE DEAL WITH HEATED MOTORCYCLE GEAR?
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 12/2/19
If you have ever taken a motorcycle ride after the temperatures start to drop, you’ll certainly have had that experience of feeling cold. Perhaps it was caused by exposing your bare skin to the wind. Perhaps you set out wearing inadequate gear. Maybe you were only planning to ride a short distance and something caused you to be out far longer than you intended. Getting cold on a motorcycle can easily happen for a variety of reasons and all of a sudden you notice that your knees are numb or you can’t feel your fingers pulling in the clutch lever. If any of this sounds familiar you might really enjoy wearing heated motorcycle gear on your rides.
So lets talk about the current state of heated riding gear. What situations is it appropriate for and when is it overkill? Is it a luxury item or a necessity? Who makes the best heated gear?
If you have ever considered purchasing heated motorcycle gear, you’ll most certainly have come across Gerbings Heated Motorcycle Apparel. They are the gold standard in the industry. Gordon Gerbing practically invented heated clothing in the 1970’s and after 40 years with a strong physical presence in most BMW and Harley Davidson dealerships around the country, they were the 800 pound gorilla. Even partnering with Harley to create Harley branded heated gear in 1999.
However, in the last ten years there have been many competitors sprouting up online and Gerbings started to slowly disappear from showrooms. Threads started popping up like mushrooms on adventure riding and Harley Davidson forums asking what was going on with their customer service. The Gerbings brand had always carried a lifetime guarantee and when customers who were experiencing problems inquired about repairs or replacements they weren’t getting anywhere.
So what happened?
Well… there is a story. Gordon Gerbing had a health issue that ultimately lead to him losing the company some years back. A private equity firm took it over. For you business savvy readers out there may know where this is headed. Private equity firms can often means doom for a company. They did the minimum to continue driving sales, but they also cut cost aggressively and pay the people at the top of company large salaries at the expense of the employees and the customers. They dropped the ball on their dealer relationships and bailed on the customer service side of the business. In short, they milked the company for profit and left customers up a creek without a paddle in many cases. Going dark and not even responding to requests about replacement or repairs of their products that had been purchased with a lifetime warranty. it was looking bleak for the once powerful brand.
Enter TheWarmingStore.com. They are an online warehouse dedicated to all things heated clothing and outdoor warming. They make their own brand of heated clothing but do not focus specifically on heated motorcycle gear. However for years Gerbings was one of their top selling brands and when they saw an opportunity to make a move, they purchased the heated giant this year.
So now the brand that invented heated clothing has a new home and is looking to rebuild its reputation with customers. Which frankly shouldn’t be too hard. The product is as useful and applicable as it ever was, but they are once again backed by a group who is looking to rebuild their relationships with Harley and other dealerships around the country. Since taking over they have already put Gerbings items back on the shelves in double the amount of dealerships they were on at this time last year. They have also really cleaned up the customer service mess that they inherited. Once again honoring the lifetime guarantees the company had previously stood by.
So not that we know the brand is back on track, lets talk about applications for heated motorcycle clothing. I recently put the Gerbings Heated Jacket Liner and Vanguard Gloves through the paces to see what all the fuss was about and came away impressed. As a man who views myself as somewhat rugged, I shrugged at the idea of heated riding gear for many years. I often rode in freezing air temps, but I would just layer up and bare down. Often excepting that not freezing was good enough. It is cold out after all and you are on a motorcycle, so a little cold in your bones is to be expected right?
After I un-boxed the jacket liner, gloves, and various wiring harnesses from the box, it took my a few minutes to rig up the wiring harness on the bike and situate the appropriate cords through the jacket liner. Honestly probably longer than it should have but I wasn’t really sire what I was looking at. Wiring the jacket to the temperature controller will take you a few minutes to situate. It was a little confusing but the process automatically helps familiarize you with the items, so that any future troubleshooting becomes easier. Individual preference will determine how you set up the location of the controller, but I like to stow it in the interior chest pocket of the liner so that it remained out of the way at all times and keeps any excess wires taught. I let the wire that connects to the 12V power running from your bike dangle down the inside of the coat so that it is easy to locate and manipulate even with heavy gloves on and the jacket is zipped up.
It took around 30 minutes to un-box the products, run the wire into the battery, and situate the liner before I was on the road. I started out with the liner at level 3 and I let the 800gs eat up a few hundred miles of interstate and state highway. It was an overcast Fall day with temps in the low 40’s. I can report that heated clothing is simply one of those things that you can’t appreciate until you have tried it.
I was wearing the Gerbings Heated Jacket Liner under my all purpose riding jacket, The Aether Rally Jacket. Aether’s clothing is designed to be a snug fit, so I was concerned that a heated liner may not even fit under my jacket with the extra pounds I was carrying from the last twenty Thanksgivings, but I had very little trouble making it work. The liner is slim and designed to be basically seamless with most motorcycle jackets.
When I first started out I had set the temperature on the jacket to level 3 (out of 10). I could feel it warming in a matter of minutes, but it was subtle. While taking on concrete, I used the wireless controller to periodically crank up the heat. By the end of the ride I had the level set at 6 and was feeling pretty comfy. I think going warmer than that might have been too much for me and I even had to dial the temp back as I hit some gravel and dirt roads on the way home.
Riders who have put in long cold days in the saddle will tell you that your core temperature can drop very subtly and be difficult to normalize quickly. The longer you ride, the more heat gets pulled away from your body, and the more important replacing that warmth becomes. Putting a person at risk of hypothermia if they do not have a warm place to recover. I have spent several cold nights in my sleeping bag wondering why I wasn’t getting warm. Using heated gear stops this issue even before it gets started. You use it to stay warm rather than get warm.
The Jacket Liner itself operates much like a heated car seat. You feel it as a pervasive warmth that is there simply to keep you comfortable. It is also important to note that it is not an all or nothing feeling. The controllers are more sophisticated than a traditional on/off heat function. Offering a wide range of temperatures to suit your conditions and body type.
I also noticed that one of my biggest questions was not that big of an issue. I was concerned that the heated jacket would present “hot spots” around my body if I had the heat dialed up. Meaning that certain places where the liner is pressed more closely to your body might be too hot while the rest of your body might be feeling cold where the connection to the skin was not as good. This simply doesn’t happen. The heat felt evenly distributed and balanced. If I cranked up the heat, it all felt warmer and not just the spots pressed most firmly against my body by my riding jacket.
On this ride I paired the Jacket Liner with the Gerbings Vanguard Gloves. They operate on the same 12V wiring system as the jacket. Each item is powered from the motorcycles battery and uses the same dual zone controller. Which offers two separate temperature controls. I initially left the gloves turned off. I wanted to try to get a sense of how warm they would be without added heat in order to form a fair comparison to wearing my non heated summer gloves in addition to my motorcycles heated grips. I have ridden many miles with poorly suited gloves. Squeezing my heated hand grips far harder than one should, to try to keep my fingers warm.
On this day, I actually felt pretty good with just the insulation of the gloves acting only as my heat source for the first hour. I didn’t use the heated grips. The glove is well balanced, well made, feels dexterous, easily adjustable, and well insulted. After taking a quick road side coffee break to watch some eagles descend on a deer carcass, I started riding again with the gloves set to level 5. My hands were toasty and even a little sweaty after an hour of riding. The Vanguard Gloves are very impressive and a must have for cold weather riding. You can purchase a separate Y harness for the gloves if you want to use the them without the jacket liner, but truthfully there aren’t many days where I think you’d need to run the gloves with the heat turned on but also want to ride without the liner. My experience was that you’d want to have the liner running but and not the gloves heat in most cases. The gloves are pretty well insulated on their own and if you are already running the liner, then you can always run the gloves as well. Just make sure you install the correct fuse when you install the wiring connection. The products come with a very clear set of color coded instructions for this.
As I said above, heated motorcycle gear is something that you really cannot appreciate until you have experienced it. Ultimately I think it’s a bit of a luxury item, but it is also a really welcomed item in my opinion. You can always put a price on comfort and luxury, but I found that staying warm also makes you a safer rider. Your reaction time on cold days will stay sharpest if you aren’t battling circulation issues. Hard to say that arriving safely isn’t worth it.
I highly recommend Gerbings Heated Motorcycle gear to anyone who is planning to run long days in the saddle in colder temps. I think this type of gear is best suited for touring or adventure touring. Riding with amble highway riding. For the days when you are putting in several hours at a time on the interstate or highway. The jacket liner is great for keeping your body temp where it needs to be and the gloves offer a lot of versatility as the demands on your body change throughout the day. If you have plans to hit a variety of altitudes on you journey then this kit is also useful because of the wide variety of heating support it offers. Plus if you want to stash it away it packs down to almost nothing.
I would be less inclined to bring heated gear along on a summer ride where you expected to see some colder temps at altitude. I would be worried that I would be occupying valuable space in my adv luggage with an item that I may not even use. While the sentiment to “have it if you need it” is nice, I think my personal choice would be to leave the heated gear behind in these situations because it only heats while the motorcycle is running. I would opt for a down jacket or fleece pullover instead. This was if you do end up hiking, riding, or camping in the mountains and see a substantial difference in temp from the normal summer days, you would have a multipurpose layering system for all situations available.