Introduction to Heated Motorcycle Gear
Some motorcycle riders are lucky. They live where the weather never turns too foul to ride, nor does it get cold enough to do much more than put frost on the ground.
The rest live in the parts of the world where winter can come, sit down, and stay a long while, sometimes for months on end. When this season comes along, many riders put away the bike and take their cars or public transport when they need to go somewhere. Others, however, let nothing stand in the way of a ride. They will do whatever it takes to get out on their bike no matter what Mother Nature is doing.
For those riders who remain undaunted when the mercury falls and most people batten down the hatches and hibernate, there is an enormous choice in riding gear to make the winter months more comfortable, safer, and enjoyable.
Apparel and gear selection for use during the colder season is not difficult to find. Manufacturers now produce an extensive range of items designed to keep the motorcycle rider warm and comfortable in nearly any weather conditions. This gear uses advanced insulation, high-tech materials, and modern assembly methods designed to keep the cold at bay. Some of this gear also contains heating capabilities which will warm the rider even if the elements cannot be sealed out entirely.
Heated motorcycle apparel is a constantly evolving segment of the powersport industry. Recent years have seen many innovations in the technology used to create this gear, much of it thanks to the military. This has led to the expansion of the category with more manufacturers offering more gear in a diverse array of options for the cold weather rider.
Of course, this abundance of choice can make it difficult to choose which gear is right for you. With a little research and a clear idea of what you need or want out of your heated riding apparel, the selection of the proper items can be made far simpler. Is this guide we cover:
- Cold Weather Gloves
- Cold Weather Jackets
- Cold Weather Vests
- Cold Weather Pants
- Cold Weather Headgear
- Cold Weather Accessories
Cold Weather Gloves
The hands are one of the most important parts of the body to keep comfortable. On a motorcycle, your hands control most of what makes a ride possible, thus these appendages must be kept happy in order to keep you safe and on the correct path.
When colder temperatures arrive, a good pair of cold weather gloves mean the difference between tolerating a ride and enjoying it. The available options are extensive:
- Thick insulated models
- Thin and high-tech versions
- Heated gloves with self-contained heating units and rechargeable batteries
- Many heated models with systems get power from the bike's electrical system
As with any riding glove, there are standard features to look for in a pair of the cold weather variety. The essentials are obvious:
- Gloves should fit well and be comfortable
- Protective of the hands and digits
- Durable to deal with harsh conditions
- Allow unfettered use of all of the motorcycle's controls
Cold weather gloves add attributes to this which must also be measured. Most, if not all, are waterproof to keep the cold and wet out, and many use modern fabric technologies to keep your hands warm - not the thick layers used in previous generations. It is best to find models that contain a moisture-wicking material on the inside of the gloves so that the warmth they provide does not cause a build-up of undesirable moisture in the gloves from your sweat glands.
Heated gloves present other considerations, as you might expect, and most are related to the design. A good pair will have even heating throughout the palm, backhand and all fingers. Almost all heated gloves available today have this - though some purposefully reduce the heat to the palm to compensate for heated grips; if this is the case, the glove's description will state it.
Next, with heated gloves that are to be wired to the bike, you must ensure that the bike's electrical system can handle the load. Most can handle the very few watts that heated gloves require, but you must check to be certain. Should the gloves have their own power source, be sure it will keep the gloves operating for a long enough time for your ride. Additionally, you must concern yourself with how to charge them.
An obvious exception to the normal properties you should expect from a pair of cold weather gloves is the cold weather glove liner. These are made to go inside of your regular gloves and all of the heated versions are battery powered. Be sure that your normal riding gloves have the available room for a liner and that they are at least water resistant and moisture-wicking so that the standard or heated liners will not get wet which will make them useless and could possibly damage them.
Cold Weather Jackets & Liners
Jackets and liners made for cold weather are very popular as well. Manufacturers are offering ever improving models, each with the latest in high-spec materials and insulating properties. And the feature lists for them grow with every release. Most models feature:
- High water-resistant or waterproof
- Sealed seams
- Extended sleeves and back
- Zipper covers
- High collars
The standard considerations apply to cold weather jackets.Ensure a good fit without being too tight, with and without the jacket liner - if it has one - so you can add layers as necessary. Look for those with motorcycle-specific protection and armor, and look for the features that you normally use in your standard riding jacket like storage, easy on and off, flexibility and durability.
A simple cold weather jacket liner is often included with a jacket designed for use in the winter months, but some do not include one. There are many available separately and should be sized to properly fit in the jacket you intend to use it with. Sleeves should be long enough to reach the wrists and the material used on the outside should be smooth so that it is easy to don your riding jacket with the liner in place.
Jackets and liners equipped with heating capabilities are nearly as widespread as heated gloves and come in at least as many types. Keeping your torso warm and comfy on a winter motorcycle ride has never been this easy. Just as with your hands, your core is important to your riding comfort and safety. Heated jackets and liners are an excellent way to do this.
Heated liners are the quickest and least expensive solution. Available in wired and self-contained versions, heated liners are designed to be worn under your standard riding jacket. The key benefit of using one is that it eliminates the usual bulk of a non-heated liner which usually leads to discomfort. All of these will have heating throughout the torso and in the arms, with only absolute levels of temperature being variable between models.
A heated liner must be of proper size to easily fit underneath normal riding gear, so pay special attention to sizing. It should be capable of generating good heat which lasts long enough for your ride as well. The heating elements should extend throughout the torso and into the arms so that you are completely covered with warmth. Though not as important as it is in a jacket, durability is a concern since it will be sandwiched between jacket and shirt. And, when in the riding position, it should not bunch or cause any difficulty with operating the controls.
Heated jackets must live up to the same high level requirements as any motorcycle riding jacket and deliver sufficient heating to keep you warm on the open road. This often means that these pieces of apparel are more expensive than the non-heated sorts, so be prepared for this. However, a good heated jacket provide a higher level of comfort in the cold, protection from the elements, and a boost to your riding enjoyment. This more than compensates you for the extra cash outlay.
Since the primary reason you want to purchase a heated jacket is directly related to comfort, how well the jacket fits you should be near the top of your needs and wants list. Pay attention to size charts and notes about how the jacket should be worn before you buy; some are designed to allow for layers underneath and other models will fit just like an ordinary riding jacket. You should not be hampered from properly operating your bike in any way from the addition of heating to the garment.
Most heated versions of riding jackets offer durabilityusing the same construction as any cold weather jacket, and most are fully waterproof. This often means that they will hold up well to the cold weather environment. However, look closely at garment construction and the materials used to be certain that it is strong enough to deal with the journey you will undertake.
Though a few do not, most heated riding jackets have well-placed padding and impact-absorbing inserts designed for protecting the rider in a crash. Whatever protection you like to have in your normal riding jacket should also be present here. Some compromises will be necessary - such as fewer available storage pockets due to the heating equipment - but the overall safety should not be questionable at all.
Heated jackets also have the same power configurations as their liner cousins. Some jackets require wiring in to the bike's power supply, while others are completely independent thanks to an included battery pack. The bike's charging system needs to be checked to rule out any issues with the extra draw, and it should be easy to set up the connection.
Battery-powered models should be powerful enough to keep you warmed and last long enough for you to get where you are going. And, no matter the power source, the heating elements need to cover the entire torso and the arms for fully-encompassing warmth.
Quality heating is the focus with any heated jacket, but so are the other characteristics you normally look for in a riding jacket. Choose wisely and this purchase can bring you enjoyable riding even in the coldest of winters.
Cold Weather Vests
Vests designed for riding in cold weather are also fairly common. These come in numerous configurations, most have heating elements, and they are a bit less expensive than a full jacket. Of course, cold weather riding vests are different by design.
Most cold weather vests are meant to be worn under a normal or cold weather riding jacket. However, they also work alone if the weather is not too chilly and function as a normal article of clothing when off the bike. Fitting of a cold weather vest is also simplified thanks to the lack of shoulders and arms since it must only fit around your torso.
Durability is a minor concern. The vest only needs to survive under a jacket, for the most part, so it simply must use a material which keeps its insulation, or heating elements, in place and resists abrasion from the outer layer. Do not expect any vest to protect you in a crash.
The heated versions of cold weather riding vests should have heating elements throughout the entire garment in order to keep you warm. Some require either a connection to the bike itself or to another of the same manufacturer's heating controllers contained in a heated jacket or pants. The cables should not be too short or too long, and the connector must match what you have on your bike or your other heated gear. Other models are battery-powered and require no cables. These are simpler and all you must do is check for battery longevity.
Cold Weather Pants & Liners
On many motorcycle models, the legs are also exposed to the elements and can get quite cold as they rarely move very much. Solving this problem is as simple as finding a good pair of cold weather riding pants. These come in a two different designs:
- The simple over-pant - made to be worn over normal riding pants
- The under-pant an often heated extra layer of insulation worn underneath a pair of pants
Cold weather over-pants are almost universally waterproof, so wet weather is not a worry. They are also sized a bit larger, even if you buy the size of you normally wear, so to easily fit over a regular pair. Most will also have accommodations for easily donning them even with full gear in place.
Long zippers along the lower legs and a wide opening at the waist are very useful for this. Many models also have a way to access the pockets of your regular riding pants while in place. They should also be made of a very durable material to cope with the weather and the ground should bike and rider go down.
Not all models have insulation, so it is a good idea to know just how cold you expect the weather to be before you buy. The sealing properties of a pair of cold weather over-pants usually do well to keep you warm when combined with standard riding pants underneath, but having extra warmth is recommended if your riding will take you into sub-freezing temps.
The cold weather pant liners are often quite basic. Even though the great majority of them are heated, there is often not much more than the heating elements sandwiched between two layers of material. That fabric is usually a modern, moisture-wicking type with insulating properties, but it is not likely to be terribly thick. Pockets, zippers, and protection will not be present on very many models of cold weather pant liners.
You want one of these liners to be form fitting so that it will fit underneath your standard riding pants, and you will want it to be durable enough to wear off the bike. Ensure that any heated liner you obtain has heating at least in the thighs and, especially, the knees.
As with other types of heated gear, there are two types of these. One is the kind which must be wired to the bike, and the other is the self-contained version. Always make sure your bike can handle the power draw and that the cable is long enough to allow normal movement on the bike. Battery-powered cold weather pant liners should be able to hold out long enough for the ride you wish to take.
Cold Weather Headgear
Though a full-face motorcycle helmet is probably the most common type used when the dark and cold months of winter arrive, it still will not provide enough cover to keep the rider's head warm in moderate to extreme conditions. To do so, there are several options.
Cold weather headgear comes in the form of a sort of liner for your helmet. Some only cover the lower portion of your skull along with the neck, others only the top, and the more effective types cover your entire head and neck. Most are fairly thin, but made from various high-tech fabrics designed to be moisture-wicking, anti-bacterial and provide some warmth. Your primary concern here is that anything you buy for this purpose does not interfere with your vision and does not cause discomfort.
Cold Weather Accessories
The many options for cold weather riding gear do not end with only these items. There are other ideas for apparel and there are many, many products available to install on your bike whichhelp make riding in inclement weather more bearable.
Other cold-weather-fighting ideas for your body:
- Rubber over-gloves
- Over-boots / boot covers
- Cold weather socks
- Heated socks and heated insoles
- Simple rain gear (good at deflecting cold air)
- Neck warmers and bandanas
Some on-bike cold weather accessories:
- Heated grips
- Heated seats
- Wind deflectors
- Hand mitts (attach to bike's handlebars)
The simple idea is to keep the rider warm when the weather turns cold. To accomplish this, you can see that there are many paths to take. Deciding what is best for you depends on many personal and real factors which only you will know. How much does the cold weather bother you? Will you be riding into colder, warmer or very similar environments? How far and how long will you ride? Will the weather change continually? That is only a short list of questions you should ask yourself before you purchase cold weather riding gear.
Answering the above will help you select what types and how much of it you need to own. You can buy it piecemeal, selecting items which fit your personal riding style and conditions. Or, you could select just one brand and pick up all of their gear that you require. Of course, keep in mind that if you buy a full set of heated gear from the same manufacturer, it will usually all connect together so that only one power outlet is required on the motorcycle. Buying many different types which do not work together may be problematic if none of the gear is self-contained and must be powered from the motorcycle.
What keeps you warm when you are on the commute or the open road far from home will likely be different than other riders would use. You must decide what parts of you that are the most affected by cold weather, answer some basic questions, look at the options and then decide what fits your needs and wants. It all depends on you.
Written By: JC Current