Contrary to popular belief, I’m not psychic but it might appear that way when you consider last winter I requested a heated jacket, gloves and insoles from Tourmaster (this test) and a fully waterproof Latitude Gore-Tex jacket from Klim (next article) as my gear to test for the year.
But then I like to make the riding season as long as possible, kicking it off with a long and initially cold ride from Toronto to Daytona for the Bike Week races. As luck would have it would turn out to be a cool wet spring and summer in 2014 (just what is a polar vortex anyway?), giving me ample opportunity to thoroughly evaluate these items.
1) Initial impressions
The jacket liner and its controls were remarkably similar to the ones I already owned, so I felt right at home with the new gear immediately.
The heated liner fit easily under my riding jacket with minimal bulk, and the smooth finish meant it slid easily into the sleeves without bunching. The liner was reasonably stylish and with the wrist wires (provided for connection to heated gloves) tucked into their forearm pockets, the liner could easily pass for a casual windbreaker.
Zippered hand pockets were a nice touch (my other jacket liner does not have these), keeping valuables secure. Surprisingly the jacket liner is even machine-washable!
The gloves were easy to put on, with a generous gauntlet section that closed tightly on the sleeve with Velcro adjustment. The gauntlet section also featured a pullout cuff that extended the gauntlet further up the sleeve with a drawstring closure ensuring a tight seal to keep the elements out.
The wires on the gloves were easy to attach to the matching wires on the jacket, but were a little long, forcing them to bend acutely, especially when the pullout cuff was being used. Previous experience suggests that this acute bending of the wires may result in internal breakage eventually. Take a moment when plugging in the jacket or gloves to make sure the wires are routed in as gentle arc as possible and not folded back too tightly on themselves.
Unlike the liner (that fits under a regular riding jacket), the gloves have to provide protection in the event of a fall. They do seem to be up to the task, fitted with a wrist strap for security, leather palm for abrasion resistance, padded knuckle guard, padded wrist guard and an extra piece of leather protecting the vulnerable pinky finger.
The gloves also have some additional features that make life easier on the bike; a squeegee on the left thumb helps keep your visor clear, a built-in Thinsulate layer means they’re quite warm, even when not turned on, and they have faux suede panels on the palm that add an extra layer of protection and improve your grip on the handlebars.
The insoles must be ordered in the correct size for your boot – they’re not a one-size-fits-all option that have to be trimmed to fit.
This arrangement also means the heating element can extend almost all the way to the tip with no fear of it being compromised during trimming.
The original insoles in my boots were quite thin, so the heated inserts made the boots fit a little more snugly than before. T
he insole wires were long enough for the connector to sit outside the boots, easing attachment to the wire harness that runs up the leg. The accompanying wire harness that connects the insoles to the jacket was long enough to allow comfortable positioning.
2) Fit / Comfort
Tourmaster heated gear features lightweight flexible steel fiber heating elements; there’s no zig-zag of heavy wires like you’d find in an old electric blanket. For all intents and purposes, you don’t notice the heating elements at all.
Heated clothing manufacturers recommend a slightly snug fit for maximum heat transfer. I found the jacket liner I ordered fit true to sizing, but if I were to do it again I might try going down one size for a tighter fit. The liner has stretch panels on either side that run the full length of the torso to help ensure a comfortable fit.
The torso is normal bomber jacket length, keeping your core warm with no buckling at the waist when seated on the bike. The heated collar is high enough to keep the neck warm, but doesn’t bind against the chin or helmet strap, while the slightly long sleeves make sure that heat is available almost all the way to the wrist.
The gloves fit well (again, true to sizing), and were easy to put on and take off even when hands were a little wet. The gloves are pre-curved and feature stretch panels on the knuckles that made them among the most comfortable winter gloves I have worn.
Although the back of the glove is well-padded and insulated, the palm and inside of the fingers are relatively thin. This improves flexibility, feel and heat transfer from heated grips.
A quick note on the gloves water resistance – Tourmaster describe them as water-resistant, not waterproof and I found that my hands would eventually get wet in torrential rain. Having said that, my hands always stayed warm, even when wet.
As mentioned before, the insoles were a little thicker than the originals they replaced, making my boots a little tighter, but not uncomfortably so. The insoles include arch support; the low-friction material that helps feet slide easily into boots does not allow excessive slippage, so the boots remain relatively comfortable to walk in.
One minor complaint on comfort is that the wire for the insole runs up the outside of the leg which means careful positioning is necessary to ensure it doesn’t rest against your ankle bone. It also means the wire harness connecting the insoles to the jacket must cross from the outside of the leg to the inside of the leg at some point in its travel. Again, careful positioning will eliminate any problems here.
The other heated insoles I own have the wire off the inside and it seems to sit more naturally, although with boots tucked tight against the engine there is a risk of chafing.
With the high neck and long sleeves, the liner kept me warm on the coldest rides. However, it was not as warm on its max setting as the liner I already owned. Worn over a light, long-sleeved shirt (as recommended) I wouldn’t want it any warmer, but if worn over a thicker sweatshirt it could use perhaps five per cent more heat – more on this later.
The jacket warms up almost instantly and has nice, even heat distribution throughout, without any noticeable hot spots.
The range of control from the tankbag-mounted dual controller allows you to easily tailor the jacket’s temperature to match conditions, and to be adjusted separately from the gloves and insoles that are paired and adjusted together.
Some people may question the need for electric gloves as they already have heated grips and/or hand protectors, but believe me – there is no comparison.
While heated grips warm the palm well, the back of the hand, the thumb and forefinger can still end up quite cold.
The Tourmaster gloves provide even heat across the back of the hand and along the thumb and fingers eliminating any cold spots. The relatively thin palm still allows excellent heat transfer from heated grips.
However, I did find the overall heat output to be a little lower than ideal in really cold weather and I had to compensate by running my heated grips on a fairly high setting. Of course, most people don’t ride when the temperature is significantly below freezing, but if you do ride in those sort of temperatures, I’d say heated grips are a must to supplement the gloves.
Like the gloves, I found the insoles to be a little underpowered in really cold weather, but in Tourmaster’s defense this is a difficult area to control.
Still, it was bad enough that there were times I considered stopping to let my feet warm up.
Of course the type of boots and socks also affect foot warmth so some experimentation might resolve this problem.
Again, most people don’t ride in the extreme cold so this is probably not an issue for the average rider.
As far as I’m concerned, the jacket was flawless, performing exactly as advertised; the gloves and insoles could have used a bit more output, but were otherwise impressive. There are a few minor issues that are worth noting, however.
Firstly, as with all heated gear, if for some reason the jacket fails to work due to a blown fuse, bad connection, broken wire or whatever, it has very little insulating value of its own. You may want to consider taking warm clothing along as a back-up, especially if you’re on a longer ride.
Secondly, make sure to check the power output of your bike. If you get stuck in traffic on a really cold day, you run the risk of discharging the battery and stranding yourself if the motor is idling for extended periods. A voltmeter added to the dash may be a good idea.
Finally, the power cord from battery to controller fit perfectly on one bike but was about 2” too short for ideal mounting on my second bike. A little extra length would have been nice.
For those who have never worn heated riding gear, do yourself a favor and buy some immediately (at least a heated riding vest). I ride to Daytona from Toronto every year for the bike races the first week of March (it was -22° C when I left last year). Although I have done it without heated gear in the past, I wouldn’t even consider it now.
You can’t imagine how much of a difference heated gear makes to riding comfort. I guarantee you’ll never go back to alternative methods of keeping warm. On frigid fall or spring days, not only is glorious warmth just the turn of a knob away, you don’t have that Michelin Man feeling from having multiple layers stuffed under your riding jacket. As a side benefit, when the weather warms up on your ride, heated clothing is far easier to take off and store, taking up much less space in your luggage.
If I were shopping for heated riding gear, the Tourmaster Synergy 2 jacket liner and gloves would now be at the top of my list but the insoles would require a bit more investigation. Typical on-line pricing for Canada runs roughly $255 for the jacket, $210 for the gloves $72 for the insoles. Add another $72 for the dual controller. This puts the Tourmaster gear slightly toward the cheaper end of the heated gear market and it is worth every penny.
A note on installation, connections and power draw
Installation of the power supply cord could not be simpler, with just two wires (one with a built-in fuse) that connect directly to the battery terminals.
Once the power cord is attached to the battery, you can connect it to the temperature controller that you affix to a handy location somewhere on the bike with its convenient belt-style clip. I chose to clip it to the supplied stretch strap that you are supposed to wrap around your thigh (I stretched it around my tankbag instead).
Once that’s accomplished, you simply put the liner under your riding jacket and plug it in to the colour-coded wire out of the controller. I opted for the dual controller that allows separate temperature control of the gloves/insoles and jacket liner, but the procedure for the single controller is essentially the same.
A word on connections: This is where this jacket liner really shines. My other jacket liner has a fixed mount inside the jacket that the controller plugs into, whereas the Synergy 2 has pigtails that you route to the outside of your riding gear to plug in. The big advantage with this arrangement is, if you accidentally unplug them (like when you stand on the pegs and the wire gets snagged on something) you don’t need to take your riding jacket off to reconnect.
On the subject of accidentally unplugging, while the Tourmaster heated gear appears to use the same kind of coaxial DC connectors as my existing heated gear, they offer a significantly tighter fit making accidental disconnection far less likely.
The cords are all about the right length, with enough slack to reach their intended location without any excess to encourage flapping or snagging. The gloves easily plug into the sleeve wires on the jacket liner, albeit with the wires quite badly kinked as mentioned earlier. The insoles are easily connected with careful routing of the wires the only consideration.
One of the big concerns with all heated gear is the bike’s ability to power it. Most large street bikes will have sufficient output, but smaller dual-sport bikes in particular may struggle a bit. The jacket draws approx. 65W, the gloves 24W and the insoles 12W for a total of 101 watts
Both my bikes put out a maximum of 400W. While I’m not sure how much the bikes take to operate their own internal systems, they handled the additional load as long as the revs were kept up.
At idle, with heated grips set on max, the brake light on, and all heated gear set at max, both bikes discharged slightly but holding the rpm at about 2,500 seemed to create a break-even situation where output equaled draw. (You’ll notice I don’t wear heated pant liners, partly because I find traditional methods of cold protection sufficient, but also because the additional draw may just be a little too much for my bike’s electrical system to handle).
An interesting thing I observed while investigating current draw was that if the radiator cooling fan cut in, both bikes immediately went into discharge, regardless of rpm. This implies the fans have fairly high draw. While the fans rarely come on in cold weather, it is something to keep in mind if stuck in traffic at idle with the brake lights on.