A beginner’s guide to heated gear

Days are getting shorter and temperatures are dropping. Yep, fall arrives next week. If you want to keep riding when the weather gets cooler, start thinking about it now, not when your fingers start growing numb.

It’s no fun riding in the cold, and it can be dangerous even before ice and frost make the roads slick. If you’re cold, your reaction times slow, and that’s no good when you’re on two wheels.

However, you don’t have to despair when the mercury starts to drop. There’s plenty of riding season left, if you start using heated gear. There’s plenty of stuff on the market now, not just old-school wired vests. Here’s a look at what you can buy to stay warm in the saddle

Gear for your bike

Heated grips

Heated grips should be included as standard on every motorcycle sold in Canada, but sadly, they aren’t. You will find them as standard on many touring bikes (cruisers, sport tourers, adventure tourers), and they’re available as OEM options on many others.

Heated grips are typically included as standard on high-end adventure and touring bikes, but they are usually optional on lower-priced machines, or you may even have to resort to aftermarket, even if you want OEM.

You’ll pay a lot for the OEM heated grips (well over $300 in some cases, after tax and also purchasing the necessary wiring components). You’ll likely pay a lot for the dealership to install them as well, so this is a very good DIY project. You can find decent grip heaters for less than $150 from online Canadian retailers, and install them yourself to save money.

A few words on the different kinds of heated grips available. First, you can buy just the heating elements and wiring harness for very little cost. Go on eBay or AliExpress, and you will see them for $10 or less; you remove your existing handlebar grips, install the elements on the handlebars, wire them in, and install your old grips (or new ones) over the elements.

The most affordable option is to just add the heater elements under the grips yourself, but these often come apart easily.

This is the cheap way to go, but you get what you pay for. These elements and their wiring tend to be flimsy. Unless you’re careful with installation, the wires often come apart, leaving you to redo the job in a few months.

Another option is heated overgrips. The best-known ones are probably Oxford’s HotHands grips. Installation is simple; wrap the heated overgrips around the existing grips, run the wiring back and attach directly to battery. These are by far the easiest option on the market, and can be installed in a half hour.

These Oxford Hot Hands overgrips are an affordable, quick solution, but definitely not for everyone.

Unfortunately, they come with some drawbacks. They aren’t as warm as other heated grips. They do offer more cushioning from vibrating handlebars, due to their added layering, but that also means the grips are more thick than most 7/8 grips and also have a bit of play on the handlebars. They aren’t dangerous, but might not provide the precision handling some riders want.

Finally, you’ve got replacement grips with the heater elements built-in. These are what most people think of when you talk about heated grips. To install them, you remove your old grips and slide the new ones on, then wire them in. These grips might be a bit fatter than your stockers, but they’ll work well for most people, and usually have a long life and throw out plenty of heat if you buy quality product. For most people, this is the best way to go.

These are the best styleof heated grips for the DIY installer. They are not as fat and wiggly as the overgrips, and often last longer than the elements you insert under existing handlebar grips.

Some notes on heated grip installation: It’s more work, but it’s best if you tap into your bike’s wiring harness instead of going straight to the battery terminals. With some research, you can usually find an empty plug in the wiring harness that’s intended to power accessories like these, shutting them off when the ignition goes off. If you wire them directly to the battery, you may find yourself accidentally killing your battery by leaving the grips on when you turn the bike off. Some grips are supposedly engineered to avoid this scenario, but I know riders who’ve had the problem, despite the promises on the packaging.

Heated seat

Most riders stick with just heated grips, but some touring machines also have heated seats included as factory options. It’s not as common a DIY modification, as you’ve got to tinker with upholstery, and that’s outside the average wrencher’s skillset.

This BMW C650GT scooter comes complete with heated seats for both passenger and pillion. Nice stuff, if you can afford it!

However, the kits to make your own heated seat are available online, and if you don’t mind tearing your bike’s seat apart, they can provide an extra level of comfort on those chilly days. But given the difficulty of installation and the fact the heated seats must warm the rider through their riding gear, it makes more sense for most riders to opt for heated pant liners, if you need all-day warmth. Where heated seats come into their own is their usefulness to around-town riders, who don’t want to be bulked up like the Michelin Man at every stop.

Gear for you

Heated jacket/vest

Along with heated grips, this is the most common bit of heated gear you’ll see, because it does the best job of keeping you warm. If your core is warm, then there’s more blood circulating to your extremities. For many riders, this, with the heated grips, is enough to keep them riding into cooler temps.

A heated vest typically has two advantages over a jacket: it’s less expensive, and it’s less bulky and likely to bind up your arms. For shorter rides on slightly chilly days, it might be enough.

Zac put a borrowed Firstgear heated jacket to good use on his cold-weather Toronto-New Brunswick run last November.

But if you want to ride longer days in the cold, or into colder weather, you want a heated jacket with wires that run down your shoulders and arms. I’ve used both, and there’s no real comparison; the extra output of the jacket is simply beautiful when you’re out in the really nasty stuff, and can be the difference between surviving and thriving on the road.

You can find cheaper no-name heated gear on eBay, AliExpress and similar sights, but it’s worth spending the money on something with a recognizeable name. Fieldsheer, Gerbing, Tourmaster and other well-respected touring gear companies have been making these garments for years, and will usually back up their products if something goes wrong. That’s where you should spend your money.

If you shop carefully, you should be able to plug all your heated gear together, leaving only one wire to connect to the motorcycle charging system.
Heated pants

You don’t see as many riders with heated pants, because most are able to get by with layered clothes and insulated riding pants. They make sense for touring riders, who need all-day, full-body warmth, but if you’re just tootling around town, they aren’t as necessary, as they’re then just one more layer to remove when you get where you’re going (that’s when the heated seat is nice).

Most heated pants can be plugged into a heated jacket, meaning you’ve only got to run one cord from your gear to your bike.

Heat gloves/liners

Now this is a piece of gear worth having! Most heated gloves and glove liners are paired with heated jackets, as most heated jackets have connectors for the gloves at the end of the sleeves. You could jury-rig a setup to work with a heated vest if you bought some wire and some splitters, but it’s much easier to just connect them to a heated jacket.

The great thing about heated gloves and liners is that they heat the outside of your hands, where they’re most cold from windchill. In-the-know touring riders prefer them.

Heated gloves generally keep your hands warmer than heated grips, but in a perfect world, you would have both.

The not-so-great thing about heated glove liners is that they can be too bulky to fit under your regular riding gloves. Heated gloves that are meant to serve as outer gloves don’t have this problem, but they might not be as waterproof as you’d like, or offer enough protection. In any case, if you’re putting down serious miles in the cold, look into these. They keep your hands warmer than heated grips, and if you pair the two, then you’ll never have to worry about cold fingers unless you’re out in silly cold temperatures.

Heated socks

Talk to serious cold-weather riders, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: It’s hard to keep your feet warm on the bike when temperatures drop. Sure, wool socks or better boots can help, but it’s not easy. So, heated socks, insoles or boot liners are a big, big help in these conditions.

Just like heated glove liners wire into a jacket, heated footwear is typically made to plug into a pair of heated pants, but you may find other ways to jury-rig the power supply. You also might find them too bulky or uncomfortable to fit into your normal riding boots, requiring new footwear as well. Your mileage may vary!

Battery-powered, or wired?

When heated rider gear first came out, it was intended to be wired to your motorcycle, but now there are battery-powered options on the market. Which is the best way to go?

Some heated gear, like this vest from Symtec, are battery-compatible but can also be wired directly to your bike, giving you some of the advantages of both designs.

There are advantages to both. Battery-powered gear is universal; if you own multiple bikes, you don’t have to worry about adding power cords to each machine, and you don’t have to worry if each of your machines has the electric output to handle the heated gear. The downside is that battery-powered gear typically puts out less warmth than hardwired gear, and the batteries usually only last a couple of hours at high power. There are also fewer options for quality battery-powered gear, although just about anything is available if you want to risk your money on no-name products from China.

The big advantage of gear wired directly to the bike is its impressive heat output, and it’s also great that you don’t have to worry about battery range. The disadvantage is that your bike’s charging system might not be able to handle the draw of the added electrical components.

A jacket can draw 90 watts, and pants/socks/gloves added together can equal that or more, so if your bike only has 30 watts of electrical output to spare when running, you’ll be in trouble. Before you go crazy and buy a jacket, pants, socks and gloves to wire into your bike, make sure your machine has enough electrical output to power it.

This is one area where it really pays to read the specs on what you’re buying, as you may be able to find newer, more efficient gear that draws less power, and that’s what you want if you can afford it. You don’t want to end up on the side of the road this fall, cold and with a dead bike that won’t start.

4 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to heated gear”

  1. I would like to pass along a Calgary dealer that also sells on line. Power in Motion heated gloves. Last 18 months in Calgary I only missed riding in Feb, 18. I also ski and have severe Raynauds, a very serious and painful condition if/when fingers get cold. I have been using the gloves for 2 years. I just bought a larger leather over glove for riding. Some of my bikes have heated grips, some do not. Regardless, depending on temp I use the gloves. The batteries go into the glove or with a harness, which I use bc the batteries go into my jacket pocket, out of the way. Medium heat is perfect and gives me 8 hrs. Amazing product that is portable and works great. I think now around $250. To ride and ski year round it is cheap. Cam

  2. I don’t understand why a website that is read by consumers doesn’t recommend that customers go to their local dealers rather than referencing online retailers who have no skin in the game, and provide little after-sale service. It’s the dealers who are the backbone of the industry we all love, yet I see more and more that magazines and online sites such as this send riders directly to online stores. They get little advice and are sold only the things that are expedient. If the accessory has a problem, it’s much more difficult to rectify the situation online.
    Dealers are in the area, have spent a lot of money to invest in a building, employees, displays, etc, yet the return on investment is really not that great. Why not send business our way once in a while?

    1. Don’t judge on just one story. Read CMG long enough and you’ll see us recommend dealers (helmet purchases, for instance).

      1. Wonderful! My point is; why not always recommend your readers go to dealers? We have always been here, and will always be here to advise and make our clients riding life more enjoyable and fulfilling. I ran Western Powersports for 21 years, and let me tell you, it wasn’t for the money. I love riding and I love the industry. Dealerships are the centre of enthusiasm, and should always be supported.

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