If you want to prolong your riding season in Canada (and who doesn’t?), then you’re going to need heated gear .
But what if your motorcycle’s charging system isn’t powerful enough to add heated gear, or what if you have a whole fleet of bikes (or even ATVs or snowmobiles), and you don’t want to wire them all with accessory plugs? That’s where battery heated vests, like this unit from Symtec, come in.
Heat Demon battery-powered gear is a relatively new lineup for Symtec; the company has been working with flexible heaters and controllers since 1989. They also make equipment for the medical industry and other powersports sectors (like snowmobiling), along with their motorcycle gear. In Canada, Kimpex carries their lineup, and they helped me get set up with this heated vest.
What’s it all about?
Most heated gear needs to be wired in directly to the bike’s electrical system but Symtec has taken your standard heated vest and added a battery. Also, the carbon-fibre heating elements are smaller than those you’d find in other vests, because they want to conserve battery power, though you can still wire the vest directly to your motorcycle as well.
The vest is made of water-resistant Taslan fabric, with heating elements in the chest and back (removable for washing) and expansion panels on the sides, under the armpits for adjustment.
While I asked for an XL, it turned out to be a bit large (no surprise, that’s my usual size). Thankfully, I was able to use the adjustments to make the vest fit me quite well. Remember, you want these to fit as tightly as possible in order to transfer the heat to your body efficiently. To get the most benefit from the vest’s heat, I wore it over a long-sleeved T shirt, but under all my other gear; that seemed to offer the best heat transfer.
The battery itself uses a 2.5 mm DC outlet and has an 11.1 volt/4400 mAh capacity. It’s built from lithium-ion cells, and will also work with some other Heat Demon accessories, like their foot warmers.
It has integrated short-circuit, over-charging and low voltage protection and although it cautions the user not to submerge it, I actually dropped one in the Bay of Fundy (long story), retrieved it, and had no problems.
There’s a controller that plugs in-line between the battery pack and the vest, with five heat settings. Obviously, the battery’s life depends on which setting you use.
Symtec says you can get up to seven hours of heat from the battery; I traveled at least two and a half hours with the vest at the 80 per cent power setting, and still had juice left when I was done.
On the other hand, I drained a battery in about two hours at the 100 per cent setting.
Fall Tour folly
The vest showed up just before I left on the 2012 CMG fall tour with Editor ‘Arris, along with a charger and one battery. After freezing my backside off during a high-speed jaunt around Newfoundland, I was anxious to try the new vest, and initially, all was well.
Having that heat was amazing. In the single-digit fall temperatures, my new heated equipment quickly changed my chilly misery to relative comfort, even though the heating element is smaller than a standard heated vest’s. With a wool Stanfield’s shirt over the vest, I was almost toasty. As I continued through Quebec in Editor ‘Arris’s wake, the vest made our high-speed, low-temperature tour quite liveable … until we left La Belle Province.
After a lunchtime meetup with Mr. Tate while en route to the GTA, I noticed the vest’s battery was dead, when by my calculations, it should have had a half charge left. Then, when I parked the bike for the night and tried to recharge the vest, I had no success and had to complete the tour sans heat. Thankfully, the temperatures for the rest of the tour were fairly high, or it could have been a miserable trip.
Symtec/Heat Demon was keen to get at the root of the problem, and they shipped me a replacement charger and battery, as I wasn’t sure which component was faulty. I plugged the new charger into the old battery and it immediately started to juice it up – apparently, the old charger was the issue.
I called Symtec back, and asked them if they wanted me to return anything; they told me they to junk the faulty charger, and keep the spare battery. Excellent, I’d just doubled my range!
Symtec also told me they’d checked all the Heat Demon units they had in their warehouse, to make sure they didn’t sell any faulty units. They discarded the ones that were faulty, so you shouldn’t have to worry about buying a unit that doesn’t work.
I took the vest out again in late March of this year, for my kick-off to the spring riding season. The first day I used it, I was riding around 90-100 kph, with an air temperature about 2 Celsius. I drained the battery riding the 220 km between Grand Bay-Westfield and Sackville, N.B.; I had it set at 100 per cent power, and wasn’t exactly roasting.
I plugged the other battery in for the ride home, but by then it was a much balmier 9 Celsius, with sun in the sky instead of sleet. I was perfectly comfortable on the way home with the vest set at 80 per cent, and cruising around 120 kph.
These two rides exposed the vest’s greatest weakness, I think; while it’s great to have battery-powered convenience, it comes with a trade-off. The smaller heating elements built into the vest to conserve energy aren’t going to heat you as well as a vest wired into the bike. But as the second ride showed, as long as you aren’t riding in ridiculously low temperatures, you can still be very comfortable.
While a top-of-the-line heated vest can be used to substitute for bulky clothing, you will still have to wear extra clothes with the Heat Demon on the highway (for rides around town, you can get away with fewer layers). View it as a comfort booster, not a blazing inferno of cold-crushing luxury.
Summary (or should that be summery?)
I wouldn’t buy this vest if I wanted to do long-distance riding in temperatures around the freezing point, as the battery wouldn’t last much longer than a couple hours at its highest setting – but I don’t know anybody who does much sub-zero touring.
Where this vest shines is its versatility; not only is it quite useful for rides up to a couple hours long, you can also wear it off the bike, whether you want to go for a ride on a scooter, ATV or snowmobile, or you want to stay warm while ice fishing or deer hunting.
The battery could also be quite useful while moto-camping. A savvy rider could plug the vest into their motorcycle during the day, then use the battery at night to ward off chills, if their sleeping bag isn’t quite doing the trick.
Would I spend my own money on it? I think so. At around $190, you’ve got a heated vest that transfers between motorcycles easily, and works with bikes that can’t support most heated vests (smaller dual sports, for instance). Then, you can also think of plenty of off-the-bike uses for it as well. That sort of versatility makes it a buy worth considering.