Opinion: Staying warm

It was a hot summer across all of Canada this year – sometimes too hot. The fall is comparatively warm too, and here in Southern Ontario, the leaves are late to change colour. But the clocks will change soon and the temperatures are already dropping. There’s been a frost out in the countryside and, well, it’s getting to that time.

Not time to put the bike away of course, though some will. No, it’s time to dig out the warm clothing so we can stay comfortable on our motorcycles for another month until the first snowfall.

I always dress in layers and that’s still good advice, but it’s not quite so simple on a bike to just wear more clothes. You must remain flexible for turning your head, for example, so you should wear a relatively thin but effective scarf to keep your neck warm, not a thick woolly one. And no matter how many T-shirts and pairs of long johns you put on, if there’s a gap between your jacket and your pants, or your gloves and your sleeve, the wind will find it and ruin your ride.

If your bike has luggage, then it’s smart to carry some extra clothing with you for when you’re caught short by cold weather. Year round, I carry a thin (and very ratty) woolen sweater and a thicker pair of gloves in my saddlebags, as well as a pair of light rain pants, but now I’ll pack some warmer gear. A thin scarf and balaclava, to keep the chill from my head. A more respectable woolen sweater, because I’ll probably have to actually wear it sometime. A pair of leather ski mittens and a light pair of undergloves to let my fingers move around and stay much warmer than in form-fitted gloves.

I’ll also carry my heated vest, either rolled up carefully in a saddlebag or worn against my inner shirt and under a sweater, but without the heat activated until it’s needed. We’ve written a lot about heated clothing in the past and it certainly makes all the difference but it can be both expensive and cumbersome. It can also be a significant drain on the battery of even a large motorcycle.

I bought my vest at one of the motorcycle shows (remember those?) a few years ago for just over $100 and it’s both simple and effective. I grew out of my previous $100 vest after 15 years. The principle is that it will warm your torso, and if your torso is warm, then your heart will be warm, in which case your blood will be warm. If there’s one item of electric clothing you want, it’s a vest.

Mine does not have sleeves because I like my arms to not be constricted beneath the thick sleeves of my jacket. It also does not have a neck because I prefer to wear a thin scarf to keep the wind off my skin. I don’t bother with heated pants because they’re an extra hassle and drain on my bike battery, and although I have a pair of heated socks, I’ve never worn them. If my feet get too cold, it’s probably too cold to ride, period.

The only other heated clothing that I wear occasionally is a pair of heated undergloves, powered by batteries that I keep charged and which I keep handy in my saddlebag to slip on beneath the thick leather mittens, just in case. I also carry some small chemical warming packs that I can slide into my gloves or boots if I have any serious distance still to cover.

Really, most heated clothing is a luxury rather than a necessity, but that said, a pair of heated handlebar grips is a glorious luxury when the weather is cold. You can buy aftermarket grips but those from the factory are usually best, and the least obtrusive for external wiring and connections.

Other than a windshield to keep the wind off you in the first place, the only other heated item for a motorcycle is a heated seat, which seems to have become more popular in recent years as manufacturers work to find ways to spend your money. Personally, I’ve never seen the point because I’m probably wearing thick riding pants that won’t notice the extra heat unless you can fry an egg with it, but to each their own.

So don’t let the cooler weather keep you from riding. Be prepared for any drop in temperature while you’re out because it will probably happen. Once the snow starts to fall though, or the standing water begins to freeze into ice, well, that’s a whole different matter. Time to head to the bike show and plan for the spring.


  1. Yeah I don’t really know what the purpose of the heated seat is. Not a part of my anatomy that usually gets cold. Heated grips and vests, though? Yeah, for sure.

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