Hot Stuff: Heated Clothing Guide

Author: Phil Turner Posted: 27 Jan 2016

No heated clothing for Bike Social's Michael Mann and Marc Potter (l-r)

Some riders swear by it, some swear at it, but there's no doubt heated clothing has the potential to extend your riding season massively.

Buy wisely and it can be a much more cost-effective option than upgrading your riding gear; saves you piling on the layers before you head out in the morning; and if the manufacturers are to be believed, gives you controllable, reliable heat delivered when and where you need it.

Like with all riding gear, you have to choose and use heated kit wisely though, or you could end up getting your fingers burned –  in some cases, literally.

Choose and use heated kit wisely. KEiS X800 heated gloves for instance

We quizzed David Gath, MD of Motohaus – the UK's exclusive distributors of KEiS heated clothing – about buying, fitting and using: 

ABOUT

What are main different types of heated clothing and the advantages/disadvantages of each?

The main differences come in the types of heating elements they have inside them. There are two basic element structures: polymer elements and wire-like elements. 

By far the most reliable and flexible of these are spun from short conductive alloy fibres, similar to the way cotton is spun. This is what you should be looking for; it’s highly flexible, reliable and a proven technology.  

Some riders might be put off by the thickness of heated undergarments. How do they compare to a normal base/mid layer set up?

Largely they are thicker, but the heating means that the layers you wear on top can be much lighter/thinner – and there can be less of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall effect will be lighter riding kit, but it should certainly not be heavier overall, and the result should be a much warmer ride.

Are they breathable and/or machine washable, like normal base/mid layers? Are all types of heated clothing washable?

Many are and buyers certainly need to check, as that will help keep them fresher and more pleasant to wear.

The Keis range is tested in a washing machine, although we recommend hand washing and of course no spin drying, as this can put enormous strain on any garment.

For around £150 these X2i heated trousers from KEiS will keep you toasty

How difficult is it to wire heated clothing into your bike?

The wiring of the interface cable is quite straightforward, on most bikes and scooters.  Of course that depends where the battery is situated. Where the battery may be inaccessible or the rider would simply prefer not to get involved with it, a range of other connection options are usually available with your chosen kit. Keis can provide a number of options, including attachment through battery charger/optimiser leads or accessory sockets, for example.

What are the main advantages/disadvantages of wiring heated clothing in vs a battery pack?

Cost is the main factor. Lithium batteries of any size that are suitable for powering heated kit can get very pricey. That said, they do offer the advantage of not having to unplug when you get off the bike and still keeping you warm without having to be connected.  It's important to check with the manufacturer how long your chosen battery pack will last with the garment you have in mind though, to avoid disappointment.

Is wiring in the best option for riders who want to use multiple heated products at once – vest, gloves and insoles? Or is this possible with battery packs now?

I would say wiring to the bike is the only option. The lithium battery packs can supply enough current to run multiple garments, but the length of time they will stay warm/on for could be as little as 20 minutes, depending on how many it's being asked to run.

Do you need to upgrade your battery or charging system?

We've never heard of anyone having to upgrade their battery. However, if you are running every accessory under the sun, then you do need to be sensible.

It’s just a matter of ensuring that the generator is pushing out enough to power it all. If not then something has to go and I would recommend it’s not your heated kit! 

Bike Social's Michael Mann could have used some heated clothing while testing Suzuki's Versys 1000


 

USING 

How long/on average do heated garments take to warm up?

In the case of Keis, within seconds, the issue is how long it takes for the heat to be felt by the wearer, and that is down to what you wear under your heated kit.

We recommend that you do wear something, but the thicker that something is the longer it will take for you to feel the heat.  

How hot do they get?

Again I can only speak for Keis, and it all depends on ambient temperature and the individual set up, but we aim for around 50 degrees centigrade.

How easy are they to control on the move?

KEiS have a remote control that can be mounted on the handlebar

With any heated clothing we recommend that changes are not made on the move. Of course controllers can be placed within reach and in the case of Keis we do have a remote control in our range that can be mounted on the handlebar making control on the move easy and, above all, safer.

Is there a 'best practice'  method to get the best results - keep switching them on and off, or turn down the heat and leave them on throughout the journey, for example?

You raise a good point here. One thing you should not do is leave them on for long journeys when you are fixed in one position. If you slap on some heated gloves in Bristol, turn them up to full power and don’t switch them off until you arrive at Heathrow, don’t be surprised if the elements in the glove have left some nice red marks on your fingers. Of course it’s not life threatening, but you do need to be aware. You're much better off turning off and on as you need them.

Like us I'm sure all manufacturers issue advice on best practice, and you should follow this.


CHOOSING

What should riders look for when purchasing: targeting specific areas they find get cold (gloves, insoles etc.); just a vest to keep the core warm; or a combination of both?

I think if a rider has a particular problem for example Reynaud’s Syndrome affecting their hands, then gloves are the answer.  However you are right, that there is a lot to be said for keeping the core warm, as this in turn helps keep the extremities warmer.

A vest is a good starting point. If the rider feels they need further heating then certainly Keis allows for the easy attachment and running of extra garments like gloves, insoles etc. from the one connection. 

What should riders be looking for in terms of spec: minimum output; element types; waterproof fittings etc?

My main piece of advice is not to buy generic brands, go for one that specialises in heated apparel. It’s worth checking out the range of connection and control options, and whether it’s possible to interconnect the garments.  For example Keis provide dedicated power ports across the range to facilitate the addition of further garments without the need for new battery connections. 

And remember as a motorcyclist it’s essential to buy 12v with the option of running the system from the bike or lithium batteries; not all manufacturers provide this option.


KIT ME OUT

Still confused? We gave David three types of rider to kit out, to see what sort of set up you should be looking at: 

1. I'm a year-round commuter, my journey is under an hour each way taking in mixed roads/speeds and patches of traffic, where I can get quite warm.

I need my set up to be quick and easy to get in and out of at either end, to save me time. What should I go for? 

Control is the most important part of any set up, so a device to adjust/turn on and off the heat, is essential. After all a commute is not a matter of choice, you're going to be on the road regardless of what the weather throws at you, and you need to be able to respond accordingly.

In this case I would recommend a waistcoat and heat controller - something like the Keis X20 waistcoat with our Handlebar Remote Control. Heated gloves would also be a sensible buy, to help keep those fingers functioning and fully in control of the bike, in the hustle and bustle of commuter traffic. 

As for being easy to get in and out of, most heated kit is a lot easier to take on and off than multiple base and mid-layers are. Keis garments look good on their own so you don’t even need to take it off when you arrive at your destination, depending on where you work!

KEiS X20 waistcoat and controller

2. I'm a touring rider, and like crossing continents. My riding is usually in large/long blocks of time and can take in a real variety of temperatures and conditions – from warm valley bottoms to chilly mountain passes. What should I buy?

Control remains the most important part, so you can react to changing temperatures, and because for this kind of riding you're going to need a more powerful set up, which in turn will need controlling.

The Handlebar Remote Control together with the Keis X25 jacket, X20i Trousers and our armoured X800i gloves would a great set up for this. If you wanted to go the whole hog then pack the X300 heated insoles for those really cold days.

All this kit can be turned down, turned off or packed away when you don’t need it, but have a few days of snow and you are going to need all the warmth you can get.

3. I'm a weekend/leisure rider and go out with mates for afternoons/rides to the coast etc. I ride a sports bike. My riding is usually in blocks of between 1 and 3 hours in mixed conditions/speeds. What should I buy, and why?

In this case I would recommend just a waistcoat, something like our X10. The X10 is the starter in our range, so reasonably priced – I wouldn't be looking to spend too much on a garment, a high specification, or go for multiple kit set ups, for this kind of use.

X10 - the starter waistcoat from the KEiS range

Control is also less important here too, as you're not running a complex set up or a high output. And because when you're riding for pleasure, you can choose when you are out and when to call it a day.

Do you ride with heated clothing? If so, what?  

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