Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Is heated gear absolutely necessary? Your call.

12.27.2011

Is heated gear absolutely necessary? Your call.

I thought about revisiting the topic of heated motorcycle gear after my umpteenth ride to work today in wet sub-40°F conditions. My commute to work and back is about 52 miles round-trip, or the distance one-way from Los Angeles to Mission Viejo on a good day. As much as I would like to be cruising that distance in the warmth of the West Coast where it's 75°F and sunny on the beach on Christmas Day, I'm not in luck at the moment. To compensate for the riding "season" that exists in the Midwest, I ride every opportunity that is given to me and not wait for the next perfect day to come around (those rarely happen here, by the way).

I have a single basic rule about riding conditions: the bike is parked when conditions get icy or snow sticks to the road. How I determine this is has been fodder for another blog post, but other than that issue, cold conditions are not a problem during a ride as long as they are properly managed.

The story of my motorcycle life after October in Central Ohio. Good grief.
I've been asked about different types of remedies for those days when it's a bit nippy out there but you want to get out and ride. Regardless of whatever method you use to keep warm on the motorcycle, there are a few basic rules to follow:
1. Cover all holes where air can enter while the bike is moving.
2. Layer appropriately to allow for adjustment to colder/warmer temps.
3. Stay dry. Moisture will reduce the warming effects of your gear.

What's more important? Warm hands or a warm core?
The circulatory system is the human body's natural source for warmth. In simpler terms, it's like a miniature pipe system that spreads warm blood throughout the body. Alternatively, if your blood is cold, then you will feel cold. This is why scarves cover the neck, the location of the major carotid arteries, in the winter while water-soaked bandannas wrapped in the same area aids in the cooling process in the summer.

With that being said, a heated vest/jacket liner helps maintain warmth in the chest area (the center of blood circulation) keeping it at a more comfortable temperature. In turn, the warmth from the center will radiate to the rest of the body. The hands (and feet) are merely end points of the circulatory system. Although having heated gloves will help with localized warmth, a warm core will benefit the entire body and greatly reduce discomfort as a whole. If given the choice between a heated vest/jacket liner or a pair of heated gloves, the former will be more beneficial during extended trips.

Many long distance riders (including myself) consider the heated vest/jacket liner an integral tool in any journey, regardless of time of year. When riding a motorcycle cross-country one should assume a 30-60°F fluctuation in temperature over several thousand miles. Additionally, the windchill factor can turn what is comfortable at standing temperature unbearable at prolonged exposure at highway speeds. For example, a cool 70°F night travelling at 75 MPH feels like 58°F. Does that extra layer sound good right about now? (Sound a bit harsh? Click here for a windchill calculator.)

What is my tolerance for "cold" and do I want to ride in it?
As I've written (and complained about) in previous blog entries, my definition a "fair weather" rider is a person that willfully chooses to depend on numbers and the weatherman to decide when to enjoy their motorcycle ride. In most normal situations, a simple change of the gloves, jacket, or adding an additional layer is enough to compensate for a 10-20°F drop in temperature. Don't know how you'll react in cold? You won't know until you actually try it. For alternatives outside of electric gear, here's a previous blog post on the subject.

How much is motorcycle heated gear?
Good quality heated gear and all its components can be a bit pricey, with a basic jacket/glove setup starting at a couple hundred dollars. You can even get heated pants, socks, and soles too! Several known makers of heated clothing are Gerbing's, FirstGear, and Aerostitch.

Am I the type of rider that can benefit from heated gear?
Like any accessory that's available on the market, heated motorcycle gear isn't for everyone. If your commute is short (I define that as less than 10-15 miles in one direction) and it's something you'll do occasionally, proper layering and windproof materials will get you there without too much trouble. With time and understanding of your needs during a ride, heated gear may become a future consideration. The extra warmth will benefit a rider at any distance, but your decision to invest in it is all up to you.