Dear MOby,

I need to make or acquire some heated gear. I notice that my chest is what gets cold first, toes next, so I’m looking into a heated vest. I’ve read that they don’t last very long… that is, the heaters don’t. I’ve already had a Heat Demon seat heater go bad (nearly burned my leg and it put a hole in the seat vinyl) after about four months of use, so I don’t have a good first impression of the heaters.

Heated gear for motorcycles specifically seems quite expensive. On the other hand, the Milwaukee 12-volt heated vest is reviewed to be durable and well built, but I’ve no information on heater longevity. And I don’t need the battery, as I’ll be powering it from the bike’s electrical system. If a Milwaukee 12V vest without the battery exists (I doubt it…haven’t found one) it should cost me about $70 which would be worth it if the heating element will last. The vest with the battery is about $120 and the battery is around $50, so….

So what about heated gear, especially a vest for starters? Durability? Longevity? Something that doesn’t break the bank? Of course, I’m planning to get into Klim gear just as soon as I make my first million as a rock star. That may be a while, so, meanwhile I still want to ride and stay warm.

I am a DIYer… I make my own crash bars, saddlebags, carrier racks, etc., so have thought about making a vest. I’d put thin aluminum sheet metal in pockets in the chest area, one either side of the zipper, handlebar-warmer size. Blocks the wind totally, spreads the warmth, protects the heater pads and they’re removable so the vest can be washed… though when does anybody wash their motorcycle gear? What the heck, it’s just an idea to try it. Part of the research, though, is finding reasonably priced gear, a vest in this case, that actually works well and reliably. Your take on this?

Thanks,
Paul Kenyon
Someplace Cold


Well, we’re California weenies, so we probably don’t give our electric gear quite the work-out riders in colder climates do – but my own Aerostich Kanetsu vest has got to be at least 15 years old, and the last time I plugged it in last winter, its lovely warmth continued to shine through. Before that, I had a Gerbing that also never let me down and probably is still in the closet somewhere. I only retired it because the Kanetsu vessel is nice, soft fleece. Looks like the Kanetsu is up to $187 now, which isn’t cheap, but if your chest is your main complaint, you could have a look at Aerostich’s $77 Warmbib Evans B reviewed in MO last year. Meanwhile, Gerbing’s basic motorcycle vest sells for $125 here, and looks much nicer than my old one.

If you really wanted to build your own, a conversation with Aerostich founder Andy Goldfine leads us to believe it’s nothing like rocket science. All you need are the right materials and a little sewing skill; Goldfine says a dual-sport rider friend even made himself a heated chest protector.

Aerostich’s latest Kanetsu Airvantage has an inflatable deal to push the heating elements closer to your body without the vest needing to be so snug. Aerostich says it feels like a soft warm hug, which if true probably makes it worth $247.

Aerostich’s latest Kanetsu Airvantage has an inflatable deal to push the heating elements closer to your body without the vest needing to be so snug. Aerostich says it feels like a soft warm hug, which if true probably makes it worth $247.

Lots of materials get warm when you run electricity through them, including carbon fiber, but the oldest and simplest is the specialized heating wire people have been putting into electric heating pads, electric blankets, car seats and all kinds of things for decades. Googling “resistance heating wire” brings up almost 7M results. Andy says Aerostich uses wire with a nichrome filament wrapped spirally around a core covered with a flexible insulation, mostly because it can flex a lot without breaking:

“It is available in various resistance levels (sizes), and the amount of heat produced varies by the length of the wire being used in the circuit. We use two resistance levels of wire in various products and locations, and in varying lengths, depending on how much heat we want. This wire can get hot enough to cause pretty severe skin burns, so one needs to be careful when figuring out how much of what gauge wire to use. Trial and error testing and ohms-law math are both useful here.”

This is the part where most of us just pays our money…

Once you figure out how much to use, the wire is arranged in a back and forth pattern so it doesn’t cross itself, with both ends coming together only at the connection to the cord going to the bike’s electrical system.

Goldfine again: “A hot glue gun works very well for sticking the wire to the fabric of the garment, as the adhesive melts at a higher temp than the wire will ever reach. Here we put a dab of glue on the wire every few inches, holding it to a non-woven heat-adhesive fabric called ‘fusible pellon.’ Then we put another piece of this pellon on top of the wire so we have a pellon-wire-pellon sandwich, and the whole thing goes into a huge heated press where it’s heat-fused together. This assembly is then sewn inside the garment. A do-it-yourselfer could probably skip the pellon and use use any kind of light fabric and the hot glue, then sew the completed panel into the inside of whatever garment they want.”

That’s about all there is to it, says Goldfine: Wire + inner fabric + hot melt glue = panel to sew inside any garment.

Going the extra mile as we’re so fond of doing here at MO, we found true cheapskate advice over here at Instructables.com, from one Cowboy 3059:

“Another idea for making heated clothing for bikes is go to a truck stop or eBay and buy a 12-volt heated blanket, usually for about $35. Strip the wiring out, buy a roll of metal duck (sic) tape from Home Depot for about $7, run the wires inside on the leather in a back-and-forth pattern taping it down with the metal tape. Run the cord, with thermostat, out the bottom so it doesn’t interfere with your riding and connect to power source. They come with a prewired fused lighter plug. You’re ready to rock and roll, took me about two hours start to finish.”

Wow. Let us know how it turns out, Paul, and thanks for the advice Andy Goldfine at Aerostich.


Direct your motorcycle-related questions to AskMoAnything@motorcycle.com, though some say we’re better at non-motorcycle-related ones…

  • Old MOron

    Hmm, I’m not a DIYer. My solution is to wait for something to go on sale.
    That Kanetsu inflatable deal seems like a good idea. Based on the placement of the tube, it looks like the wearer inflates it by blowing into it. I wonder what the long-term effects are of breathing moisture and bacteria into the air bladder.

    • Vrooom

      The inflatable jackets and vests are really good. I haven’t had luck with the heating function working for more than one year’s daily use about 1/2 the year, should figure out how to repair them myself, but just inflating the jacket provides great insulation and warmth, if requiring a larger jacket. Have two Kanetsu’s that aren’t working again after repair in 2014. Maybe I’m hard on them or maybe I use them more than most?

  • 12er

    My Kanetsu Heated Jacket is still going strong as long as Jb’s Vest at around 15 years now. Granted I dont run the heat much as the jacket is enough down to the 30’s under my stich.

    • Auphliam

      So just inflating it a bit works well enough down to those temps without using the heat?

      • 12er

        Mine is pre air bladder, just a heavy fleece jacket with electrical lining. Between the windblocking layer and the fleece its very warm by itself. Personally my favorite currently is my down mini jacket. Wads up to a softball and slides under my ‘stich like greased lighting. Almost makes my ‘stich seem to vanish since there is no friction underneath the suit.

  • Bob Dragich

    I’ve had electric wear from the best, both Widder and Gerbing. I had a Widder vest for over 20 years until I outgrew it sideways. So, yes, they do last. My favorite is the jacket liner and gloves from http://www.VentureHeat.com. The jacket is thinner than a sweatshirt, has very even heat with three heat settings and gets hot in 10 seconds. There is an available wireless remote for the jacket and I rarely use the jacket liner on the warmest setting. The gloves are extremely well built, have carbon fiber over the knuckles and also come with three heat settings. I once got soaked to the bone and both the jacket liner and the gloves continued to work flawlessly. Last New Year’s Day I rode for two hours when the temperature was in the high 30s. When I got back home I found an online wind chill calculator, entered the temperature and my speed and it said it was equivalent to 19 degrees F. I felt warm and cozy the entire trip. The jacket liner goes for $300, the gloves are $200 and the remote is $50. Since I haven’t had a four-wheeled vehicle in over 12 years, the price is more than acceptable for never being cold again. I don’t consider safety gear to be accessories, so these are my favorite accessories by far. Also, I don’t have any relationship with Venture Heat other than being a customer.

  • Gruf Rude

    I made a heated serape’ 10 or so years ago from a yard of light wool cloth, 71 feet of 28AWG stranded hook-up wire, some lamp cord, fuse holder and connectors for the battery. I’m still using it today (and my wife and son still use theirs). I made mine to use on my old airhead BMW, which didn’t have any spare watts, and it works great on my charging-challenged KLR. It draws about 40 watts and provides, gentle, front and back heat. The 71 feet of wire is sandwiched between two layers of wool with a hole for my head in the middle.

  • Vrooom

    My apologies to Andy, but I haven’t had great luck with Aerostich heated gear. It works great, but fails within a year. I’ve had two sets repaired and now both aren’t working again, but they are used daily for 4-5 months a year, which is probably more than most people get their heated gear out. I have had some luck with battery heated gear from Mobile Warming and Milwaukie is probably similar. They do of course require daily charging if used daily, and are basically no good for winter touring where you’re riding more than 8 hours a day and camping. Good luck.

  • jose

    My son figure out a cheap way to stay warm while outside in inclement conditions. As a member of a HS marching band in Colorado the kids have to get creative to be able to do what they have to do. At the beginning of the season they can be performing at 100 F degree weather and by the end of the season they can be out at below zero temps. Coldest was -10 F at the Holidays parade of lights in Denver three years ago. what he did? He stick as many chemical hand warmers as he can inside his uniform. That keep him warm for a few hours. I tried it by putting them in my riding jacket insulated liner pockets and added a large body warmer in back protector pocket. Turns out it was too warm and tried again putting the warmers in the pockets of the jacket out of the insulated liner. You know what it worked. I was comfortable down to the mid 20’s F. There is a company that sell a vest that uses the same principle.

    • Old MOron

      I knew I guy who did the same thing.

  • ADB

    Widder still the best, and still available through the Iron Butt store. Last forever (or until you out grow it…).

    http://www.ibaestore.com/products.asp?MainCatID=2&CategoryID=48&

  • Old MOron

    I’ve been waiting for DickRubble to chime in regarding that lead photo. It’s a great shot, but how did all those guys get lost on the way to the coffee shop?

  • Barry_Allen

    Be sure to include some kind of thermostat/voltage regulator, and remember.

    “Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” – Terry Pratchett

  • I find that loose-fitting belted greatcoat works especially well, if I put several labrador retriever puppies in there — four or five fill the extra space in the coat. Also, a family of mice in each mitten add surprising warmth. I’m Canadian, so I’m hip to these old-school heated gear tips.

    • Kevin Duke

      Ha ha! And you’re also hip to another way for a Canadian to stay warmer: moving 1000 miles south!

      • Barely helping at the MO (you see what I did there?) in Kansas City; I’ve got the Canadian temps just no snow… yet. Still I had to go back to SoCal a week or two ago, and was reminded that weather alone doesn’t make a place right for me. It turns out that my motorcycle rain suit makes an admirably windproof outer layer when walking the dog through the polar vortex — so I can’t say motorcycling didn’t give me *something*.

        • Kevin Duke

          Walking a dog? Aren’t they only good for pulling sleds?