Gerbing's Heated Clothing

The Answer to Chicago's Winter?

Well it's certainly not a complete answer to the pain in the rear known as a Chicago winter, but it does go a long way. This being my first full year in the frozen midwest, I didn't know what to expect -- snow certainly is a real hindrance to riding a motorcycle, but I discovered something more insidious than snow: Salt!

Although there is an occasional warm winter day here (~45º), riding is impossible because the roads are covered with the corrosive stuff. Aluminum and salt don't mix. At least not in a way most bike owners would like.

So we all wait for a day when the roads are clear of salt to jump on our scoots and head out. Twenty minutes later you're heading right back to the garage because you're freezing important extremities off. Leather helps, but it just can't do the trick.

What's a dedicated rider to do? One answer is to wait until spring. Another is to go electric. That's what I did. I called up David Gerbing in Union, Washington and set myself up with a complete outfit from his Ultimate clothing line, including: Ultimate jacket Ultimate pants gloves socks

the basics

What Gerbing's has done is meld highly functional and protective riding gear with cutting-edge electric blanket technology. The jacket and pants are each comprised of two separate pieces: outer shells and inner liners. The shells by themselves represent fully-functioning riding gear. They are available in water-resistant 1300 denier ballistic Cordura nylon, or a lighter 200 denier. Both jacket and pants are reinforced with body armor covered with black 1300 denier ballistic Cordura nylon at the elbows, shoulders and knees.

Nylon pile is used in the liners, which makes them pretty warm in their own right. But I'm not looking to be pretty warm, I want to be toasty warm. In any climate. To accomplish this Gerbing's has run electrical wires throughout the liners. These wires act as heating elements. If you've ever used an electric blanket you know just how effective this can be. Temperature is controlled by a thermostat that can be mounted either on the bike or stashed in a jacket pocket.


mechanics of electrics

 Both liners, gloves and socks are connected via standardized DC connectors - the same connectors found on most trickle chargers. So if you, like myself, already have a short lead hanging off your battery for charging, you are ready to jack in.

The battery line plugs into the jacket at waist level. The jacket then provides power to the gloves through connectors at each sleeve's end. Power for the pants exits the jacket at waist level. And finally, power for the socks connects at mid-calf. As you might have guessed, the most difficult part about using an electric suit is connecting all these components. It adds five minutes to your pre-ride routine. It definitely leaves you wishing it was warm enough for jeans and black leather...

To order a suit from Gerbing's first requires a page long list of measurements. Each suit is custom made, and I found their work really impressive. My jacket couldn't have fit any better, but the pants were a little tight across the hips and a bit short for highway pegs. Gerbing's gloves are offered in small, medium, large and XL sizes and are not actually made by Gerbing's, just electrified by them. The socks are heavy-duty Wigwam athletic socks, electrified by Gerbing's and fit like socks.

features & details

Jacket Gerbing's Ultimate jacket is a really impressive piece of work. It is well designed and constructed of top-notch materials. Style is one of sensibility and functionality. The pockets are square. In fact every feature of the jacket is square. If I had to guess I would say that Mr. Gerbing rides a BMW or perhaps a Yamaha Venture. Still, by the end of the day I was left wishing Gerbing's had a logo prominently displayed somewhere on the jacket, so people knew what I was wearing.  Gerbing's jacket is loaded with features. Without its lining it can function as a summer jacket. With the liner, a fall jacket. With the liner plugged in, a winter jacket. Although Kevlar body armor is hard to test, short of wrecking at high speed, it certainly adds a measure of confidence. Its front zipper is sealed well against wind by a velcro flap, and the jacket has surprisingly reflective stripes across its back and around each arm. Ventilating zippers, located in numerous locations around the jacket, allow for fine tuning of temperature control.

A few of the drawbacks I noticed are that there are no real hand pockets in the jacket and none at all in the pants. It would be nice if there was a place to stick your cold hands. Also, while the full velcro seals on the pockets guard well against the elements, they are difficult to get into, particularly with gloved hands. The liner is attached to the shell with velcro around its perimeter. While this functions well, it is a bit clumsy and might be accomplished better with a zipper.

Pants Gerbing's pants benefit from all the features of the jacket: summer-fall-winter versatility, Kevlar body armor and wind-proof velcro flaps on its zippers. The pants also offer ankle to knee zippers for easy ingress and egress while wearing boots, and velcro ankle straps to seal out the elements.

The only drawbacks that come to mind are its somewhat clumsy velcro system and that they make you feel like you are about to go downhill skiing.

 Gloves Gerbing's gloves are actually made in Pakistan by Aerotex and offer Thinsulate insulation and Kevlar palms. Gerbing's has wired them for heat right out to the tips of your fingers - my number one cold spot. The gloves are very nice quality, offering a full range of motion with a minimum of added bulk.

Their only drawback is the exit location of the electrical connection. Because the lead exits only a half inch from the back of the glove, the wire actually has to travel forward to get under the cuff of the jacket. This does not allow for a full gauntlet effect and permits a bit of air flow to your skin.

Socks I don't know about you, but after my hands, my feet are the first to feel cold. Gerbing's has chosen a nice heavy-duty pair of Wigwam socks. Wiring enters just above the ankle and completely covers both the tops and bottoms of your feet. Their only drawback, if you can call it that, is the strange feeling of walking on wires.

Winter comfort doesn't come cheap. The Ultimate jacket will run you $498, the pants $299, gloves $119 and the socks $59. That totals just shy of a grand before taxes. You may be able to get a cheaper setup made in Taiwan, but you'll get what you pay for. You'll never get fit and quality that comes with being U.S.-made and custom tailored. Still, for a grand it should be perfect, so I give it four stars out of five.

Motorcycle Online Rating: ****

For an effective way to beat mother nature as you wait for summer, Gerbing's Ultimate Heated Clothing is an excellent choice. You won't be the height of fashion, but you'll be riding warm - while everyone else is stuck in a car. Color options include black, royal blue, red, burgundy, metallic gray, purple, and teal green.

For more information, contact Gerbing's at:

Gerbing's Heated Clothing 
E 750 Dalby Rd 
Union, WA, 98592 
fax: 360-898-4223 [email protected]

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