I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to motorcycle gear. I like to get by with the simplest and the least required to do the job. Back when I used to ride throughout the winter, I made do with multiple layers of clothing which I could strip off and stow away as the temperatures climbed. I always kind of smirked when a fellow rider showed up with electrically heated clothing. Well, that smirk has turned into a look of slack-jawed wonder after testing this cozy wired vest from 1st Heat. Stepping boldly into the 21st century, my shivering, knuckle-dragging days are over.
Located in Onamia, Minnesota, the folks at 1st Heat know all about cold. They produce an extensive line of heated gear which includes electric gloves, full-sleeved jacket liner, and a thinner version of the vest in black nylon which is designed to fit under tight racing leathers. All their products are made in the USA, which is an important distinction to many people. Of course, it also means that this gear is not cheap. The Standard Vest I tested costs $147 in basic black, and $149 in red, burgundy, yellow, or blue. The Racer 1 vest goes for $137, and the Jacket Liner with full heated sleeves will set you back $198 for black, and $203 in colors. Heated gloves cost $135 a pair, and they also offer an unplugged balaclava for sixteen bucks.
They use the finest materials available, including Malden Mills 200 double velour fleece. The collar of the vest I tested was lined with ultrasuede and was extremely comfortable. The inner black athletic mesh promotes radiation of heat to the body and both vests and jacket liner feature velcro “side snuggers” to allow for a tight, custom fit.
The electrical hardware is of the same high standard as the fabrics they use. Installation was a breeze, requiring only two connections to the battery and finding a place to mount the 10-amp fuse block. They even supply plastic zip-ties so you can cinch the wires down nice and tidy. The plug-in connector emerges from under your seat and they offer optional cigarette lighter or BMW-style plugs for added convenience. It took me exactly eleven minutes to install the wiring harness on my KLR and that was only because my seat is bolted down and I had to dissassemble the battery box to make the connections.
My initial ride with the 1st Heat Standard Vest took place on a chilly Saturday morning. The thermometer read 24 degrees as I started the engine and plugged in. By the time the engine was warmed-up, I could feel the heat spreading across my chest, back, and neck. Merging onto the freeway at 60 mph was a revelation. Back in my unplugged days, this was the moment where any gap in clothing coverage was revealed, and I would settle into the grim struggle to ignore the cold which would start at the extremities and slowly seep into my core. With the heated vest, the warmth radiates out from the core and keeps all your extremities nice and toasty.
Now, let’s talk about the effect of cold on your mental accuity. When you are struggling with the cold, your mind tends to wander into funny places in order to not dwell on the fact that you are slowly freezing to death. Can you say hypothermia? This can have dire consequences if your attention drifts at the wrong moment in traffic. The heated vest helps you to concentrate better on the task at hand, even to the point of maintaining the accuracy and speed of your reflexes. You are enjoying the ride, rather than simply enduring it. Put another way, it takes what used to be merely tolerable and makes it comfortable. Anything that can extend my riding season like this is well worth the cost of admission.
As the day wore on and the temperature climbed, I reached a point where I didn’t need the heat on any longer. With this basic kit, my only option was to reach down and unplug the keyed connector. Disconnection only requires one hand, but re-connecting requires two. This can be done quickly on the side of the road or while waiting at a stoplight, so it isn’t a major inconvenience. Still, I wish the standard vest came with an on/off switch, but 1st Heat offers a magnetic-based switch harness as an $18 option. For those (BMW riders) who require precise climate control, they also offer an electronic temperature control for the princely sum of $55.
You can find out more about 1st Heat and their high quality line of products online at www.1stheat.com, or call them at 1-800-430-6281.