When heated riding kit gets mentioned, many people head for the expensive gear sold by bike shops. In my experience, some of it is very good quality, and some rather less so. A few years back I’d have recommended the US-manufactured Gerbing or Widder kit but Gerbing seems to have had some quality control problems, and Widder seem to have closed down.
In any case, it’s expensive for a piece of kit you may not wear all that often. So there are budget powered waistcoats for as little as £20 which run off standard AA rechargables.
Whilst I was rather sceptical about how good such a budget waistcoat would be, I bought one from Maplin when the temps plummeted to near freezing back in November last year and I felt my Exo2 kidney belt wasn’t quite offering enough heat for 3 or 4 hour sessions on the bike.
As it happens, the temperatures got colder still and as I had a batch of last minute training courses in Oxford, I ended up wearing it quite a lot over the course of one of the coldest winters the south east has seen in the last 15 years or so.
The first thing to mention is battery life. It’s not nearly as bad as the Maplin website suggests. I was able to run it for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours continuously on a set of 6 (2×3) 2700mAh NiMH rechargables, not the 40 minutes suggested on Maplin’s own website; it was still going after a 2 hour ride from Maidstone to Oxford, and was just fizzling out after 3 hours on the road when out training. A spare set of similar capacity rechargable batteries would give you upwards of 5 hours continuous heat, which isn’t bad! At the moment, the batteries are half price in Maplin, too, so 8 AAs would set you back a tenner (and of course you can use them for other jobs at other times!).
I didn’t expect it to get very hot but in fact the heating element puts out enough heat to feel as pleasantly warm through a tee shirt. That’s surprisingly effective if you have insulation over the top. I’ve been wearing mine over a thin, sleeved tee shirt, with a microfleece over the heated bodywarmer, an EDZ pertex microshell thingie over that, my ‘Stich riding suit and an unlined nylon jacket as a wind stopper on top of that and that enabled me to deal with hours out in temperatures around freezing.
Together with my Exo2 heated kidney belt running off the bike’s mains, I’ve have been warm enough on several courses on days when the temps haven’t got above zero.
1) The heating element isn’t very big – they cover an area about the size of the palm of your hand on each side of the front of the chest with another around the back of the neck.
2) The waistcoat is a bit small in terms of sizing, but they’re not really intended to be worn as a top layer over several shirts and fleeces, but over something like a teeshirt.
Realistically, they’re not nearly as good as expensive heated kit but at £20 in the Maplin sale they are a steal if all you want is something to add a bit of warmth on a short to medium commute and you can remember to recharge the batteries! And there are no wires to forget to unplug either!
(This article is a re-write of a post that appeared last year!)