Tag Archives: Powerlet Rapidfire heated jacket

Heated jackets for motorcycling

Turn on, Plug in but don’t Chill Out on winter’s long road.

hj-2jax1-gloIf you live outside the tropics and like to ride on anything other than sunny summer days, heated clothing makes sense on a bike. Your bike produces excess electrical power which, with the benefit of modern technology and materials, can make a near-freezing ride tolerable in a way you couldn’t imagine. The two jackets looked at here are Aerostich’s 75-watt Kanetsu AirVantage (above, on the far right) and the lately discontinued 60/105 watt Powerlet RapidFIRe which you can still find used for as little as £100.

hj-seddonbikeI remember back the late 70s there was a batty guy at work called Maurice Seddon who rode a BSA made before I was born and who sold hand-made heated clothing on the side (left). For London-based despatching that wouldn’t have been such a great idea, as with all the stop-start and on-off you never got that cold. But out on the road between cities you sure could. Even then, heated clothing had a reputation for inefficiency and unreliability and so didn’t seem worth the investment compared to piling on the layers and gritting your teeth.

WindChill_ComparisonCompared to the northern US states and eastern or northern Europe, the southern UK rarely gets that cold in winter (anymore), but sat on a bike in the wind it’s always colder than you think. Apparently, in bikers’ lore over in the US there’s something called the ’60 60 30 rule’: 60 mph at 60°F (ambient) feels like 30°F on a bike (100kph / 15°C / -1°C).
That may be easy to remember but is clearly exaggerated. There’s no way doing 60 at 15°C feels like just below freezing. It’s an embellishment of what they now call the ‘old wind chill index’. According to the calculator on this page, the post-2001 new wind chill index (NWCI, red, left) gives a more plausible index of 54°F or 12°C, rather than 30°F at 60-mph. Bright sunshine can also reduce the wind chill by several degrees °C.

hj-fogBut when the ambient temperature drops to a more typical, mid-winter’s ride of 41°F (5°C), the new wind chill index corresponds to 26°F or -3°C. That’s how it felt for me crossing northern Spain last week when, for the last few hundred clicks to Santander, the road rises to more or less 700m (2300′). Though it was foggy and clearly above 0°C, I felt freezing with my Powerlet RapidFIRe heated liner turned up to the max. I rode on through the murk for as long as I could bear it, then dived into a roadside hotel to thaw out. Next day it was the same until I dropped out of the fog to the coast. It gave me time to work out how to get the best from a heated liner. Apart from sealing against all possible draughts, using heated grips, hand guards and a windshield, having the liner actually pressing on your body is much more effective. Like this, the liner’s heated matrix is warming a thin base layer clinging to your skin, not the air gap between. And ironically, I feel it’s better if that base layer is not thermal – just thin polyester or whatever that’s easier to wash than a jacket full of wires. At times I was riding with my left arm pressed against my chest just to force the front of the jacket against me and benefit from the heat. But doing that for a while my hand got cold away from the heated grip. Next day I wore a thin fleece over the heated jacket to press the wires down achieve the same, all-round effect.

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Liner or jacket?
The Kanetsu is designed to zip in as a liner on your Aerostich Darien or Roadcrafter, but over the years I’ve mostly used it with various other jackets. The Powerlet zips up to itself, but does feature a textured outer shell that’s slightly tacky or rubbery so it’s more prone to staying with your main jacket as you slip both off (assuming that’s what you want). Because the Kanetsu is a zip-in liner, I found when using it with other jackets the open-ended zip would open up from the bottom. Aero could get round this by adding a stud to stop it separating when not zipped in as a liner.
hj-2jaxBoth jackets stuff into their own zippered pouches (left), with the Kanetsu benefitting from belt loops. On a long trip both still add up to a sizeable bulk when not worn, unless you choose to use it off the bike. As you can see below, they both look pretty good as regular jackets. The Aerostich has more pockets, the Powerlet has a lined and heated collar. Both weigh about 1100g.

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hj-pletbandsAs said, a close fit makes all the difference and these jackets achieve that differently. The RapidFIRe has Spandex sidepanels in the body and arms (left) to make the liner cling to you. Mine was an end-of-the-line cheapie which by that time was only available in XL – a bit too big on me. But it occurred to me I could easily close up those elastic panels with thread to achieve a snugger and so more effective fit.

Thj-plet-nukehe RapidFIRe has two heat settings – 60/105 watt which, afaict, the newer $430 Atomic Skin model has dropped. Probably because no one ever needed 105 watts. To activate this arctic setting you join up two loose plugs zipped into a dinky hem compartment (left). Knowing my Honda had the capacity to run it (see below), I tried the 105-watt setting on a 200-mile round trip down to around 8°C (which in NWCI adds up 0.5°C @ 65 mph). I found that setting 2/5 was more than enough to keep me warm in my Darien Light and a thin base layer. If I regularly rode in sub-freezing conditions I might leave it on 105 watts. More probably though, I’d get a car.

hj-kanMy 5-year-old 75-watt Kanetsu AirVantage is a version of Aerostich’s regular (and $70 cheaper) WindStopper. It differs by having an air bladder within the body linings which you inflate with a hj-inflatestem valve (left), like an airplane life jacket until you have a comfortable fit under your riding jacket. As long as you’re not wearing it inside out (an easy mistake to make) the bulging bladders press the heating elements against your torso, a clever idea that maximises efficiency and means you don’t have to whack up the dial for it to have the desired effect. Until you get used to it, it’s another thing to remember to do when togging up, and it can result in that ‘stuffed’ feeling you’re trying to avoid with heated gear. But it adds insulation and does work. The AirVantage is definitely worth the extra $70 ($387) over the regular, non-inflating WindStopper.


hj-exotogFast forward to 2019 and at a show I spotted these Exotog inflatable pull-over bodywarmer. A bit like the lifejacket mentioned above, the idea is the still air creates a thick insulated layer without excessive bulk when not in use. The truth is, down works better to keep trapped air still, but that’s impractical with humid, breath-inflated items and these must be better than nothing.
It also occurred to me they’d be a very effective way of pressing a heated jacket down on to your torso to derive maximum efficiency. It weighs from 270g and costs 100 quid.


godofhellfireWhat both jackets highlight is that once warmed up and doing their thing, you won’t necessarily feel like The God of Hellfire (left) reposing in front of a roaring log fire with a warm cup of cocoa. But you’ll sure notice the difference should you switch them off. [This is actually a slightly misleading test as switching off is a bit like stepping out of a shower all wet: in the short term you’ll feel chilly until things evaporate]. And, depending on the wind protection on dsc00040 (1)your bike, you’ll also notice your heated but exposed arms will feel notably less warm than your hopefully balmy torso, as well noticing the slightest cold spot. In fact this whole temperature differential can be a bit of a distraction.
The Powerlet uses something called Carbon Nanocore technology (thin wires) producing far infrared heat (hence Rapid FIR e); the AirVantage simply uses ‘hotter’ wires in the arms. Whichever one you’re wearing, this is where those velcro arm cinches on your riding jacket come in useful to press the heating elements against you. The Darien I recently reviewed has them both above and hj-cinchbelow the elbow (right), but they still couldn’t spread the heat evenly. If I was heading for a really long, cold ride, I’d find a way of binding the heated jacket’s sleeves close to my arms. All these measures will enable you to run as low a setting as possible, so giving you an extra margin when things really chill down.

Electrical consumption
One good thing about modern bikes is they should have plenty of alternator capacity to power electrical accessories – and heated jacket liners probably make the biggest demands. My CB500X produces 500 watts at 5000 rpm – my late-80s era GS500R dished out just 200 watts at the same rpm. Even a modern 250 single might produce over 300 watts. Modern lights draw less power too, but add fuel pumps, some LED or HiD spots, heated grips as well as the possibly lower engine speeds when riding at night in freezing temperatures, and on the old GS the alternator may have struggled to keep up with the demand.

Heat Controller
These thermostats usually come as accessories to the heated liners but are a good idea unless you’re happy with all-or-nothing heating. After all, what other heating application – domestic, industrial or otherwise – has no adjustment settings? Often, as you slow down to ride through a built-up area you’ll feel too warm – you don’t want that but you may not want to switch right off either.

heatrollersThe Aerostich Heat Troller ($70; left and below right) is a little box with a dial knob and molded SAE leads. You can feel the knob’s soft click as you turn it on and in less than one clockwise turn it’s at max. Tucked down by a tank net as below right, it’s easy to operate on the move using feel alone when wearing thick gloves. No need to take your eyes off the road. I just dial it up to max then back off as needed. There’s a red LED that flashes proportionally – handy for a quick hj-aerocontglance to see if it’s actually working or if it’s just you and you need to dial in more heat. Direct from Aerostich it seems the Heat Troller only comes with SAE connectors but I just bought one with QuiConnects coax here). Their Kanetsu jackets now comes with BMW, SAE or QuiConnect fittings.

 

hj-pletcontThe Powerlet uses a similar black box and the co-axial QuiConnects all round (left), but with a flat pad to turn it on and keep pressing up to five levels. The problem is that pad is very hard to locate and feel through a thick glove, so you’re not always sure if you’ve done anything or gone too far and turned it off. You need to glance down to check the position of the red LEDs – not handy on an icy hairpin at six in the morning. It’s nowhere near as user-friendly as a dial knob. The current Atomic Skin Powerlet liner uses a remote wrist-mounted wireless controller. Me, I’d sooner fit an Aerostich-style Heat-Troller unless you mount the controller on the handlebars.

Overall, the discontinued Powerlet RapidFIRe gets the nod as it’s a tad less bulky, has two core heat settings, has accessory wires to run glove liners, has a regular zip for use in any riding jacket, not as a zip-in liner, has wire in the collar and slicker QuiConnect fittings. But chances are you can’t buy it anymore unless you’re huge, and neither the Kanetsu not the Atomic Skin are currently sold in the UK.

My tips for heated liners:

  • Get a full heated jacket with heated arms, neck and full torso, not a waistcoat or a jacket with partial panels
  • Get an easy-to-use heat controller
  • If the body’s elasticated, aim for a close fit
  • Wire direct to the battery via a fuse (leads often supplied)
  • Don’t bother with remote, battery-powered options. Your bike has a  battery and charging system: make use of them.

Click this for a recent review of Aerostich and Klim shells which were used with these heated liners

Good 2012 article by ABR magazine (pdf)

Klim Overland jacket – first impressions

Full Klim Overland review here

klimov-11The cupboard was bare, the fridge was an icy cavern bereft of succulent goodies, and the sun was shining. It was high time for a shopping run to Ullapool. And, finding myself between chapters on the new AMH, it was also high time to saddle up the CB-X for a ride along the lochs and glens to try out some new gear.

Adventure Spec supply me with free or reduced cost
gear in return for advertising in AMH

In need of a decent coat for a winter getting to and from the desert, Adventure Spec recently sent me a Powerlet Rapidfire heated jacket and Klim’s Overland jacket. AS had already sent me a Latitude to look at a couple of months back. But considering the investment in such a key item of gear, I found the Latitude either a little small in L, or klimov-01way too big in XL. And in other ways it didn’t quite compare with an Aerostich Darien Light which I still consider a benchmark in travelling jackets.

Wearing the Powerlet liner (about the bulk of a fleece), the Overland in Large felt tight across klim_jacket_size_guidethe chest and shoulders and yet, according to the chart on the right, I’m (42″ chest, 6’1″, 95kg) at the lower end of their Large range. The Overland was snug on me dressed in full gear – but still useable.

What Klim say
If you’re taking your first steps into Adventure and Adventure Touring, the all new Overland series from KLIM® is a tremendous value [sic].

My first impressions
Good value, solidly built three-season shell that’s well-designed, has some tidy features and an understated look. Warmer than you think too, but could use more- or just bigger pockets in and out. And beware: Klim sizing comes up small.

Klim Overland – a quick look
• The Overland costs £379 with tax from AS and is listed as $429 + tax in the US or another $50 for the huge 3XL size
klimov-03• My Large weighs 2.04kg, less 330g without back armour pad
• It has four pockets: two hand pockets the hem with vertical entry water-resistant zips, a smaller vertical chest pocket and a similarly small one on the mesh inside (right)
klimov-06• There are water-resistant zipped armpit vents down the sides that you might just undo on the move, and two corresponding long vertical back vents (right)
• The front two-way zip lies under a velcro flap with a stud at each end, and the soft, Tricot-lined collar can be cinched for a snug seal. There are also cinch cords on each side of the hem, velcro arm tabs below the elbow and velcro at the wrists
klimov-02• The jacket has ventilated D30 E5 EVO XT armour on elbows, shoulders with a slightly less highly rated slab of non T5 D30 across the back (right)
• Eight discreet 3M Scotchlite reflective flashes front and back
• The cut is boxy and most of the arms and shoulders are over-layered with coarser and darker abrasion-resistant panels of 840D weight Cordura. The light grey body is made of much less stiff regular nylon fabric of about half that weight. The mesh lining is polyester and the membrane is Gore-Tex tw0-layer Performance Shell which is ‘Guaranteed to keep you dry ®’ and the jacket has a lifetime warranty too.

klimov-04Review
A few years ago when Klim first came to the UK, I remember looking at a Badlands or something at the Ace Cafe Adventure Day and thinking: £800 for a jacket – really? Of course Rukka had come to price themselves up there too, incorporating what I considered fussy, over-complicated ‘technical’ designs that seems to be a way of justifying high prices on a lot of stuff these days. But 800 quid for a garment made in Southeast Asia?

Maybe ‘start high – bring in the cheaper stuff later’ is a recognised marketing strategy. That’s how it looks to me with Klim in the UK and now we have more normally priced jackets like the Traverse, and the second take on the Traverse which is known as the Overland.

As I say in the book, setting off on a long trip you’ll be wearing your jacket just about all the time for weeks or months. It’s got to work well, feel right and be up to the task as it’ll become your second skin. One thing that categorises Klim as a serious contender is they only make rugged waterproof shells and eschew what is to me the cheap measure of a zip-out membrane. If you want a serious Gore-tex type jacket, get one where it’s laminated to the outer shell. Yes, it costs more.

klimov-10I set off for what turned out to be a 180-mile ride on an October day with temps peaking at 13° and strong winds forecast. Underneath I was wearing the Powerlet, a thick shirt and a vest, and leather trousers plus thin unlined gloves. I planned to fire up the Powerlet when the chill got to me. As it turned out – perhaps because I was stopping a lot – that never happened. The Overland kept me warm all day right up to sunset which was impressive. It means you can wear less clobber underneath but I suppose may get hot working hard off road in a warmer climate. For that reason I chose the grey version rather than the black. It really can make a difference.

klimov-07Doing it up I noticed that with the Powerlet’s high wire-laden collar and a shirt collar too, there wasn’t really room for my thin neck buff I usually wear. The front collar stud was a two hand squeeze to do up and the collar felt tight at the front while loose at the back where the cinch is. In other words the collar fitting was too upright or – neanderlike many humans in this digital, screen-staring era – my neck and head stick forward like a round-spined Australopithecus. Trying it again now it definitely presses on my Adam’s apple, but not unbearably so. Normally I prefer loose clothing and the Overland is a ‘snug’ fit round the neck and in the arms  and across the shoulders with arms pulled backed which is probably more flattering, cosier and aerodynamic.

klimov-09klimov-08Riding along I thought I felt a chill under the arms through the vent zips, but not enough to plug in the heated jacket. And anyway this could be attributable to my bike / screen /posture / speed. Later on I didn’t even notice it.

P1000435At one point I left the bike perched on a sunlit hillside track and walked on to recce the route. In a black jacket I’d have cooked like a Findus boil-in the-bag cod in parsley sauce, but the Overland was surprisingly cool. By the time I got back to the bike I did have a bit of a glow on, but rode back the few miles to the main road unzipped and flapping by which time normal operating temps had resumed.

klimov-05An hour and lots of lipsmacking pics later I pulled in at a cafe near Poolewe and instinctively went to slot my gloves into a pocket to came up against the Overland’s main flaw: too small pockets. I suppose I could have stuffed then into one of the lower pockets but what I’d like a decent, map-sized chest pocket or some meshy drop pockets low down inside (they could actually be easily tacked on to the mesh. What do other riders do? – cart around a tank bag or backpack – or slip them in a topbox I suppose. A jacket called Overland needs overlandable storage. For the return run I also removed the back armour to free up some room. It made the jacket lighter and more flexible, but I can’t say it felt significantly more roomy. For that the shoulder pads need to come out but I’ll keep those for the moment.

P1130862Riding back with the sun now dipping behind the hills, I expected to resort to the Powerlet, but riding up to 80mph the Klim still hung in there. The wind was up now too, pushing me around on the single track roads and at one point coming over a pass I distinctly felt the wind catch the back vent flaps and pull me around in the seat.

klimov-12So – preliminary findings on the Klim Overland adventure touring jacket. Warmer than you’d think, under pocketed but the plain looks that are growing on me. Great armour and adjustability too. Resistance to pelting rain and ventability to be established. I always wonder if the latter might compromise the former.

Full Klim Overland review here

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