MD Product Review: Powerlet Heated Jacket and Glove Liners and Remote Controller

April 22, 2011

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In my National Guard days, I always shook my head when I’d hear fellow soldiers refer to cold-weather clothing—fleece, gloves, hats and raingear—as “snivel gear,” implying that the desire to be as warm and comfortable as possible is some kind of weakness of character. A cold, shivering, miserable soldier is going to perform poorly, no matter how tough he or she may be. The same goes for motorcyclists, and I’m just as amazed when I meet guys who’ve been riding 20 years and have yet to experience the wonderfulness of electrically heated gear.

That’s because no matter how much you layer, no matter how thick your fleece is or how windproof your jacket, on a protracted ride in even mild temperatures, you will lose body heat. Eventually, you will lose more than your body can produce, and you will start feeling early symptoms of hypothermia. You will lose feeling in your fingers and toes, you will get distracted, you  may start shivering. Even if the symptoms are mild, you’re not at 100 percent. And that’s not good, as you may be traveling at night—when you need to be most alert.

Heated gear is an ideal solution. Most modern bikes can easily handle the current draw required without draining the battery (click here for Powerlet’s vehicle selection tool, which will show you how much excess electrical capacity your bike has), and your body’s core area (heart, lungs and digestive system) will stay warm without blood being shunted away from your extremities. That means you can stay just as warm—warmer—with less-bulky clothing, boots and gloves. That means better feel, comfort and control.

Powerlet’s new rapidFIRE ProForm heated liner ($250) adds an extra dimension to the utility of heated gear. That’s because it’s very thin and comfortable to wear, thanks to lots of stretch panels and Powerlet’s “Carbon Nano-Fiber Core” heating elements which use far infrared (FIR) for a deep, safe, penetrating heat. The cuffs are finished to reduce bunching, as do the “ProForm” stretch panels. Because of all that, Powerlet promises a tailored fit with a minimum of sizes. Powerlet also claims it’s the warmest heated liner on the market, with a 105-watt rating.

To complement the liner, Powerlet also offers a very clever solution to the problem of too many wires. It’s a wireless controller ($110 for single, $140 for dual) that uses a Bluetooth-ish system to communicate with a dongle plugged into the liner, eliminating the need to have a controller hard-wired into the jacket. This minimizes the wires going from bike to rider.

I like Powerlet’s products, as well as the company’s excellent product knowledge, support and service, so I was excited to get the liner, even if our winter was just about over when I got it. But it’s still chilly enough for heated gear to be welcome, so I tried it out.

The liner is stylish and comfortable (and may I add, slimming in basic black) to wear as a stand-alone garment. Its polyester construction has good wind-blocking qualities, and the stretch panels give it a snug but comfy fit. A high Polar Fleece collar blocks wind and wicks moisture away from your neck. Unlike other heated garments, there is a minimum of wires. Instead, the heating elements are soft, flexible fabric, and the heat seems to be distributed over a broader area than other heated garments.

My dream is to find a heated liner that can be used without a thick, bulky insulating layer, but I think I’ll have to keep looking. Although the rapidFIRE delivers some serious heating power, under an uninsulated leather or textile jacket I felt warm (burning, almost) where the heating elements were, chilled where they weren’t. Insulation keeps the heat evenly distributed, and you’ll feel so toasty you’ll wonder why you even have a car. However, even without insulation it’s better than nothing, allowing you to get a few more rides out of your favorite (but close-fitting) leather jacket.

The controller is practical and easy to use. After 20 minutes of trying to figure it out, I wasn’t able to get it to sync to the dongle plugged into the liner. Finally, I admitted defeat and read the directions—then it was a simple process taking less than a minute. The controller uses a small coin-cell battery that should last a season. The receiver unit is waterproof, so it won’t get killed by the rain—or a forgetful launderer. The controller can be Velcroed onto a handy spot on your bike, luggage or apparel. It’s also compatible with most DC heated clothing with coaxial-style connectors, and in fact Firstgear sells a similar unit (which is actually manufactured and sold by the Warm and Safe company). There is a dual (for separate items of clothing, like gloves and a liner) and single controller available.

My final bit of Powerlet kit to test are the RapidFire glove liners ($80). These use the same FIR technology as the jacket liner, so they are thin and lightweight. Still, they made tight-fitting leather gloves (especially sport-oriented ones) a little snug for comfort. But a pair of Lee Parks’ deerskin gloves provided enough give to let them fit nicely. Once hooked up to the liner (which has built-in plugs for heated gloves as well as trouser liners), I enjoyed the warmth sinking into the backs of my hands. The fingers, thumbs and palms are unheated—probably because they would get too hot pressed up against the grips.

A note to BMW owners: you may be suffering from CAN-BUS blues. That’s not how commuters in Montreal get to work—it’s the electrical system on many late-model BMWs. It has a feature that shuts off power to your accessory socket if the draw exceeds 5 amps, which can defeat electrically heated clothing and other accessories (including trickle chargers). You can just wire them straight to the battery (how crude!), but Powerlet has replacement wiring harnesses called the “iCAN” ($30) to connect the power outlet to the battery.

Powerlet’s new heated products are practical, effective and well made, with a lifetime warranty on the electrics. Call me a sniveler in my electric gear all you want—I’ll be the guy riding in December.

Check out the Powerlet website to browse a huge range of electrical accessories and other goodies.

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