Most cars offer the option of heated seats and steering wheels these days, but where you really need auxiliary electric heating in winter is on your motorcycle, ATV, tractor and snowmobile. Once upon a time, motorcycle electrical systems were so marginal that having the headlight on all the time caused premature alternator failure. Vintage bikes could barely handle an electric vest, but that was more than 30 years ago, and charging systems are now much more robust. Besides, modern technology has developed standalone, rechargeable heated clothing that doesn’t need to be connected to your vehicle at all.
Heated grips are an inexpensive and popular upgrade to any bike, or anything with handlebars that get’s ridden in cold and/or wet weather. For about $50, any number of companies offer kits with new rubber grips already wired with a heating element, wiring, and control switch. If you are handy, a $25 heated grip kit can be installed under a set of grips, not including the price of new grips you need to put over them. There are even heaters that install over the stock grip and plug into a USB power source, so you can install them in seconds (if you have a plug already installed). These sorts of external wraps exist for the steering wheel in your tractor or side by side too.
Perhaps the easiest heated accessory you can add to anything with a 12 volt power source available is a heated seat. You can order heated seats on the Honda Goldwing, BMW touring bikes, and other high end rides, but it is an easy enough feature to add if you are recovering your current seat. The thin heater elements go between the foam and the seat cover, then you just have to mount the switch somewhere. There are even pads which strap to any seat and plug into your charging port, requiring no installation at all. And if you have a UTV, side x side, or tractor you use in winter, there are automotive seat pads with heat which plug into a 12v cigarette lighter which should fit too.
No matter what you are doing in the cold, your extremities are the first thing to suffer, and on a motorcycle, ATV or snowmobile, you need those fingers and feet to control the vehicle. Socks and gloves powered by disposable batteries have been used by hunters and outdoors-men since the 1950s, but they didn’t work great, and the batteries only lasted a few hours. Heated gloves that run of the motorcycle’s electrical system start at less than $100, if you shop around online, but that wire is a hassle. Rechargeable battery powered gloves typically have one 6 or 7.4 volt battery in each glove, and can run for 3 to 8 hours on a charge, the downside is they are typically more than $200. If you are less concerned with crash protection, there are some full leather work gloves with 3.7 volt batteries (1.5-5 hour run time, depending on setting) that can recharge via USB port and only cost $100. And if you are riding in the snow you probably should go for something waterproof as well, with a leather palm.
Heated socks follow the same program as heated gloves, but the best ones have a remote control device so you don’t have to be fiddling in your boots. Yes, you can get 12 volt powered socks or boot insoles, but these typically only work well if you also have heated pants and a vest , and wire them all together to one plug. Rechargeable socks start at about $100 but can go up over $300 for a pair with remote and 7.4 volt battery. Check to see how tall your favorite boots are before shopping for socks though, as the battery usually goes in a pocket at your calf. If you always wear the same boots, installing a set of rechargeable insoles with built in batteries might be the way to go.
The original piece of luxury motorcycle touring gear was the heated jacket liner vest, invented by Gordon Gerbing in the early-1970s. Mr. Gerbing didn’t ride, but he noticed that some of his employees did and came to work chilled to the bone in the winter, so he developed a vest with the heating element from an electric blanket sewn into it. He marketed his invention via word of mouth, and improved it year after year until selling the company in 2000. You will notice both Gerbing and Gordon heated gear still on the market, and both companies were started by him.
Now in the 21st-century there are all sorts of heated jackets, vests, and even hoodies, some of them even compatible with the battery packs of big brands of cordless tools. This set up from Milwaukee uses their popular M12 batteries, and will run for 2.5-6 hours on a charge depending on setting. A basic heated under vest starts at about $100 from various sellers, and many will plug right into the two prong SAE plug you also use for your Battery Tender. Remember, the warmer you get, the more power you will be drawing from your motorcycle. a typical jacket might draw more than the high beam bulb in your headlight, so make sure your battery and alternator can handle it.
If you are going to go for heated pants on your bike, you might as well get them waterproof as well. The coldest I have ever been is on a motorcycle in the rain, and many of you would probably agree. If you never ride in the rain, and want to look fashionable on your cruiser, you’ll be happy to know that there are heated leather chaps available, and they can even be powered by a rechargeable battery if you prefer. For use on your ATV, snowmobile, or while out working the field, there are base layer pants, with built in battery and control, that will fit under your jeans, work clothes, or snow suit.
Heated Helmet Liner
As your mother probably told you, you lose 75% of your body heat out of your head. Well there is a solution for that: The heated balaclava. This may not work too well under a tight fitting full face helmet, but could be just the thing if you are riding around in a Polaris RZR through the snow. They go for about $100, and the battery is supposed to last 5-12 hours depending on setting.