I try to ride to the EICMA show each year*. I’m not entirely sure why. It feels important, I guess.
I mean, the ‘Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori‘ is important. Held in Milan, Italy, each year, it’s arguably the biggest event on the motorcycle industry calendar. It is at EICMA that any number of new bikes are revealed, along with the latest and greatest in gear. It is at EICMA that you’ll get a chance to rub shoulders with just about everyone in the industry. Of course I’d want to be there.
What I mean is: I don’t know why I feel it’s important to ride there. Located roughly 1,000 miles from TMO headquarters, it’s a long haul. But more challenging is the fact it’s a long haul that takes place on the cusp of winter. EICMA is held on the first or second week of November, and getting there involves riding through the Alps. On a number of occasions I’ve found myself riding in snowfall in Switzerland, and even in lower-lying areas like Britain and the Netherlands it’s rarely warm and/or sunny.
So, roughly two years ago, I decided to give in and invest in some heated gear. Unfortunately for me, I made the decision close to my planned trip to EICMA, which meant I didn’t have enough time to beg and plead a gear manufacturer to send me free stuff. Poor me, it meant I had to pay for my own riding kit like a normal person.
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After some looking around, I decided on the Keis V501 Premium Heated Vest. Made in China (No. 130 on the Democracy Index), and designed in the United Kingdom (No. 14), the vest is available in European sizes 46 to 60. Retailing at £140, the vest ain’t cheap but you’ll find that’s true of pretty much all heated gear.
One of the things I like about the V501 is the fact it looks alright off the bike. Worn with a long-sleeve shirt or light fleece it looks like a standard gilet. For those of you playing along outside of Europe, ‘gilet’ is a fancy French word for ‘vest.’ People here quite often wear gilets in winter because apparently their arms don’t get cold. I wouldn’t normally abide such sleeveless silliness, but, as I say, the V501 does look good.
The vest is well made and the connectors for myriad wires (I’ll get to that shortly) are relatively well hidden. There are three zippered pockets in which to put stuff: two “hand warmer”-style pockets at each side and a smaller pocket at the chest that is large enough to hold a phone. Keen eyes will spot a fourth zipper (in black) just next to the left hand warmer pocket; this holds the heat controller, which comes with the vest. Kudos to Keis for throwing that in. Some brands make you buy the controller and bike connection wires separately.
Inside the vest, you’ll find the zipper for another set of wires – to connect the vest to your bike or to a battery pack (sold separately) that slots into another internal pocket.
Hindsight being what it is, I shouldn’t have gotten a vest; I should have instead invested in Keis’ heated jacket. Probably my biggest complaint when wearing the V501 is the fact my arms are cold. But I knew that I wanted to pair the heated kit with my Aerostich R3, to ensure the one-piece suit could be used year-round. The suit’s thick armour means arms are snug, whereas there is a little more room in the chest for layering. So, a vest seemed like a clever idea.
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But, see, the problem here is that I was guilty of thinking of heated gear as if it were regular warm-weather clothing. So, in imagining myself using the V501, I pictured myself wearing it over the multitudinous base and mid layers that I would normally wear without heated gear. So, for example, in the picture below (taken on this adventure) you can see that I’m wearing a pullover under the vest – along with an Under Armour compression top, a long-sleeve running shirt, and a T-shirt. This, of course, is the wrong way to do it.
Heated gear is supposed to be snug, worn closer to the body. Keis tells you this on its website but for some reason I chose to ignore it. Rather than aim to get a vest that fit properly – wearing it with, say, just the running top – I bought one that would allow me to layer up underneath.
By that standard, though, the fit of the vest is good. I really like the way it looks and feels. One assumes the same would be true if I had actually followed Keis’ fitting advice. The exception here is the fact the jacket has connector ports under the arms to allow you to wire in heated gloves, running the whole thing through the vest. There’s also a port that allows you to hook in heated trousers, which then could hook into heated boot insoles.
‘Gilet’ is a fancy French word for ‘vest’
The underarm ports poke into your chest/underarm and can get pretty uncomfortable. In riding to EICMA last year (astride the glorious Honda Gold Wing Tour) I had to abandon wearing the vest after the first full day of riding because its connectors were digging into my ribs and causing pain. On shorter trips, however – like my 30-minute commute to work these days – no problems present themselves.
It’s a requirement that every manufacturer use at least one nonsense phrase when describing their gear. In this case, the phrases are, “Micro Carbon Fibre,” and “Far Infra Red Technology” – used to describe the vest’s heating elements and how they work. The simple explanation is that they work very much like the heating pads your grandfather used to use for his arthritis: there are pads in the back and front that heat up and, you know, make you warm. The tech is a little more advanced than grandad’s heating pad, of course, primarily in the sense that it is more robust.
According to Keis, the V501 pulls about 18 Watts, well within the limits of modern bikes. But add on those other pieces of heated kit and I have to think you’ll be smoking out your bike’s electrical system. Indeed, Keis suggests it may be possible to connect two riders to a bike’s single harness, but I wouldn’t try it. That seems like a great way to destroy your bike.
If covering yourself head to toe in heated gear, you may want to consider getting battery packs for some of it. You may also want to consider whether you actually want to be out riding when you’re so weather averse that you need that much heated gear.
As referenced above, the easiest way to power the vest is by connecting a wiring harness to your bike’s battery. Assuming you can gain access to said battery (a task that’s not so straightforward with some bikes), the harness is easy to attach – well within the skill level of anyone who can turn a screwdriver. Alternatively, you can fork out for the battery pack, or you can buy wiring that will connect via a 12V port (be it the cigarette lighter style used by most manufacturers or the DIN style favored by BMW and Triumph).
Connecting the V501 to your bike – either directly to the battery or via 12V port – has some positives and negatives. The positive, of course, is that you can use the vest for as long as you feel like staying on the bike. No need to carry the weight of a battery pack, nor worry about battery life. According to the internets, the smaller of Keis’ battery packs can run out of juice in as little as 20 minutes.
The primary drawback to being connected to your bike is the fact that you are physically connected to your bike. Forget this fact at the end of a ride and you run the risk of damaging the wiring set-up by attempting to walk away without disconnecting. I had this happen and ended up breaking my 12V connector. Old dudes will tell you it’s possible to accidentally pull your bike over but I’m not sure I believe them. Think about it: how would that actually happen.
Meanwhile, there’s the awkwardness in setting the heat controller. There are three settings – High, Medium and Low – chosen by clicking a single button. It is difficult to do that clicking with anything other than thin gloves. But if I’m wearing thin gloves that’s a sign it’s not cold enough to be wearing a heated vest. So, it means messing with the thing sans gloves before setting off. You can see how this becomes an issue if you’re connecting the vest to the bike, right? You get on the bike, placing your gloves on the handlebars, connect the vest, set the heat to your desired setting, then reach for your gloves and accidentally knock one of them to the ground. Disconnect and repeat.
Once everything is set and you’re on your way, however, the vest offers good, even and constant distribution of heat. I’ve worn the V501 with my aforementioned R3 suit, as well as my Oxford Montreal 3.0 jacket, and Hideout Touring jacket; I’ve never been disappointed. Obviously it works best in conjunction with a thicker item; paired with the Oxford jacket I’ve been able to tolerate riding at motorway speeds in -4C temperatures (25F).
Whichever jacket you wear, it’s a good idea to make sure the thing is waterproof. The vest comes with a host of warnings, one of which is: “Do not use the garment when wet. If it becomes wet during use disconnect immediately from the power source.”
I find this a teency bit annoying, considering the fact it’s a “designed in the UK” product. The designer would have known that 80 percent of the time when it’s cold in Britain it’s also wet. But, as I say, such a complaint is pretty minor. I mean, any UK-based rider is going to make sure his or her stuff is waterproof anyway, regardless of whether they’re wearing heated kit.
Note, however, that the above warning does not mean that the V501 cannot ever be wet. You can hand wash the thing (in cold water). Just don’t use it until it’s dry.
I find the act of connecting the vest to my bike a little annoying, the connectors under the arms can get painful on long rides, and I really should have bought a liner jacket instead of a vest, but overall I don’t regret the purchase. The V501 costs a lot of money but considering how dramatically it can extend my riding time in the winter I feel it’s money well spent.
There’s an old Peter Egan adage that you should not feel obligated to ride if the outside temperature in Fahrenheit is below your age in years. To that end, the Keis V501 Premium Heated Vest is gear that will make you feel young again.
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* Sadly, I will not be attending this year, due to financial issues. Travelling to Milan ain’t cheap. Hopefully I’ll make my triumphant return next year.