Saturday, November 16, 2013

I think I just extended my riding season…


What’s the point of this photo of me and my 1991 BMW K100RS at the summit of Beartooth Pass in Montana?

Well, bear with me…

If you’re a diligent follower of this blog, you may recall that my ride to and from Daytona Beach Bike Week last March was much colder than I intended because the accessory circuit on my 2003 K1200GT couldn’t handle my Garmin Zumo GPS and my Gerbings heated jacket liner and gloves without blowing a fuse. Consequently, I was forced to bundle up and make do.

When I took my bike in for service last spring, I had the guys at Grassroots BMW Motorcycles in Cape Girardeau, Mo., install a Gerbings connector wired directly to the battery.

The temperature this morning is in the low 50s, so I decided to test the connector. With St. Anthony’s assistance, I found my new (bought three years ago in Redmond, Ore.) Gerbings controller and hooked everything up to my aging Firstgear TKO jacket (seen in the photo above) with Gerbings-wired liner.

It worked like a champ and kept me warm to and from the post office. I recall that I was able to ride in temperatures in the 30s in Indiana with the wired TKO liner, so the next step is to test it with the separate Gerbings liner that in bought in the mid-1990s – maybe under my German polizei jacket.

Here’s the story I wrote for RoadBike magazine, which explains the Beartooth Pass photo:

So there we were, weaving up past the tree line on Montana’s Beartooth Pass in the crisp morning air.

My riding companions looked like clones of the Michelin man, bulked up with every sweater and extra Henley they could scrounge from their saddlebags. One guy even had his rainsuit on in an effort to put another layer between his skin and the cold mountain air. I, on the other hand, wore only a T-shirt under my Firstgear TKO jacket and liner. Yet, I was perfectly comfortable. Toasty warm, even.

As we neared the summit, riding between shoulder-high, stark white snow banks, my gloved left hand found the little black knob peeking out of my tank bag and gave it a quarter-turn clockwise. In a moment, I felt a new wave of welcome heat spread out across my back and engulf my arms. “Ahhhh, that’s better!” I thought, turning my attention to the next switchback.

You see, I hate being cold. But I also hate giving up valuable space in my saddlebags to bulky sweaters, fleece layers, or other extra garments that I’ll only need when it gets really brisk. When I bought my Firstgear jacket a few years ago, I found the ideal solution with the help of the folks at Gerbing’s Heated Clothing.

Most of us are familiar with Gerbing’s popular line of heated jackets, pants, full-body suits, clothing liners, socks, and gloves. But did you know that Gerbing also will wire the removable liner of your favorite jacket?

“We don’t promote it,” said Bob Gerbing, discussing the custom wiring offered by the company. “But we gladly do it.”

The company charges $169 to wire your jacket liner, and there’s no extra charge for a pull-up mandarin collar. If you like, they’ll include plugs in the wrists to connect to heated gloves for no extra charge. They’ll also wire a vest for $129, and you can get your favorite pair of lined gloves wired for $79. “As long as there’s an inner liner, we can wire them,” Bob explained.

The turnaround time for wiring jobs is usually about 7 to 10 days from the receipt of your gear. However, Bob told me that when “people have special requests and need something quick because they’re going on vacation, we try to expedite the order to accommodate them.”

Besides the heated garments and custom wiring work, Gerbing’s offers a variety of ways to connect to your bike’s electrical system. The cheapest is the simple $12 on/off switch, but the best solution is one of their electronic thermostats. These devices are actually timers, which meter out measured waves of heat every few seconds, drawing just enough current to maintain the desired level of heat. You can choose from two portable controllers ($59 each), which slip into a pocket or a tank bag. A permanent unit ($69) can be mounted on a motorcycle fairing.

Bob’s father, Gordon Gerbing started the heated clothing business 25 years ago. It began as a sideline to the machine shop he ran in the little town of Union at the eastern base of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. His original product was a one-piece heated suit.

For several years, his business grew by word of mouth – one satisfied customer at a time. In 1988, Gordon quit the machine shop and went full time into heated clothing for motorcyclists. Around 1990, he and his wife Marilyn hit the road to promote the product line. Gordon became a familiar fixture on the motorcycle rally circuit. “He’d fly to a city and sleep in his rental car,” Bob recalled. “He promoted from the ground up.”

The company is still a family business. “Mom and Dad are both 70, but they still work here,” said Bob, who is in charge of quality control. Bob’s brother Jeff is vice president, and Jeff’s wife, Dottie, is the company secretary. And a small group of sales representatives (often including one or more Gerbings) hit the big events like Americade, Daytona, and Sturgis, as well as lots of brand-specific rallies.

Gerbing’s recently got a major boost, when the company signed a contract with Harley-Davidson to manufacture Harley’s heated clothing. “The new Softail is so smooth that Harley riders can take even longer trips and really need the heated clothes now,” Bob said, chuckling that the contract “is Dad’s plum prize. He’s been working toward it for years.”

While the Gerbing business on Dalby Road is essentially a factory, Bob said they welcome drop-in customers. “We have a rack of clothes in the hallway office. We’re open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and by appointment on weekends. If somebody wants to come out on the weekend, we’ll open up the shop for them. A lot of people have to work during the week, so we’re happy to help them.”

So, the next time you try and cram lots of bulky layers onto your bike for an extended ride through several temperature zones, consider your options. Wouldn’t it be nice to take just your jacket liner and leave the other stuff at home?

I don’t know if the Gerbings folks still do custom wiring, but I suspect they do. Needless to say, the prices have probably changed.


LATER: I tried the Gerbings liner under the POLIZEI jacket and it worked very well. Just a little coolness on the insides of my forearms on the K1200GT.

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