Lots of people avoid riding when it is properly cold like the plague but for others, it’s either unavoidable or actually enjoyable. I’m in the latter category – as long as there is no actual ice on the roads (they’ve been gritted or it hasn’t got too far on the wrong side of 0°C) I quite like it.
For other riders like me, staying warm is crucial – the ambient may be low but add in some wind chill and suddenly, that 2°C ambient can feel like -8°C to you. So keeping the heat in is vitally important – start to get cold and your concentration and judgement can suffer and safety plummets.
There are two ways to stay warm in the cold; either insulate yourself and prevent your core temperature from dropping or generate actual heat to maintain your temperature. The former relies on lots of layers – base, mid and potentially more under your outer jacket – while the latter relies on typically electrical heating to actively generate warmth and keep your temperature up.
We already know that hands can suffer hugely – many bikes have heated grips fitted and heated gloves are a mainstay of any winter rider’s wishlist. However, you can also help maintain body temperature without bulking up with numerous layers that can be restrictive, cumbersome or uncomfortable. And a heated vest is perfect to do this.
While there are plenty of inexpensive heated vests around, this one from heated-kit specialists Keis is a proper bit of gear. The company produces kit to keep just about every part of your body warm (with the exception of your head) and this is its entry-level sleeveless vest. It also has a premium vest as well as full jackets but I prefer to remain more unencumbered and this lightweight vest is perfect for me.
The beauty of this system is that the garment itself is incredibly thin and unobtrusive – you barely know you’re wearing it. I went for a size 52 – Keis’ sizing system is based on European sizes and 52 corresponds to a 42in chest in UK sizing or a medium (I usually take a L and more often, XL in jackets). However, I could have gone a size smaller if I wanted to – they are fairly generous – but I wanted to leave room underneath for thicker winter base layers in case.
Even though I could have stood a smaller version (Keis will change it for you up to 30 days from purchase of you decide you need to change) this one holds the heating elements snugly against my base layers without them being too tight and allows plenty of movement while on the bike.
The vest comes with a hard-wiring harness to connect to the bike’s battery for continuous heating through you can also buy a standalone rechargeable battery (from £40) if you don’t want to be tethered to the bike or want heating while you’re off the bike.
The heating elements are positioned at the base of the ribcage on the front of the vest on either side of the chest and at the small of the back. They aren’t massive – they’re as large as they can be within the confines of the sleeveless vest design but they are plenty big enough to generate enough heat to keep me warm in any conditions.
With the heating turned off, you barely know you are wearing the vest. But when it gets cold, you fire it up and benefit from its heating. It comes with a simple jack-lead to bridge across the control terminals to give a single, high setting of heating.
However, add the (optional, £30) heat controller and you get three different settings to cope with all conditions. The latest version even adds Bluetooth connectivity (£45) so you can control it from your smartphone if you simply can’t be bothered to unzip to control pocket to get to the controller.
The heat from the rear panel sinks into your kidneys and the lower back and also rises up the back, generating a pleasing spread over the full area. On the front, the two pads sit over the chest area and place heat into the vital organs, helping to maintain the body’s core temperature and keep you safe and warm.
There are also connections for various other garments in the Keis range, including one at the hem for trousers or socks and another under each armpit for gloves.
The Keis V106 may be the entry-level heated vest but if you are spending time out in the cold then it is definitely an investment worth making. It offers connectivity to other garments in the Keis range and the flexibility of either bike or battery power and sits unobtrusively under your outer jacket. For me, a base layer, this vest and jacket and I’m sorted in temperatures as low as I’m ever going to venture out in.
Slimline and comfortable profile
Hard-wire or battery power
Gentle warming of the core while riding
Eventually you’ll have to take it off