The Chilli Heated Motorcycle Vest
wBW Review by "Burn"
Reviews | Owner Comments
I thought this would be the winter of warmth.
Sure, we've had record high temperatures here on the East
Coast of the U.S. -- that is, until about a week ago, when it dropped down
to the low 20's (F.) and doesn't look like it's going to get any better any
But that's not what I mean. After bundling up in
multiple layers and riding in too many winters to remember, I was really
looking forward to using the variety of electrically heated clothing that
we purchased last fall.
figured would make all the difference in the world and I could picture
myself all warm and toasty.
We started this electric festival by reviewing the
Gerbing Heated Jacket Liner, and
found that its hefty power requirement wasn't
compatible with our wimpy vintage motorcycles' alternators. When we
tried it on a motorcycle with 400 Watt output, it put out the heat, but
it has too many hot spots and the wiring is fussy.
We've been learning a great deal about electrically heated
clothing recently. First of all, it's important to make sure your
bike's alternator can handle the power requirements. Also, we found
that electrically heated clothing works best when the garments fit very
tight to your body.
And remember that the manufacturers usually
recommend wearing at least some type of shirt underneath - these garments
are not designed for wearing directly against your skin.
We discovered that the best way to keep the heat close to
the body is to wear
some type of tight-fitting but light sweater, polar fleece or turtleneck shirt over the top of
the heated vest or heated jacket. It
really makes a difference, because it keeps the garment closer to your skin
while also providing an insulating layer that keeps the warmth inside the
But overall, we've been disappointed so far with the
electric heated clothing
products that we've tried, which is surprising, considering that electric vests and jackets
that are specifically designed for motorcycling have been available for many
You'd think someone would have the formula figured out by now,
and granted, we've only tried a very small sampling, but we're disappointed
I guess it's too much to ask for a nicely designed vest or
jacket that you won't be embarrassed to wear by itself; that
draws less than, say, 60 Watts or so; that provides lots of very evenly
distributed heat; that has a thermostat; and that's easy to connect and
disconnect from the motorcycle.
Throw in some type of foolproof disconnect
that automatically pops out when (notice I didn't say "if") the rider
dismounts after forgetting that the garment is still connected to the
bike's wiring harness, and you'll have a winner.
Maybe someday soon?
In the meantime, our most recent heated clothing experience
is with the Chilli heated vest, or "waistcoat" seen in these
photos. The Chilli heated vest
has been around virtually forever; it was originally developed by Steve Attwood,
an Iron Butt rider extraordinaire, and is proudly made in England with what
appears to be all-British components.
This is a no-nonsense garment that actually has decent
looks, even though it uses the apparently de rigueur taffeta material found
on heated clothing - you know, the stuff that makes them look like the liner of a 1960's era
The Chilli vest is sans pockets, both on the inside and out, and
they're not missed because they aren't necessary anyway. It's a light
weight 323 grams (11-3/8 oz.) and the men's size large fits my 43/44 (U.S.)
The vest has no collar and no trim around the armpits, which
was done on purpose and which we think is a good idea.
motorcycle jackets are too tight in the collar area anyway, and by time you
get a sweater, vest and maybe a scarf or neoprene neck warmer or Balaclava
helmet packed on, there isn't much room left to button up without feeling
absolutely choked. So the lack of a collar is not a bad
The Chilli heated vest also draws only 38 Watts at full
power. Although this means that it can be used on virtually any
motorcycle without having to worry about battery charging problems, we found that
the 38 Watts just doesn't cut it when it comes to warmth (more on this in a
Wiring supplied with the
Chilli heated vest. Top: controller with red/black leads.
Lower left: battery harness, fuse at lower left. Right: Chilli
provides a spare battery harness, which can be mounted on another
bike. Far right: instructions, 3 cable ties and spare
controller power plug.
Top left: fuse. Right: spare
connector. Bottom left: "no fault" connector from the controller's
harness. Right: shrink-wrapped cover on the battery wiring harness.
We do really like the design of the wiring harness for the
Chilli vest though. The wires seem very heavy-duty and are covered in
substantial-looking (and feeling) shrink tubing.
The plugs are also
hefty and are very easy to use. Somehow the whole wiring assembly is less fussy
than the Gerbing jacket liner we reviewed recently.
The vest connector is located on the outside of the lower
left hand side of the garment, which is a good location.
Plug in the black female
connector from the controller and plug the red lead from the controller into
the harness and you're ready to go.
There's still the problem of where to put the controller if
it isn't permanently mounted to the bike though. The location of the
vest's connector means that the controller usually ends up in the pocket of
the outer jacket.
The waterproof controller comes with an attached piece of
Velcro on the back and a matching piece of Velcro with double-sided tape,
ready to attach to a suitable location on the motorcycle, which is really
where it should be placed anyway.
The opposite end of the controller harness plugs in to the
main harness, which must be connected to the
motorcycle's battery terminals.
The red power lead has a 10 Amp fuse wired in place.
It's all nice and clean and tidy and makes for a quick installation.
The controller includes 35.5 cm (14") of red (power) wire and
46 cm (18") of
ground (black) wire to connect to the vest and the battery harness.
The battery harness is 117 cm (46") long, so
there's plenty of length to wire up a motorcycle without having so much
extra that it becomes a problem to get it all stowed. Our package
included a a spare battery harness, which can be used to attach to a second
motorcycle, and a spare power plug, but I'm not sure if this is actually
included in the price or if it was added by mistake.
The controller is an interesting design: it's a box shape about 63 mm
long, 35 mm wide and 19 mm thick. The thermostat is controlled by a
rotary dial, but there's no "off" click when it's lowered all the way to the
left (i.e., anti-clockwise).
There's a single LED red light that comes
on and blinks as the dial is turned up for more power. The farther
it's turned, the faster the light blinks, until it's on continuously at the
maximum output of 38 Watts.
So far, so good. There's trouble in paradise though -
the 38 Watt output that allows the vest to be used with less than 300 Watt
alternators also means that the heat output is weak at best. I hate to
break it to you folks, but we could barely feel any heat emanating from the
vest, albeit during a riding week marked by very low temperatures hovering
around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
If a tight sweater or turtleneck is worn over the top of the
vest, keeping the material as close as possible to the body, some heat can
be felt and it does take the chill off slightly, but our opinion is that the
heat output just isn't there. Maybe it will work for a 40 degree (F.)
English winter, but it didn't do much for us in the way cold weather
we've had recently.
It's too bad really, because otherwise the garment gives an
overall good impression. The wiring is especially well thought out.
I need more power, Scotty! How about 60 Watts or so?
Steve Attwood used his long-distance riding experience in the design of the
Chilli heated vest. We can't fault the fit and the quality of the
wiring and plugs, although we have some reservations about the fabric used
for the vest. But it's too bad that the vest doesn't have more power.
We realize you can't have it both ways; that is, you can't have a
low-powered vest that puts out lots of heat (or can you?), but 38 Watts just
doesn't seem to be enough. Fifty or sixty Watts would probably do the
Kudos to Chilli for providing an extra harness and plug and
for the sturdy but simple wiring assembly.
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From "D.D." (2/09): "Been meaning to give input on the
Chilli Electric Heated Vest.
I ride an 2005 Harley Davidson Ultra Glide. I’ve owned
my Chilli Electric Heated Vest for 4 years.
My personal experience with this vest is excellent.
Albeit I had to install the higher wattage alternator, assuring the vest
would perform, but if is without question, I’m not cold. The heat
dispersion is quite good, the rheostat works well in all positions.
I would appreciate if the company would broaden their scope
to include Heated Gloves and Leggings. The best news for me, and
others would Chilli would produce Electric Heated Gloves and 'Leggings’."