Driving a modern car in winter weather is a pretty cosseted experience really. Apart from the insulated metal body and toughened glass sealing you against the elements, you have an efficient heating system, which sometimes extends to heating the seat and steering wheel. It can come as a shock to emerge and feel just how cold it really is out there.
It won’t be a shock to your average biker though. Stuck out in the icy blast, fingers, toes and manic grimace frozen, they know all about it. Its not just a matter of comfort either, as body core temperatures begin to fall, thinking slows down. Keeping warm on your bike is something that could even save your life.
Factoring In the Wind Chill
Even when the temperature feels fine for walking around, bikers can freeze due to the wind-chill factor. This is because moving air cools whatever it touches.
For a biker travelling at 60mph wind-chill makes a 10 degree centigrade (50F) winter day feel more like minus 18C (about 0F). Bearing in mind frostbite sets in at prolonged exposure to around -27C that’s literally a chilling thought.
No wonder many riders put their bikes away for the winter. But what if you want to keep riding, or even if, as a biking commuter you have no choice? While heated bike seats and even clothing are now available, for many wanting to extend their riding season, heated grips will be the first stop.
There are many makes of heated grip out there – and varying price levels.
It’s possible to pay anything up to £250 for bike branded dealer fitted grips, whereas cheap E Bay items might set you back a mere forty quid.
For our ZZR1400 which we intend to ride right through winter, we decided on Oxford’s now famous Hot Grips,
choosing their Premium Touring model priced at £79. We’ve used them before – they’re what you might call a Ronseal product – doing exactly what it says on the tin. Or in this case the cardboard box.
What You Get
The kit includes a left grip of 22 mm inside diameter and 125 mm outside length, and a right that, at 25.6 mm, is necessarily bigger to accept the throttle tube. The length is trimable to shorten if needed.
A wiring harness, complete with in-line fuse holder is provided, connecting the grips with an intelligent handlebar controller (bracket supplied) and with the power source. Grip glue completes the kit.
On opening the box one thing is apparent right away. The quality is outstanding. The rubber grips for instance are soft but thick and feel like they’ll last.
These are heavy duty vibration-damping items with a good depth of tread. Despite the chunky look, they draw only 4 amps and deliver 60 Watts – something most bikes should easily cope with. Grip temp however can reach a blistering max of 50 degrees C . The wiring harness too is heavy gauge and with push-fit connectors making it easy to fit without any soldering. The controller is now a fully sealed sonic-welded item and completely waterproof.
It’s quality like this that makes the Oxford product so reliable. Tough, waterproof and with few manufacturing errors thanks to a robotic factory process and use of components with deliberately higher rated specifications than those they are likely to meet in use.
Now we know why they aren’t the cheapest and why we’ve had no breakdowns in years of use. Oxford claims that the latest kit is water-proof, heat-proof, frost-proof, vibration-proof and electrical pulse-proof. Only time will tell if its biker-proof but we think it will be.
Fitting the Grips
We fitted the grips to our long-term ZZR1400 test bike, cutting off the old ones and fitting the new carefully, choosing wiring routing over a pensive cup of tea, so that sufficient play was left to leave throttle and handlebar functions unimpaired.
The controller fitted neatly onto the supplied bracket that bolted onto the clutch lever bracket. So far, so good.
Wiring them Up
Having run the wires, we connected power. If you don’t feel confident doing this then you should use a vehicle electrician or a mechanic.
Oxford says that you can wire direct to the battery and that the intelligent controller will switch off battery power if you forget.
This seemed a bit of sloppy thinking to us – much better if you can’t leave the grips on and power is cut with the ignition. It’s easy to arrange this by fitting a relay – wiring diagrams are all over the internet.
However, we favour a Fuseblock which we bought from Nippy Norman. This connects to the battery and to one ignition-live source. Then you can run 6 accessories from the one set of connections, choosing whether you want each to be on permanently on or go off with the ignition.
The relay is of course in the box. This simplifies connection, gives a fused protection where you can get at it (no need for in-line fuse) and tidies up wiring if you plan to fit a number of accessories.
So, with power connected we road tested the grips. The controller is OK to operate with gloved hands, but sometimes you need to press more than once to select the right one of the five possible power levels.
With an outside temp of about 9C, our tester opted right away for Max. The grips took a while (5 minutes or so) to heat up but then rapidly got so hot this had to be backed off.
Eventually he found that this mid position was about right. The max setting was just too hot (the right grip also seemed a bit hotter than the left but not by much) while the low setting could not be felt.
One Week’s Hard Commuting Use…
Despite running in traffic for half an hour a day, and several times in pouring rain, the grips didn’t seem to have drained much from the battery, with the bike starting up promptly once stopped.
This was confirmed by a voltmeter, which produced a normal reading. Over a week on test, the tester forgot to switch the grips off several times, but given the relay connection we’d made via the Fuseblock this was not a problem. The grips and fittings remained intact and un-moved during normal use, showing that the grip glue and bracket design worked well.
The tester reported that the grips greatly enhanced rider comfort, not only by keeping hands fireside-warm, but also through their chunky soft rubber construction with provided good grip and seemed to help dull vibration.
He thought the grips improved safety through eliminating the distraction of frozen fingers and by helping to maintain overall body temperature and hence alertness.
Overall then, the Oxford Grips seem to be good value for money. A quality item that is easy to install and which is likely to prove reliable. Whichever brand you chose though, once you’ve tried a motorcycle with heated grips, it’s tough to go back to riding without them.