Feel the need. The need for heat.
There is one certainty when it comes to riding a motorcycle in Canada (and in the Northern United States): the length of the riding season is proportional to your level of willingness to deal with the cold. For example, I actually quite enjoy riding in the fall, when the temperatures start to dip as long as I have the right gear.
Over the past few years, I was on the bike makers’ schedule—when they decided to pull the press fleet at the end of the season, that was it for me as well. This year, that changed dramatically when I finally stepped back into bike ownership. Sure enough, one of the accessories at the top of my list was a pair of heated grips. Considering I bought the bike in late September, I had every intention of extending my season as far as I could and having heated grips was going to help with that.
I had two options for my new Honda CB500X: buy the Honda set or turn to the aftermarket and buy into Oxford. I believe there are other options on the market, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t really trust any of them.
On the one hand, having a set of Honda heated grips meant a more streamlined installation as the wiring is tucked inside the handlebar, out of sight. As sexy as this sound, the $295.95 price tag before installation—I didn’t order my bike, the dealer had it in stock so no factory installation—was a bit of a hard pill to swallow. Installation would likely have been another $200 to $300 considering the crew would have had to disassemble everything
Considering that the Oxford Heaterz products came warmly (hah!) recommended—including by my dad and my service advisor—and that the price tag is far more accessible, I opted for the aftermarket accessory. I relegated the Honda grips to my bike dream board alongside my set of panniers. One day!
Dimensions Over Style
I bought the grips online from FortNine (the Canadian equivalent of RevZilla) and received my package within a few days.
See, the Oxford grips come in different styles: Touring, Adventure, Sport, and even Retro. To the untrained eye, they all look the same and it’s easy to think that it’s all a matter of matching the type of grip to your bike or to pick the design you like best.
Wrong! Don’t do like I did, it’ll save you having to do a swap. See, the different styles of grips are also of different sizes. The interior diameter is the same for everyone, which makes them universal as they’ll fit most 7/8” handlebars. The length and girth of the grips vary, however.
You’d think that for a CB500X, the pair of Adventure grips was the best fit. At least I did. Except that when I finally did my research after placing my order (which I should have done before clicking "Buy"), I found out that for the CB, the Adventure model was going to be too long and that the Touring model was the best pick. Waddaya know?
Shoutout to the FortNine team who saved me some back and forth and was able to change my order swiftly after I placed it.
To save you some time, here’s the dimensions breakdown for each model:
Length: 5.19 inches (can be cut down to 4.80 inches)
Outer diameter: 1.35 inch
Length: 4.72 inches (can be cut down to 4.37 inches)
Outer diameter: 1.35 inch
Length: 4.72 inches (can be cut down to 4.45 inches)
Outer diameter: 1.31 inch
Length: 4.84 inches (can be cut down to 4.48 inches)
Outer diameter: 1.31 inch
While I’m possibly the least mechanically inclined of the RideApart crew, I’ve done my fair share of basic maintenance and fiddling. I felt confident that I could install the grips myself. I found a couple of videos (thanks YouTube!) and went outside with my hands full of tools, ready to tackle a challenge.
Well, folks, things didn’t go as smoothly as I anticipated. Wfterhen I finally managed to pull the endcaps off and started trying to get the production grips off, I realized I might be a little in over my head.
Had this been my old CX500, I wouldn’t have worried so much, but the CB was brand new and the last thing I wanted to do was screw something up—especially on the electrical front. So, I backed off and decided instead to have my dealer do it.
If you’re more confident in your abilities than I am, based on what many users have said, it’s a pretty straightforward installation and there are plenty of how-to videos to walk you through it. You don’t have to turn to your mechanic or dealer to make it work if you know what you’re doing. If you have any doubts, don’t let your ego get in the way and ask for help—a job well done is perfectly worth it.
Note that the tech who did the installation explained that he set up my grips with the cable’s elbow upward rather than downward like you see most people do. That's why they look upside down. He said that it's to make sure that the elbow doesn’t get in the way of my brake lever when I have the throttle fully opened.
My dealer gave me two installation options: hook the system to the battery or the starter. The difference is that if you connect the grips to the starter, once you turn the bike off, it cuts power to the grips and doesn’t drain the battery. The grips can only be activated when you turn on the ignition.
If you connect them directly to the battery, you have to remember to turn off the heater before walking away. The new-generation Oxford Heaterz Premium grips do have an Intelligent Heat Controller feature that shuts the system off completely after a few minutes of immobility (yes, immobility) which is great if you tend to forget, but it can still take a bit of a toll on the battery.
The grips come with a little control panel that’s easy to mount to the handlebar. It allows you to choose between the five heat settings, from 30% up to 100%. In 40-degree weather on the highway, in the maximum setting, the grips managed to keep my fingers from freezing and going numb. Within a few minutes of turning the heating system on, I can already feel the heat, and that 100% setting becomes insanely hot (up to 122 degrees according to Oxford) which is lovely when you’re cold.
Keep in mind, however, that the system isn’t foolproof. Unless you also have handguards to cut the wind, the cold air still seeps through the gloves anyway and cools the top of your hand and fingers. The grips ensure that your hands don’t turn into popsicles and that you don’t lose precious dexterity.
For reference, I bought a pair of weatherproof gloves designed specifically to work with heated grips that isn't padded inside the hand. It’s not a necessity, as the heat will eventually radiate through any type of glove, but it likely contributed to the grips’ efficiency.
If like me you don’t have access to a garage on a daily basis, the good news is that the controller and the grips are waterproof and the wiring is protected by the rubber sleeves. I do leave a tarp on my bike overnight to keep most of the rain off, but if you don’t even have that option, your heated grips will be fine anyway.
The one small downside to having the Oxford Heaterz instead of the Honda system is the wiring. Everything is neatly tucked inside PVC sleeves so your handlebar doesn’t look like a hot mess. However, keep in mind that if your bike sleeps outside, when things get cold, so does the PVC. I’ve had an instance when the sleeve rendered rigid by the cold, pushed against my throttle, and kept it from springing back. I needed to manually close the throttle.
I initially thought it had something to do with the spring, but when on the following (warmer) ride, things were back to normal, I deduced it had to do with the materials. It’s annoying, but that’s a compromise you make when you opt for the more affordable but not as well integrated alternative for a bike that spends its nights outside. At least, that's one I'm willing to make.
Ultimately, however, for $90, those grips are doing a fine job. I will eventually add a set of handguards which will likely do a world of difference but until I do, the Oxford Heaterz Premium hand grips are one of the purchases I made for my new bike that I’m most satisfied with. As of November, 2020, the season is still going strong.