As Told by the Gerbing Family
In the 1970’s when Gordon Gerbing designed and manufactured the first heated jacket liners for motorcyclists, he not only founded Gerbing’s Heated Clothing, he founded an entire industry. They now have a brand new company, with the people who have the most experience keeping motorcyclists warm: The Gerbing Family.
Here is Gordon’s story, as told by his family:
We are sad to report that our Father, Gordon Gerbing, the inventor of the heated jacket liner for motorcyclists and the man who set the standards for the industry, passed away in 2017 at age 87. Dad was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 64 years, Marilyn. He is survived by his five children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Dad was a man of many talents, but what defined him most was his compassion for others, his desire to help other people. Born in 1930, for much of his adult life he was a minister, with study at Milwaukee Bible College and a Math Education degree from East Texas Baptist College in 1961. After teaching junior high math during the week and ministering on Sundays, he started a small machine stop business in Maple Valley, WA, about 25 miles south of Seattle.
In the mid-1970’s, he noticed in winter his motorcycle-riding employees arriving for work shivering and needing to take some minutes to first warm their hands before beginning work. Dad never rode a motorcycle, but he figured there must be some way to keep these guys warm. His first idea was to tap into the exhaust with a hose wrapped around the rider. Well, that did not work. After one night noticing our mother Marilyn’s electric blanket, the next day Mom no longer had wires in her blanket. The heated jacket liner for motorcyclists was created. And so was Gerbing’s Heated Clothing (in 1976), and the industry of heated clothing for motorcyclists that followed.
The idea caught on slowly, particularly since many bikes of that era had an underpowered electrical system. For the first ten years of the business Gordon spent more time running his machine shop, but slowly the demand and interest in his heated clothing began to grow.
Gordon had no money to start a business, supporting a family of seven on not much of an income. But he could advertise the best way, to meet his new customers in person at many motorcycle rallies, especially throughout the summer. He attended as many rallies as he could, at first sleeping in his car and loading up on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he left home. What he enjoyed most was showing how comfortable people could be, introducing the concept of heated clothing to his soon to be appreciative audience.
One of Gordon’s most effective displays was to hook up his heated gloves to a common automobile battery charger. That way customers could directly feel the inviting warmth. The result was sale after sale and many, many satisfied customers. Some customers would walk by Gordon’s booth during the following years at a particular rally and enthusiastically announce to everyone within range how happy they were with their heated clothing, and how much Gordon cared about making sure each of his customers was personally satisfied. As time went on, more and more riders realized that they could ride warm and comfortable on even the coldest, windiest and rainiest days.
Finally, in the late 1980’s Gordon’s “hobby” became his full-time passion. He and his wife Marilyn sold the machine shop and moved to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. He made many friends through those early years of the 80’s and 90’s, and enjoyed much for what was becoming his life endeavor.
As more and more people learned of the benefits of heated clothing, the Gerbings’ business continued to grow. Plus, the electrical output of the typical motorcycle continued to increase as motorcycle engineers addressed the growing demand for electrical accessories. The result is that all but the smallest bikes can now provide the power needed to generate the needed heat.
In 2000 a great opportunity arose. He was invited to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to present his products to Harley-Davidson, with the likelihood of his heated jacket liner and heated gloves becoming official H-D products. The meeting was a success. Enjoying his newfound possibilities for growth and market-wide acceptance of heated clothing, on the flight back to Seattle tragedy struck. Dad suffered a stroke that almost took his life. As now a former minister, with no formal business training, and someone who basically enjoyed meeting people, talking and showing them how to be warm, he was not the kind of person who pursued the legal intricacies of his business.
The result is that after his near-death, he lost his company. Still named Gerbing’s Heated Clothing, there was only one Gerbing son left in the business as the rest were terminated. Dad no longer had any connection to Gerbing’s Heated Clothing. In 2011 the company was sold and the dream of Gerbing’s Heated Clothing vanished completely, with no original employees now left.
The good news is that Dad worked hard, as he always did, and achieved a remarkable recovery. By 2013 he, and two of his sons and daugher-in-law, were ready to once again move forward, to continue the profession that they loved and missed so much. That was the beginning of Gordon’s Heated Clothing. After starting from nowhere, then growing Gerbing’s Heated Clothing to a multi-million dollar business, and then losing everything, not even retaining a pension, Dad once again started a small, family business.
Dad insisted that everything we ever sold would be made in the USA, the only heated clothing company to exclusively support USA manufacturing jobs and USA quality across the product line. We joked with Dad that he is one of the few people to have one business named after his last name and then another business that took his first name.
Saddened by the loss of our Father, and our Mother one year earlier, we are heartened that Gordon could leave this world being once again involved with making and selling heated motorcycle gear. It was his passion. When he left us he left knowing that once again his motorcycle clothing is keeping riders warm.
Our goal is to maintain Gordon’s original vision of making a quality product at a fair price that genuinely improves the lives of our customers. And, in the end, that is just plain fun. Thank you for your support and we look forward to serving you in the years to come.
Come see us at the Oyster Run Sept. 22!
Find more info at www.gordonsheated.com
*Photos from website and Gerbing family, except photo of vendor space at ABATE Swap Meet by JD Gore.