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Motorcycle Airbags

23rd February 2018

Know Your Air Bags

Hello and welcome to Alex's Blog! Recently we have noticed a growing trend of air-bag technology in new clothing coming in to us. I wanted to explore this to see what these have to offer and to see if they really work or are they just a gimmick? Which ones are worth looking at and what do they offer?

Alpinestars Logo

Alpinestars state that their Tech-Air system is the first airbag system which is completely independent of the bike and the rider (no tethers or wires to the bike) while still maintaining upper body protection in the event of a crash. Plus, it can actually react before a crash using algorithms. A bold statement!

Alpinestars Tech-Air

The Alpinestars Tech-Air system is a two-part arrangement comprising of an air bag vest, which you wear on the inside of your jacket or suit, and compatible Alpinestars clothing.

Alpinestars GP Tech V2 Suit Tech-Air
GP Tech V2 Suit

Alpinestars GP Pro Suit Tech-Air Black
GP Pro Black Suit

Alpinestars GP Pro Suit Tech-Air Black White
GP Pro Black White Suit

Within the Tech-Air system there are two different options: Race or Street to suit your riding and clothing style/requirements. The Tech-Air Race is designed for serious track day riders, but it can also be configured to the Tech-Air Street setting for use on the roads by simply using the versatile firmware. The Tech-Air Race fits compatible Alpinestars suits and jackets. The Tech-Air Street is designed for tourer and adventure style riding and fits the compatible textile jackets.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Street Air Bag System
Tech-Air Street Air Bag System

Alpinestars Tech-Air Race Air Bag System
Tech-Air Race Air Bag System

The Tech-Air system uses subtle electronic sensors throughout the Tech-Air lining which constantly monitor the rider's behaviour, any sudden changes to that behaviour and the system activates the airbag - the whole of the Tech-Air lining inflates within 25 milliseconds with CE certified Argon cartridges giving 360-degree protection for the upper body.

The Tech-Air system offers vital coverage to the shoulders, full back, kidneys and chest and even though the technology is very advanced (with over ten years in the making) it is very simple to use. To make sure this is ready for action all you have to do is zip it up. You can check the system is on and working via the LED display panel on the arm but there is no complicated start-up procedure which means you don't have to worry about forgetting to set up the air-bag.

Alpinestars Missile Suit Tech-Air Black White Red
Missile Black White Red Suit

Alpinestars Missile Suit Tech-Air Black White Yellow
Missile Black White Yellow Suit

Alpinestars seem to have used that ten+ years well. They seem to have covered all bases. This is fully waterproof as well as temperature proof, it can be used in temperatures from -10C to +50C and quite frankly if you're out on your bike in temperatures that are more extreme, then there is no hope for you at all!

The air-bag system is contained in a rather useful back protector which is also, handily, lightweight so there is no extra bulk to carry. The integrated Lithium-Ion battery goes in to sleep mode when not in use. The battery also has a 25-hour life and there is no need to take everything off, go to the battery and find out how long is left, Alpinestars have thought about this and the LED panel on your sleeve tells you everything you need to know.

Alpinestars Missile Jacket Tech-Air
Missile Jacket

Alpinestars Big Sur Goretex Jacket Tech Air
Big Sur Goretex Jacket"

Well done Alpinestars, well done. Whilst this system is not cheap, it is versatile and has been very well thought out.

Dainese Logo

The Dainese D-Air system has many of the same features of the Alpinestars Tech-Air system. Dainese state that they have put in even more time developing their D-Air system. A whole 16 years in fact!

Dainese D-Air Bag

They claim their system has three factors:

  1. Heart. The 3D airbag is designed for maximum comfort and upon inflation ensures this happens uniformly for maximum protection.
  2. Brain. The intelligent sensor system signals 1000 times a second using a triggering algorithm to inflate the airbag - or not - should this be deemed unnecessary.
  3. Intelligence. The Dainese patented triggering algorithm analyses and combines data from the sensors to decide when to inflate the airbag.

The main difference, aside from being a different brand of clothing and therefore offering different fit etc. to the Alpinestars Tech-Air system is that the Dainese D-Air system is actually integrated into the clothing.

Dainese Tuta Mugello R D-Air Suit
Tuta Mugello R D-Air Suit

Dainese Cyclone D-Air Jacket
Cyclone D-Air Jacket

Dainese D-Air Racing Misano Estiva Suit
D-Air Racing Misano Estiva Suit

Dainese Misano D-Air Jacket
Misano D-Air Jacket

The system has 6 sensors and all its control unit, electronics and GPS are integrated in the Pro-Armour back protector. The D-air control unit constantly monitors the sensor signals 1,000 times a second! An intelligent algorithm recognises the nature of any fall and only deploys the air-bag if necessary. So, for falls at less than 6mph or for falls do not demand the extra protection offered by the airbag it will not deploy.

Dainese say that their D-air is "intelligent clothing, able to protect the wearer, even without their intervention, when they are unable to control what is happening."

The D-Air system has different configurations, which are tailored to the product in which they are integrated, and its likely usage, from track to everyday riding. It is a nice touch by Dainese that this system has this versatility. Sixteen years of research and over one million Kilometres testing this obviously brings with it great ideas.

Helite Logo

Helite offer either the option of having just a vest over your normal motorcycle kit or motorcycle clothing with an integrated Airvest. The huge difference between the Helite options and Alpinestars or Dainese is that Helite uses a lanyard-based system. In the event of a crash or of you falling off your bike the lanyard pulls out the bearing from the trigger and releases CO2 from the canister in the Airvest to fully inflate in 0.094 seconds.

Helite Airvest

Helite state that this does three things to ensure your safety:

  1. Brings rigidity to the core (which ultimately protects the spine)
  2. The Airbag tightens on the body for a cocoon effect
  3. The helmet and head are blocked to avoid a whiplash effect

Helite pride themselves on the Airvest being easy to use and versatile. The main advantage of a lanyard system compared to electronic sensors is that this makes the Helite products significantly cheaper.

There are, of course, drawbacks. There is no accident prediction with a lanyard system and you need to remember to make sure the lanyard is attached to the bike whenever it is in use. (and to detach yourself at the end of each journey!)

Held Logo

Held have three systems – a vest which clips inside compatible clothing, jackets which already incorporate their air-bag and an over-clothing airbag vest. All three are, like the Helite system, a tethered lanyard system.

The vests inflate fully within 0.1 seconds and Held state that this protects the back, neck, coccyx, ribs and chest in the event of a fall. This also offers circumferential collarbone-protector giving stability between the shoulders and helmet and uses a CE certified Turtle Airbag system.

The tether on this system fastens to a cord underneath your seat, before each journey you fix the release cord on the Klick-fastener on the vest/jacket and you are ready if the worst happens. Like any tethered air bag system, you do have to remember to unsecure the lanyard before you get off your bike at journeys end, yet the price makes this little inconvenience pale in comparison.

It is worth saying that with all tethered systems, if you do forget to disconnect the lanyard at journeys end, the airbag won't just explode - there does need to be a certain amount of force behind an activation of the air bag, but stepping quickly away from your bike will set it off!

Also, if you do stay attached to the bike in the event of an accident the tether-type airbag won't deploy, whereas the electronic sensor versions use their clever algorithms to monitor rider behaviour and can pre-empt crashes, so they do have the edge on reaction time.

So, are air-bag jackets worth it? From the 13 years I've worked in this industry I have seen some nasty injuries and lost some friends and colleagues along the way. Whatever the industry can do to prevent injury/loss of life for motorcyclists is a step in the right direction to me.

Motorcyclists are so open to the elements as well as all the other hazards on the road so if there is some safeguarding measure that can help protect them then I believe this can only be a good thing. I think the old adage is true in regards to air-bag motorcycle clothing. You get what you pay for. However, there are some great alternatives if you aren't willing to fork out the electronic sensor prices. The in-depth research that each manufacturer went in to does really seem to be money well spent.

Until next time, stay safe