Personal Airbag Vests and Jackets - Making an impact, in a good way
Airbag vests have been used by motorcycle police around the world since the mid 1990's. They have been in continual development for racers on the MotoGP circuits. Manufacturers have now switched their attention to us everyday street riders.
In this article, we look at how the different personal airbag systems work, and answer the most common questions riders have.
Click on the link below to take you to the answer of your most pressing question, or keep scroll to read the entire article.
Is it worth getting a motorcycle airbag vest?
Are these worth it? Absolutely, they are. My advice to any new and older experienced riders, is to invest heavily in quality gear and these vests and jackets make the odds better on surviving an accident with less injuries.
What the Statistics are saying
The World Health Organisations latest report on the Global Status on Road Safety, highlights that the number of annual road traffic deaths worldwide reached 1.35 million.
Road traffic injuries are now the leading killer of people aged between 5 to 29 years old. 28 percent of these deaths are of motorcyclists.
You only need to come off the one time, to be glad you are wearing either a full airbag jacket or vest.
If you are a safety conscious rider, or have kids or a partner who regularly rides, then airbag vests are a personal protection item that's worth the investment.
How do Tethered Airbags work?
The vests and jackets available today strike a nice balance between safety, comfort, and looking good.
Airbag vests are lighter than jackets, but still offer the same amount of protection. They easily fit over your normal jacket or clothes.
These are all fitted with a high-speed airbag deployment system. This is controlled by a coiled wire lanyard. The lanyard is attached to a point on the bike and linked to the chest area of the vest by a quick release connection.
The airbag is activated as soon as the rider and motorcycle become separated during an accident. The coiled wire pulls a 'key' out of a gas release system and inert gas inflates the air cushion.
Helite, Hit-Air and Moto Air use this system in their vests, jackets and riding suits.
What's protected with Tethered systems?
These airbag vests and jackets act as a body splint to keep the spine and neck immobile during a fall. This will significantly reduce the risk of spinal cord injury.
The airbag inflates before the rider hits the ground and provides impact protection for the back, neck and chest. The neck is kept aligned to avoid whiplash and significantly reduces the risks of major spinal injury.
The key box itself acts as a chest protector and can't injure the rider as the airbag is directly beneath it. Due to the design of the connector, the airbag can be activated from any angle or position.
After a few seconds, a release valve starts to slowly release the gas. Vests and jackets generally take between 3 to 5 minutes to deflate.
How do vests relying on Technology work?
Well known brands such as Dainese, Alphinestars, Klim and Ixon, use a deployment system where the rider is not tethered to the bike.
Technology and sensors are used to monitor the position of a rider, and these will sense if a rider is to come off the bike.
Klim and Ixon have a vest that is worn under a riders jacket or vest. Dainese and AlpineStars have jackets, vests and full riding suits.
Tethered Vests & Jackets - What's the difference?
In terms of protection, there's no difference between the vest and the jacket. The shape of the airbag is the same on the vest as the jacket. They provide equal coverage.
The first thing to ask yourself is whether you're looking for an airbag jacket to replace your regular gear, or something to wear over the top of your current jacket.
An airbag vest worn over the top of a traditional jacket will stop your jacket from 'riding up' or being stripped off, exposing skin during an accident.
Some riders want to be easily seen in traffic so go for the Hi-Viz and reflective stripes, while others prefer something that looks just like a regular bikers jacket. There are airbag vests that cover all the options.
Waterproof or lightweight rain-proof models are available. Some have removable winter linings. Other optional extras include a separate additional waterproof lining, and chest and back protectors.
Tethered Airbags - Frequently asked questions
The wired cord separates completely from the jacket - you will not be dragged with a bike or horse in the event of an accident.
The airbag won't go off accidentally if you forget to unclip yourself as you're getting off. I
f you do forget to untether, you'll feel a reasonably strong tug to remind you to disconnect the coiled wire.
It takes a reasonably strong force of around 66 pound (approximately 30 kg) to release the key and deploy the airbag.
These are designed to be used more than once if required.
As long as there's no damage to the air bags, the fabric or supports, and the safety mechanism remains intact, you can start to use it again as soon as you replace the CO2 cartridge.
These are safe for passengers to wear.
Just make sure there is minimal slack between the tether point and the jacket.
You can wear a loose fitting rain protection. The same goes for a backpack.
It will be ok as long as it's not tight and has room for the airbag to expand into.
Some vests are made with reflective Lumidex material.
This is black material that is very bright and reflective at night.
During the day, it blends with normal riding gear and just looks black so it doesn't stand out.
Video - Man says wearing an Airbag Vest saved his life
Which are the best airbag jackets currently available?
Best Tethered Motorcycle Airbags
The best tethered airbag vests and jackets currently available are the Helite and the Hit Air range. There are differences between these, so it depends on what you're looking for personally as to which is best for you.
Both of these manufacturers make vests and jackets in different materials, including leather, and hi-viz.
#1 - Helite - Built in Armor
Helite Airbag vests and jackets are high end, high quality products.
These come in a large range to cover different activities, and riders preferences.
Many of these come with built in armor making them heavier and warmer. This has both up sides, and downsides, depending on where you live.
Many have a removable back protector. This protects both the rider and also the air channels within the jacket in the event of an accident.
#2 - Hit-Air - A good all rounder
Hit Air make vests and jackets designed for different activities and also for each individual rider's preferences. There are motorbike models available for Sport, Touring and regular everyday city commuting.
Some riders want Hi-Viz and reflective stripes, while others prefer something that looks just like a regular bikers jacket. Hit Air covers both of these options.
The things we liked:
#3 - Moto-Air - Airbag One
MotoAir have a range of jackets and vests, although these are hard to source at the moment.
The Airbag One Motorcycle Vest is affordable protection for a range of riders. Weighing only 3 pounds (1.3 kilos) it's lightweight and offers good protection for the neck, chest, spine, and obliques, in any activity, any weather, all year round.
Best Smart Technology Airbag Vests
#1 - Klim Ai-1 Smart Airbag Protection
Klim have partnered with In&Motion to develop their airbag vest that is worn under a regular riding jacket.
This vest requires an on-going subscription but being as little as $12 per month, I think this is worth it for the ongoing support, algorithm updates and lifetime warranty that this provides.
#2 - Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 System
Tech-Air 5 designed to be worn under virtually any jacket.
In addition to the chest, ribs and full back, the Tech-Air 5 system system includes the shoulders, which is critical in motorcycling accidents.
Alpinestars algorithm has been developed by using MotoGP race data and data from over 2,000 lab-simulated crash scenarios determine when and how the system deploys. The Tech-Air 5 System has six integrated sensors (3 gyroscopes and 3 accelerometers) that continuously monitor the rider’s position.
The airbag has a maximum inflation time of up to 40ms (or less, depending on vest size). The impact absorption while wearing the airbag results in a decrease of impact force by up to 95% compared to a passive chest or back protector.
Inflation time is quick enough to deploy the airbag before the rider's first impact with an obstacle. In addition, the vest will protect stationary riders in the event of a rear-end collision.
The airbag has a battery life of around 30 hours of riding time on a single charge. The LED display shows the system's status directly on the jacket. A a micro USB charger is included for quick recharging.
The Tech-Air 5 system has Bluetooth connectivity to pair with the Tech-Air App, which uses the rider’s phone to display the system’s operational status, battery status and provide detailed analysis of a ride. Firmware updates are also provided through the Tech-Air App.