The closed-door gathering was held for members of the motorcycle press and featured a number of upgrades across the company’s vast line of moto safety apparel, as demonstrated on svelte male and female models.
Highlights were innovative materials technologies, including a new kangaroo hide option, silver-ion impregnated anti-bacterial linings, “localized perforation” available in some suits, and more use of titanium and/or carbon fiber in gloves, protective patches on leather suits, and boots.
Improvements to spine protection using aircraft grade alloy honeycomb sandwiched between high-tech polymers, and a new line of thorax (chest/breast) protection for men and women were also rolled out.
The presentation also featured AGV helmets, with which Dainese officially merged a couple years ago. Dainese reps cited a long list of original innovations, but said they were not resting on their laurels and intended to keep following their own muse – along with much R&D and feedback from an elite stable of sponsored racers as well as ordinary customers worldwide.
According to Andrea Onida, the D-Store’s marketing and sales support manager, included in Dainese’s aforementioned industry firsts were such now-taken-for-granted technologies as replaceable knee pucks, spine protectors, metal or composite external shoulder and elbow protective patches, and more.
In the case of AGV helmets, reps assert that the company invented the first full-face racing helmet and has been innovating since 1947. Luminaries who’ve benefitted from AGV helmets in the past include former world champion Giacomo Agostini, whose helmet is stylized as the official symbol for AGV, and of course Valentino Rossi today.
For a moto gear-head, a trip to the Italian maker’s high-end retail outlet can be like a proverbial trip to a candy store. And if all the colorful leather, textile and AGV helmets were like freshly served ice cream sundaes for the eyes, the most interesting cherry on top certainly was the D-Air suit – on display to dazzle, but not sample as of yet.
Dainese had brought in a prototype to announce this, its latest and uncontested “first.” This particular example was one that had been fitted for and used by nine-time Moto GP World Champion, Valentino Rossi.
In all, about five or so elite racers have been extensively testing the air-bag suit. It is the fruit of a project that began as a gleam in Dainese’s mind’s eye in 1996, according to Michela Amenduni, chief of press office for Dainese S.p.A., who had flown in with several Dainese personnel from Italy for the presentation.
You might have seen the viral video circulated around Youtube – and still on Dainese’s Web site – of a black-clad test rider who deliberately lowsides a 2-stroke track bike to demonstrate the air collar, but that is really old news and bears little resemblance to Dainese’s latest state of the art.
The present design – said to be nearly perfected for the future as well – incorporates an enclosed air collar encased in an elastic-type mystery material that expands like a blowfish around the rider’s neck as needed in a crash. It is designed to deploy and instantly shield the upper vertebrae, upper thorax, humerus bones of the upper arms, shoulders, collarbone, and of course the rider’s neck and head.
Its impact resistance is claimed to be 80% better or more, compared to conventional Dainese technology, and it deploys in 20 milliseconds – faster than a blink.
The system’s operating hardware and software are contained in the speed hump, and thus require no hardware or software on the motorcycle. In the hump, there are three gyroscopes and three accelerometers, a GPS, and a computer “brain” to continually monitor the myriad data.
The On switch is actually the upper snap closure that secures the center zipper at the rider’s neck, and an LED blips on the front of the suit to alert that the system is operative and okay.
The system activates when the bike exceeds 50 kph, and is inactive below that speed (so it would not deploy if a rider tripped and fell in the paddock, for example).
A helium gas cartridge is used, according to Rossi’s personal suit fitter, Silvano Celi in a one-on-one interview with Motorcycle.com.
Celi, who said he has worked with Rossi since Rossi was 14, has been instrumental in R&D for a number of Dainese’s evolutionary designs, and had been brought in by Dainese to give tech briefings for the suit which he has worked with Rossi and the other riders to develop.
He said the suit’s “cold gas generator” (helium system) weighs about 200g, and the entire system only adds about 700-750g (less than 2 lbs) to the weight of the suit.
The suit’s computer brain was developed in collaboration with leaders at top universities to come up with mathematical algorithms that can be fine tuned for individual race circuits. The system is designed to be smart enough to discern between an actual crash and mere high-Gs or ordinary rider movements.
It has been proven to be able to deploy in a highside or lowside or impact, and Celi said they are quite happy with what they have designed, even surprising industry peers with their results.
One example of its efficaciousness was cited last November when Jorge Lorenzo nearly highsided at Valencia, and saved it. His airbag activated because he had actually begun the gyrations of a crash. It puffed up for five seconds as it was designed to, then took another 20 seconds to deflate as he continued to race.
In all, it cost him 0.7 seconds on that lap. Of that time, Celi estimated the highside event itself accounted for about 0.5 seconds, thus it was said the distraction by the suit’s deployment effectively cost Lorenzo only 0.2 seconds.
As mentioned, unlike previous prototype versions built around leather suits that relied on external removable air collars, this suit uses leather like normal, except around the shoulder and chest. Here is a material that feels like rubber to the touch. Dainese offered no name for it, and according to Celi, it has abrasion resistance “similar” to leather but can stretch out as needed, then recompress the gas-filled air collar once an exhaust valve opens. Thus the suit, which is good only for one airbag deployment at a time, retains a safety level on par with an ordinary Dainese race suit even if the airbag is deactivated – such as when a rider picks up a crashed bike and keeps racing.
What’s the stretchy material made of? Celi – who speaks only a little English – responded through an interpreter in a flurry of Italian. The word “Kevlar” was recognized, but the answer finally delivered through a translator was, “that’s classified!”
Indeed the R&D and money spent have been extensive and expensive, but no hard numbers were divulged as to this project’s cost to date. Nor is the proposed selling price for the final production version of this suit when it becomes available for racers, perhaps as soon as 2011. And before that, Dainese will be conducting further tests in collaboration with selected racers.
But this is a race suit. What about street riders? How can this benefit them?
Well, first, consumers might want to see more proof of this concept, no doubt. But Onida was clear that this is a direction Dainese is committed to, and the company also has street suits in development – but here, too, only sketchy details were offered, and no more accurate estimate other than as-soon-as-possible was given as to when the street version would be made available.
What is known is that the street suit will be designed with a larger frontal airbag area offering more torso protection to better handle the types of crashes common to road riders – such as impacts with other vehicles and objects, as well as potential highsides and lowsides, presumably. Additionally, a road system will likely have crash sensors on the bike itself to detect impact, said Amenduni.
So while tantalizing, Amenduni admits the whole project remains “a work in progress.” The race suit as currently used by elite racers requires a team of technicians to service it, as well as collect data.
Before a version of that suit is made available to club racers or track-day riders, Dainese said it will have to make them so they no longer need their own private coterie of attendants.
But Dainese repeatedly said its goal is to make this practical, available, reasonably affordable, and thus viable. And though no word was offered on the eventual proposed price, Amenduni said it will be less money than one would think.
Currently, suits at the D-Store were seen ranging from around $1,000 to $3,500 or so. Any guesses on what this new ultimate suit will go for?
Also in question is will it be worth it? If it works as advertised, and can save your neck with greater capability than a current-technology suit, you decide, but our guess is many people will certainly say yes.
And with competition, and time on the market, if Dainese – and others working on their own designs – have their way, it may not be too long before the motorcycle airbag suit becomes commonplace.