MO Tested: Alpinestars Oscar Charlie Jacket With Tech-Air Race
Now street riders can benefit from air-bag systems, too
The Alpinestars Oscar Charlie combines truly classic motorcycle jacket lines with solid construction, and if it stopped there, it would be a nice jacket. However, its ability to interface with the new Tech-Air Race System puts it well above your average motorcycle gear.
Alpinestars Oscar Charlie Jacket With Tech-Air Race
The Oscar Charlie jacket – even without the Tech-Air system installed – feels like a formidable jacket. The Charlie’s shell is constructed out of full-grain leather that, though it is relatively soft, takes a while to break in and provide that personalized fit that motorcyclists love in a well-worn leather jacket.
The shoulders and elbows feature Alpinestars CE-certified Bio Light armor. Although the armor is removable, I don’t know why you’d want to. Similarly, the jacket has a pocket to accommodate a Nucleon back protector if for some reason you don’t want to use the Tech-Air System.
The Charlie’s sleeves are pre-curved to feel natural when on a motorcycle in the riding position. The Mandarin-style collar snaps closed and features the Oscar logo, as do the snaps on the sleeves. The collar is devoid of any rough edges or seams that can irritate the rider’s neck when snapped closed. The sleeve cuffs were clearly designed with shorty gloves in mind since only the very largest of gauntlets will fit over them. The waistline has a buckle on each side to allow for a customized fit. Because of the bulk of the Tech-Air System, you’ll find yourself tightening up the buckles if you ever decide to use the jacket without the system. The jacket includes a removable flannel thermal liner for colder weather.
Three features separate the Tech-Air compatible Oscar Charlie jacket from the standard Oscar Charlie. The first is the standard comes in two color options (black/sand and vintage brown/sand) while the Tech-Air compatible is only available in black/red. The biggest difference, however, is the addition of the stretch inserts that run down both sides of the jacket to allow for the expansion of the airbags when the Tech-Air System is activated. The final difference is the array of three LEDs on the left forearm which give the rider the status of the Tech-Air System at a glance.
Although the Oscar Charlie is paired with the Tech-Air Race System in this review, it is also compatible with the Tech-Air Street System – something buyers should check carefully when buying jackets to go with their system. Some only accommodate the Street System while others take the Race System only. Some can fit both systems. Despite the name, the Race System can be set to Street Mode through an app available to Tech-Air owners once they register their system online. Unfortunately, the app is PC-only at this time, but a Mac version will be available at some point. The reason riders would want to use the street setting is pretty simple: Race Mode only triggers the system when the rider is moving above a certain speed where the Street Mode allows for the system to be activated at a stop – say if someone hits you at a stop light.
Once the Tech-Air’s firmware is set in the proper mode, installing the system in the Charlie jacket is as easy as mating the pairs of hook-and-loop fasteners, zipping a couple zippers, and hooking in the wire harness for the sleeve LEDs. To activate the system, a little toggle switch in the middle of the back-protector needs to be turned on which places the system in stand-by mode. The magnetic switch hidden in the chest strap arms the system. Simply press the straps together across your chest and watch the LEDs light up on the sleeve. You’ll need to start riding shortly thereafter for the system to fully arm as indicated by the green LED. If the system fails to arm, the red LED will light.
While attaching the straps just prior to starting riding sounds like a hassle, in practice, it’s quite natural. According to Alpinestars, the system’s battery is good for approximately 25 hours of use, but I’ve never pushed it more than about eight hours. After a full-day’s ride, I simply care for its battery the same way I do any other USB-charged electronic device: I plug it in to prepare it for its next use. As with the operation of the system, the LEDs on the jacket sleeve will inform the user of the charging status.
Overall, I’m quite happy with the performance of the Tech-Air Race System. No, I haven’t taken it pavement surfing to see what it’s like to trigger the system, but I’m glad to know it’s there if I need it. Still, I have some caveats about my endorsement of the Tech-Air System. First, it is heavy. The 4 lb. that the system adds essentially doubles the jacket’s weight. Second, because of the snug-fitting nature of the system, it is significantly warmer than a jacket without it. This is a plus during the cool winter months here in SoCal, but I imagine it will get toasty come Summer. I see these limitations as signs of the early stage of development of the Tech-Air System. As it advances, the packaging will naturally get smaller and lighter. Similarly, I expect more accommodations to be made for ventilation in updated Tech-Air versions.
My final note about the Tech-Air Race System is how it affects jacket sizing. Typically, I wear large Alpinestars jackets, but when I was first given the test unit, I could barely zip the jacket closed with the Tech-Air installed. Moving up to an XL solved the problem. I’m guessing that this is why you can only buy the Tech-Air System at authorized Alpinestars retail outlets.
The Alpinestars Oscar Charlie jacket is available in sizes S-3XL for $649.95. The Alpinestars Tech-Air Race System retails for $1,149.95 in sizes S-2XL but, as I said above, can only be purchased at authorized Alpinestars retail locations due to the fitting requirements for the system and the gear it will be installed in. While the Oscar Charlie jacket is a example of the high quality we expect from Alpinestars, pairing it with the Tech-Air Race System moves it into the leading edge of rider protection. If you’re the type who always wants the newest technology and don’t mind paying the early adopter tax in the form of a high MSRP, I highly recommend this system. You won’t be disappointed. If you’re the type of person who likes for things to be a little more established and polished, you can be sure that the size, weight, and price of the Tech-Air System will come down as the technology advances – all of which make the decision to buy less clear cut. Airbag technology is clearly here to stay, and it’s a question of when you want to embrace its use.