The first wave of motorcycle airbag systems largely involved built-in components within a suit or ones that required that they be installed in airbag-specific gear. Although there were some outliers, most notably the Helite Turtle Airbag Vest that requires being worn over the jacket with a tether to the bike, the airbag era is entering the phase where the safety system is garment-agnostic. These systems from Alpinestars, Dainese, and Klim take the form of vests that can be worn inside or outside a rider’s regular gear. While we’ve had the opportunity to wear the first wave of airbags in their specific jackets/suits from multiple vendors, the Dainese Smart Jacket is our first shot at a second wave airbag system. Although I’ve been lucky enough not to crash in it during my time testing the Smart Jacket, it has very quickly become part of my regular riding kit.
Looking at the Smart Jacket on a hanger, you’ll immediately notice that it is not a jacket at all but a vest. When picking up the Dainese Smart Jacket for the first time, the initial impression is how much lighter it is than the previous generation of airbag protection. Weighing in at just 4 lb., the Smart Jacket doesn’t make you feel like you’re donning a flak jacket every time you go for a ride. The vest itself has been designed to address some of the issues associated with airbag systems. With the exception of the airbag, the Smart Jacket is constructed of lightweight, breathable fabric. Inside the shoulders of the vest, a soft honeycomb separates the inner and outer layers to promote airflow – a feature that you can feel at speed as your perspiration cools you down as it dries.
The centerpiece of the Smart Jacket is what Dainese calls the Shield. We’ll just call it the airbag. However, its construction makes it unique. First, it is folded over on itself in the chest area to promote airflow. When activated, it opens to cover the entire chest. Additionally, the interior of the airbag has microfilaments that make sure that inflation occurs in a controlled manner and is uniform throughout the airbag. Dainese claims the airbag protects the chest and back areas of the rider with the equivalent of seven Level 1 back protectors.
What is notable about the Smart Jacket, when compared to the Alpinestars Tech-Air System, is the lack of a hard shell on the rider’s back, which probably accounts for much of the weight savings. While I have no doubt that the Smart Jacket provides the claimed protection from large, flat objects, I wonder how it fares against a pointed one. Dainese says that it is perfectly fine to wear the Smart Jacket under back or chest protectors as long as there is enough room inside the garment for the airbag to expand. According to Dainese, the jacket must have at least 2 in. free space in its circumference to inflate without constriction.
To anticipate when the airbag needs to be deployed, the Smart Jacket utilizes seven onboard sensors and processes the data 1,000 times per second. The algorithms determine when a low-side, high-side, or impact (either the motorcycle hitting something or being hit, as in a rear-end collision) requires the deployment of the airbag.
The Smart Jacket’s firmware is easily updatable via an app on both macOS and Windows computers. Since the Smart Jacket has no mechanical on/off switch, the app is also used to place the system in shipping mode: That prevents the system from powering up (or being accidentally triggered) when packed away in a suitcase or another constrictive location. Powering the system for use is as simple as closing the two magnetic connectors at the collar and zipping the vest closed. From there the system takes over.
On the left breast of the Smart Jacket, an LED and haptic system communicate the protection status. When the system powers on, the LED cycles through the red, green, yellow, and blue preflight routine before displaying the battery status. Five green flashes indicate above 70% capacity, while five yellow or red flashes indicate 20%-70% or <20%, respectively. When the LED settles into a constant blue, the system is activated but not armed. A solid green LED indicates that the system is armed and protecting the rider. A steady flashing red LED means the system has detected an error and needs to be restarted. If the error persists, service is needed.
To switch from standby to active mode, the Smart Jacket’s system uses the system’s accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS to look for two conditions: vibrations from the motorcycle and proof that the bike is traveling at more than 6 mph (10 kph). If either one is detected, the vest will arm itself, switching the LED to green. Every time the system switches from standby to active or back, the vibramotor delivers a 3-second buzz to inform the rider.
In daily use, the Smart Jacket is just another layer you put on before your jacket. Easy-peasy. The first few times the haptic motor tickles your chest is surprising, but it quickly becomes expected. The only issue I have with this notification system is that, if your bike’s engine is particularly smooth at idle, the system can be talkative, cycling activation on/off several times at a stoplight. (Electric bike owners should note that they will not be protected from impacts, like being rear-ended, when at a stop because there is no engine to create the vibrations that keep the system armed.)
The Smart Jacket’s battery is claimed to last for 26 hours, and in a week of daily use, with one all-day ride in the middle, the battery level never dipped below the 20%-70% level. Commuters will only need to charge their systems every week or so. In my time with the Smart Jacket, I had very few issues. The lack of a physical on/off switch is annoying. I’ve watched the system power on, thanks to the magnetic switch, as I hung it on a hanger in my closet. Remember, switching it into shipping mode to disable the magnetic switch requires connecting to a computer. The second quibble is on me. I don’t have enough room in a couple of favorite jackets to allow the system to activate. (Perhaps a diet is in order?) Yes, I could wear it outside of the jackets, but that would cover their styling – and fashion is important, according to my daughters. Then there’s the question of the airbag’s abrasion resistance in a slide. Finally, I wish the Smart Jacket had a track setting (like my Tech-Air system does). That way, I could zip together my Dainese two-piece suit and use it for track days, too. I should also note that the Smart Jacket is only for street use, and any form of off-road/adventure riding is not recommended and could result in accidental deployment.
After my time with the Dainese Smart Jacket, I look forward to the era of the airbags that don’t require specific jackets or suits. This gives riders a wider choice for their outer layer of protection while still having state-of-the-art impact attenuation underneath. The Dainese Smart Jacket retails for $700 in specific cuts for men and women sized XS-2XL. If your Smart Jacket is triggered, it must be sent back to Dainese for an airbag replacement at a $250 cost.