We’re big fans of motorcycle airbag technology here at MO, especially our own Troy Siahaan who learned first hand how effectively an airbag can protect a rider in a crash.

One of the world’s leaders in airbag technology is Helite, a French company founded in 2002 by Gérard Thevenot, an engineer specializing in fluid mechanics. In addition to airbag vests for motorcyclists, Helite produces similar systems for equestrian riders and cyclists, and even an airbag belt for seniors to protect their hips during a fall.

Thevenot had a passion for lightweight methods of flight such as hang gliders, paramotors and ultralight aircraft. Seeing the risks and high accident rates of light aeronautics, Thevenot started looking at ways to provide pilots with extra protection. Eventually, Thevenot developed an individual airbag that would deploy around a pilot, providing some protection from impacts.

Though the initial idea came from aeronautics, Thevenot saw how the technology would also help motorcyclists, and his initial patent from 2002 describes how a rider could wear an airbag packaged in a vest that deploys in the event of a crash.

One of Helite’s signature products is the Turtle 2 vest. Unlike other products where the airbag is incorporated into a jacket, the Turtle 2 is an airbag vest that can be worn over most motorcycle garments. This gives the Turtle 2 some added versatility, as a rider can use the same vest over a lightweight ventilated jacket during the summer, or over a heavier jacket for when the weather gets cooler.

Helite’s airbags have a unique shape that helps protect several vulnerable areas. Around the neck and shoulders, the airbag stabilizes the cervical vertebrae and the head to prevent whiplash. The front part of the airbag protects vital parts such as the thorax, lungs, and ribs, while the back of the airbag protects the spinal column. The bottom of the airbag covers the kidneys and hips while protecting the torso from hyperflexion. The Turtle 2 also comes with a SAS-TEC level 2 back protector which helps to distribute the force of impact across the entire surface of the airbag and not on just one point.

The Turtle 2 uses a mechanical system, with the vest attaching to a motorcycle via a lanyard. If a rider is ejected in a crash, the lanyard gets pulled away from the vest, activating a gas cartridge that inflates the airbag. According to Helite, the airbag will fully inflate within 100 ms of a crash, which should be enough time to deploy before the rider hits the ground.

Because it uses a mechanical system, the Turtle 2 airbag vest does not need to rely on batteries or electronic sensors. The airbag is also reusable and can be reset by deflating the airbag and installing a new gas cartridge.

In September, Helite will also offer U.S. riders an electronic version that uses sensors integrated into the vest to measure the rider’s motion as well as an external sensor mounted on the fork to detect impacts on the motorcycle.


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