Motorcycling airbags systems have now been in development for upward of 30 years. Companies like Alpinestars and Dainese have brought products to market, revised them, updated them, and developed new airbag systems to cover a broad range of motorcycling such as track riding, commuting, and off-road riding. We’ve seen these systems go from being integrated into specific garments, to standalone units that can be worn universally (with proper fitment). Now, we even have subscription-based systems that offer a lower barrier to entry price-wise than initially available.
Airbags are kind of a big deal around here, ever since I had the unfortunate pleasure(?) of putting one to the ultimate test. Since that fateful day, however, I never hop on a motorcycle without wearing an airbag, and I’ve been an advocate to anyone willing to listen that they should wear one, too – no matter who makes it, and no matter how it’s activated.
Writing a Crash Tested review is never something we want to do, but if I’m going to write one, then this one is especially important. If you weren’t aware, a couple months ago while comparing the Triumph Speed Twin and BMW R nineT, I was hit by a car. I flew over the hood of the car, did a flip in the air, landed on my shoulder, and rolled to a stop. It sucked, but thankfully I was able to walk away, injury-free albeit pretty sore.
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.
Full disclosure before we begin: I’m a former Alpinestars employee. But don’t take that to mean I’m a fan of all its products. There are definitely some duds. A perplexing one was the first-generation Missile Tech-Air suit. At a thousand bucks, it was a novel idea as a relatively affordable entry-level airbag-compatible suit. The thing going against it was fit (at least for me) – I didn’t like the fit at all. At 5-foot, 8-inches, 150 pounds, with a 30-inch inseam and 31-inch waist, I’m about as average as they come in regards to body size and type. Still, the Missile was uncomfortable. The proportions were wrong and it was tight in the hips and knees, making it difficult to move my lower body the way I wanted.
Behold and covet my brand new jacket, the aptly named Yaguara, as that’s the kind of jungle cat I feel like when I’m wearing it. Grrrrr… The reason it’s $650 is because it’s designed to work with the Alpinestars Tech-Air inflatable airbag vest, that’s right, the same one they use in their high-end roadracing suits. Well, not exactly the same one, as there are slightly different Street and Race vest systems. More info here, but basically there’s an optional vest that zips in, plugs in, and will inflate – in 25 milliseconds – via a pair of argon inflation cartridges to protect your torso and shoulders, when it determines you’re about to have a real adventure. That’s 1/40 of a second.
The relationship between motorcycles and safety has forever been a troubled one. Riders are unencumbered by protective cages, exposing them to impact danger in ways car drivers aren’t. Autos are equipped with doors, bumpers, crumple zones, and airbags. Wait, airbags, you say?
Italy’s two biggest manufacturers of motorcycle safety gear are embroiled in a lawsuit over a thing that’s affected us barely at all, so far, but that actually could be a very big deal going forward: It’s all about the future of airbag tech as it applies to motorcycle gear. Right now, the suit is wending its way through the Italian legal system and possibly the German one, depending on whose press release you believe.