How Airbags Protect You In A Motorcycle Crash

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How Airbags Protect You In A Motorcycle Crash

After many years in gestation, wearable motorcycle airbags from mainstream manufacturers are finally hitting the market to protect you in a motorcycle crash. Should you be wearing one? Let’s examine the different types of airbags from different manufacturers to find out.

Why would I want to wear an airbag?

Safety, Sherlock. In all seriousness, airbags are capable of absorbing greater amounts of energy than traditional motorcycle “armor,” decreasing the chances or severity of injury. This was made not-painfully obvious in June, when World Champ Marc Marquez crashed at Mugello while going 209.9 mph. His airbag-equipped Alpinestars TechAir suit took a hit of more than 25 Gs (its maximum reading, the actual impact was likely more) on both its left and right shoulders, but Marquez walked away uninjured.

All Alpinestars and Dainese riders on the MotoGP grid are now wearing airbag-equipped racing suits and the technology is beginning to trickle down to lower forms of racing and is even now available to the general consumer, albeit at a high price. The Alpinestars TechAir suit retails for $4,999.

Dainese D-Air
Dainese D-Air

Oh, I see, so why am I not wearing an airbag already?

Well, it’s complicated. Literally. Alpinestars and Dainese will argue about who began development first, but we know that Alpinestars began development of its airbag system all the way back in 2001. Even their top racers like Jorge Lorenzo didn’t begin wearing the airbags until 2011. Systems appropriate for everyday street use are in development, but require much more sophisticated software and sensors.

“With the race system, you tend to crash alone, in a highside or lowside,” explains Alpinestars lead engineer Colin Ballantyne. “On the street you tend to hit something or something hits you. Impacts also tend to be more focused around the chest.”

There are airbag vests on-sale now, designed for street use. They use lanyards, attached to the bike, that fire a CO2 cylinder when pulled, not the sophisticated accelerometers and on-board computers employed by Dainese and Alpinestars. We’ll touch on those later.

Why don’t TechAir and D-Air protect a racer’s entire body?

We had the same thought and asked Ballantyne why the systems didn’t expand coverage to the neck, the last area of a rider’s body not covered in leather and armor. “Certainly the neck is a very dangerous injury, but looking at the data, the chance of you actually breaking your neck in racing is tiny, just .02 percent,” he explains. “You’re more likely to die from an impact to your head than breaking your neck. So, do you invest in a system for an accident you’re never likely going to have or in something riders actually need? Statistics indicate that at some point in your career you will injure your shoulder or collarbone, so protection in that area is most useful.”

Alpinestars TechAir controller
Alpinestars TechAir Controller

And how do those two system differ?

Both systems are incorporated into a suit’s aerodynamic hump and inflate inside the suit. Both are also designed to deflate quickly to allow for race restarts, but Alpinestars’ airbag takes 20 seconds to fully deflate to Dainese’s 5-second time. TechAir allows for a second discharge in case of an accident after a race restart.

TechAir also incorporates accelerometers and gyroscopic sensors like in the Dainese D-Air, but Alpinestars does not make use of a GPS unit. That might help explain the weight difference between the two: TechAir weighs 500g to D-Air’s 650g weight.

The reason that D-Air incorporates a GPS sensor is in order to measure speed. Dainese is serious about only triggering airbag inflation when it’s really needed and claims the system is able to tell the difference between the kind of low-side where you slide without tumbling — not necessitating airbag protection — and the kind of low-side where you bounce and spin along the ground — requiring the added impact protection.

TechAir also arms only when track riding conditions are detected, using its four, three-axis accelerometers to determine when that occurs.

Both suits use airbags inside the shoulders. When the airbag fires, the suit’s outer shell grows via accordion stretch panels. The suits retain their existing shoulder armor, so are extremely safe, airbags or no.

http://rideapart.com/tagged/alpinestars-techair

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  • Fresh Mint

    Ill purchase one when the technology becomes cheaper and more practical..

  • JimMac

    Are they developing any protection for the legs as well?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Not that I’m aware of. Feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips are already very well taken care of by existing armor.

  • Cody

    As long as an airbag system costs more than my bike, not going to happen.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    I would gladly wear even fifty pounds of gear if i wouldnt have to break bones. Im up to about 26 lbs and it definitely costs more than my bikes.

  • Slacker

    I’ve been wearing the best gear I can afford and that my family and friends are willing to help pay for, so once they make something I can afford, I’ll definitely invest if it doesn’t weigh too much or disrupt my ability to ride day-to-day.

  • Alan Cunningham

    Hit-Air.com have been producing airbag vests and jackets for over 20 years now. Starting around $400. At Safermoto.com we have been selling them for over 3 years and have NEVER had a Motorcycle rider set the vest off by accident. I have personally crashed wearing it 4 times at the race track and it has saved me from serious injury.

    Until the Accelerometer technology gets down to the $500 range then it wont be adopted by the majority of riders. The disadvantage of the D air street above is that you have to fit sensors to the bike to make it work. If you adjust the lanyard correctly to your style of riding then it will work in the majority of situations. Not all of them. If I could afford the DAir then I would get it but for a amateur racer it si way to expensive. Dainese wont even give the suits to their sponsored American Pro riders at the national level.

    There are choices out there dont let this article let you belive that waiting is better than using the affordable technology that is available today

    • Brian

      just a slight dovetail on the D-Air sensor installation thing. A lot of bikes now with the electrical systems are becoming a royal pain in the keister to “wire things in”, and I would expect it to be no different for a D-Air sensors. You aren’t talking about putting an SAE pigtail for a battery tender or hiding a LoJack sensor here, but having key accelarometer and gyroscopic sensors in specific locations for a VERY specifically engineered purpose.

    • appliance5000

      Interesting website and product – thanks.

      Some unasked for observations: To have to log in for prices is odd – and to be reminded 3 times per page is off-putting. It would be more inviting to be able to browse the site – look at multiple images of the product – close ups and on a person – and only log in if sufficiently interested.

      But worth knowing about.

      • Alan Cunningham

        All our prices are below the MSRP and the manufacturer will NOT allow us to “advertise” those prices. The only way to sell, at the prices I believe the American market will buy at, is to have “member pricing” if we dont do it this way the manufacturer will stop supplying us. You can always call the toll free number and ask for pricing

    • aquatone

      Perhaps you can make one available to RideApart to review.

      $400 seems affordable to me.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    Hilarious lanyard-activated airbag commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX_YIr5CkDM#t=23

  • Joseph42s

    100% would wear one. It would be cool if it were in a vest.

    • Alan Cunningham
      • wjung88

        Ya, I have the vest and wear it over my jacket and under my backpack every time I ride. It’s not an inconvenience and allows you to wear whatever jacket suits the temperature outside. Highly recommend.

  • Chris McKendry

    I know it’s a little apples to oranges, but how come the street version of the Leat braces never really took off? Thought it was a lower profile design lending itself to everyday use a little better. I never got one but always thought it was somewhat decent neck protection (or at least better than nothing).

    • Justin McClintock

      Some folks don’t even want to wear a helmet since they consider it “inconvenient”. I think a LOT of people probably don’t want to wear a street version of the Leat for the same reason. That and, in all honesty, I don’t think they’ve done a good job of marketing it either. I didn’t even know there was a street specific version until very recently.

    • Alan Cunningham

      Chris,
      I have tried both dirt and street versions of the Leat brace. The problem with teh dirt one is when cross country riding if you go down into a dip/ravine it is impossible to look up for your exit due to the brace. With the road version, you CANNOT look over your left shoulder when merging with traffic. You have to turn your whole upper body and I found I had to actually take my left hand off the bar to see correctly.
      The Leat has proved it’self in the dirt many times and is a great product. I think they have saturated that market and the move into the “street” is not a good fit for their product

  • toni796

    when i can afford it i’ll buy it, good thing that i’m in europe so my freedom is intact by these airbags :))

  • Neil Rifenbark

    I use a Hit-Air jacket obtained from Safermoto. It is the Motorrad Mesh version. I have tethers attached to two bikes so I can clip up to either one easily. Tethers are set up to allow standing when riding in dirt. Having broken ribs in falls before, I like the potential protection provided by the Safermoto jacket. The jacket might not activate in every possible senario but it would in most. Safermoto’s Alan and Beth are very responsive and provide a great product line.

  • Rosenfeld8

    How are you supposed to ride with one of those on a hot summer´s day? It can´t possibly be ventilated

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Well, you don’t ride around with one already inflated…

      • Rosenfeld8

        Of course not, but it won´t inflate at all if there are holes in it

  • expalt

    I have a Helite Airnest – neon yellow but works absolutely great. I had a crash with a cyclist back in June and it went off – very smooth and feels very secure. Not only that but it’s sturdy and didn’t suffer any wear/tear.