Bags for life: Best motorcycle airbag protection

Motorbike airbags
Motorbike airbags
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Motorcycle airbag vests were once the preserve of factory riders, but these days there are affordable systems available from lots of manufacturers and with various payment models.

The development of safety is constant and while it may seem that there is only so much work that can be done with motorcycle protective equipment, there is always something happening behind the scenes.

This is true of protection. Several years ago, Dainese began developing personal airbag vest products primarily to protect MotoGP riders. They proved so successful at helping to reduce injuries to riders during falls that the company began to develop them for road use too.

Fellow Italian brand Alpinestars followed suit and fairly quickly, there was a range of options available to riders to offer an alternative to ‘hard’ armour within jackets. Around the same time, Helite was developing inflatable vests for both motorcyclists and equestrian riders along slightly different lines but with the same goal – protecting riders.

When French firm In&motion joined the game, licensing its tech and hardware to clothing manufacturers, things really started to get interesting.

The best motorcycle airbag protection:

Price: £649.07

The Ixon vest uses the In&motion airbag technology and was the first universal airbag vest to use the French firm's system. It is a single garment and designed to be worn under any jacket though clearly, the jacket needs to be the right size to allow for the vest to expand in the event of an accident. Like all In&motion-equipped products, the housing for the tech on the rear forms a Level-2 back protector so even if the battery in the brain goes flat, you're still protected. Control box/data subscription is £12 per month for road and £8 per month for track.

Price: £494.94 (was £549.99)

One of, if not the, first airbag vests on the market, the Helite is designed to fit over the rider's jacket but is also showerproof, so it can also be used over leathers or race suits. It uses a lanyard that fixes to the bike and when triggered, inflates the vest in less the 0.1 of a second. In addition to protecting the neck, spine, and thorax, it also includes a Level-2 back protector built in.

Price: £569.98 (was £649.99)

Alpinestars's Tech-Air 5 system uses an airbag-enabled vest that can be worn under any jacket and combined with matching jackets or race suits from the Italian company. Apparently offering twice the protection of normal armour, the airbag itself can inflate in 25milliseconds once a crash is detected. Fully self-contained, it is heavy but offers reassurance with its status displayed on panels on corresponding clothing.

Price: £284.99 (was £379.99)

The Furygan Fury Air vest was designed originally to zip in to compatible jackets within the French manufacturers range and uses the In&motion technology of control and airbag deployment. The advantage of being designed alongside the outer garments is making sure the airbag is sized correctly to the jacket. The company has also released a front pocket that can turn the vest into a standalone garment and add chest armour to non-airbag jackets. Control box/data subscription is £12 per month for road and £8 per month for track. Seal of Approval - We've tested this product and have found it performs well.

Price: £625.00 - £775.00

Using essentially the same hardware (vest, airbag, Level-2 back protector) as the original Turtle 2, this version uses an electronic trigger to determine when an accident is taking place and deploy the airbag. It uses sensors built into the vest itself as well as one mounted to the bike to ensure coverage even when the bike is hit by other traffic when stationary, for example. Like the mechanical version, it sits over the top of the rider's jacket.

Price: £584.89 (was £649.95)

The Dainese vest has been designed to be worn by anyone under any jacket. It offers protection equivalent to seven back protectors, according to the company, and has been created to allow the body to continue to breathe in use - a common complaint of airbag clothing. Sensors monitor the conditions and know when to deploy the airbag, which inflates in milliseconds.

Price: £315.86 (was £350.99)

The Held vest is another using the In&motion technology built into a vest that fits to Held's compatible jackets. Like those from Furygan, the vest fits matching-sized jackets but unlike the French company's products, the Held vest fits using slide-in clips. However, the company has also recently announced a full universal vest, using the same fundamental technology, that can be worn under any jacket. Control box/data subscription is €12 per month for road and €8 per month for track.

Price: £209.99 (was £279.99)

British brand RST has taken the decision to integrate airbag technology into a range of its products. While this means that you can't swap an airbag vest from one garment to another, it does mean that the airbag is integral to the garment and should result in a far more comfortable prospect. The range starts at the - frankly incredibly well-priced - AA-rated Axiom jacket shown here and goes up to the company's £999.999 one-piece AAA-rated racing leathers. Control box/data subscription is €12 per month for road and €8 per month for track.

Check out our first look at a full airbag motorcycle suit and how it works:

What is a personal airbag?

An airbag garment comprises an inflatable bladder, a means of inflating it (typically a compressed gas cartridge), a way of monitoring what the rider is doing, and detecting when an accident is taking place. This can either be via a mechanical cable attached to the bike so that when the rider leaves the bike, the vest fires or an electronic system based on GPS positioning (and hence, speed), accelerometers, and gyroscopes to monitor the rider’s movement. That is compared with millions of miles-worth of data and the system knows when an accident is occurring and fires the airbag.

While airbag-equipped garments can be cumbersome, many riders who use them feel it is a small price to pay for the peace of mind and added protection they offer.

How do electronically-controlled personal airbags work?

For electronically-controlled airbags, there are two pay models for the data. The method used by Alpinestars and Dainese includes the ‘brain’ for the system and ongoing upgrades within the price of the garment. However, systems using In&motion technology effectively ‘lease’ the brain to the user though they can buy it outright if they like. There’s a monthly charge but you get regular updates and can switch it on and off if you don’t ride over winter, for example.

Can a personal airbag go under my jacket?

Most clothing manufacturers produce a zip-in or clip-in vest to add to their garments using airbag technology. However, some (like RST) build the airbag into the garment when it is produced while others (Ixon and Dainese) produce standalone universal vests that can be worn under any – appropriately sized – jackets. Some (Helite) are designed to go over the external jacket and hence, won’t compromise the fit of the preferred outer jacket while the company also produces garments with the airbag built in.

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About the author: After qualifying as a mechanical engineer, Jim Blackstock began working on magazines in the early 1990s. He remains passionate about product testing to ensure readers know what products offer good value and why. He relishes torrential rain to see if riding kit keeps water out and an hour or two to tinker on a project bike in his workshop.

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