Motorcycle airbag vests are no longer the future; they’re the present. They’re affordable, accessible and there’s lots of proof that they work.
Airbags are still relatively new to motorcycling but they are well established in equestrian circles, where riders are at risk of serious injury if they fall from their horse. The technology is also used in other pursuits, like skiing, where speed and solid objects increase the chances of serious injury.
Some of the airbag options available today were first developed for the equestrian world, while others have been developed purely with motorcyclists in mind.
In 2018, Dorna and the FIM, who govern MotoGP, made it mandatory for all riders to wear an airbag. Dorna’s rules state that the airbag must cover the shoulders and collarbones at a minimum. If back coverage is supplied then it needs to cover the whole spine.
While there are multiple different manufacturers supplying leathers to MotoGP riders, the vast majority of the airbag systems are supplied and fitted by Alpinestars and Dainese, who have been perfecting their systems over the past decade, pouring huge amounts of money into Research & Development.
Airbag Firing Mechanisms
There are two main firing mechanisms: a fixed lanyard that attaches to the bike and deploys the airbag when you become detached from the bike and electronically controlled systems, with no cables. Wireless systems use complex algorithms, gyroscopes and other technology to notice a change in motion and angle; deploying automatically. Both systems use a gas canister to rapidly inflate the airbag.
There are positives and negatives to both systems, which we’ll discuss in detail below.
Not All Airbags Are The Same Size
Airbags come in many different designs and sizes which some claim defines their effectiveness. Some are integrated into suits and jackets while others are externally worn vests or manufactured to fit inside a jacket designed to accommodate the system.
Motorcycle Airbag Options
If you’re out on the track, there are plenty of options, from MotoGP replica suits to airbag vests you weather over your leathers. Road users may not want a 1-piece leather suit, so, what are their options?
Our motorcycle airbag guide has a range of suits, jackets and vests to give you an idea of cost and features.
The two leading brands in the world of motorcycle airbag suits are Alpinestars and Dainese. If you want an ‘all in one’ solution; a suit with a built-in airbag and no cables attaching you to the bike, then these are the best bets.
However, if you don’t want a new suit, you could always go for an airbag vest to wear over your existing suit.
Suit: £849.99 – Airbag £999.99 – Total £1849.98, wireless
Constructed from premium leather, the Missile 1 piece suit has knee, shoulder and elbow armour, plus knee sliders, race hump and a removable liner. Compatible with the Alpinestars Tech-Air Race system which is sold separately.
RRP: £1979.95, wireless
With 3rd generation D-air fully integrated into the suit, the Misano 2 is made from full-grain cowhide with hip, elbow, knee and shoulder protection. Complete with the Track-It system which downloads and checks performance data like lean angle and speed.
You can get textile or leather jackets that come with or can be fitted with an airbag. Some of these jackets can use wireless technology while others use the lanyard system.
RRP: £550, requires the Alpinestars Street system, wireless
A stylish looking full-grain leather jacket. Featuring a removable thermal liner, elbow and shoulder protection plus space for an optional back protector. Compatible with Alpinestars Tech-Air Street Airbag System for wireless protection for shoulders, kidneys, chest and abdomen.
RRP: £899.97, airbag built in, wireless
A full-grain cowhide leather jacket with an integrated airbag system. Featuring a nanofeel silver-ion lining, aerodynamic hump, external aluminium shoulder armour and elbow protection.
RRP: £649.99, airbag built in, wired
A Cordura abrasion-resistant fabric outer layer with a waterproof Humax liner for comfort. The Helite Touring jacket has a built-in airbag system and comes complete with Knox back protector, elbow and shoulder armour plus canister and lanyard for deploying the airbag.
RRP: £1099.99, airbag built in, wireless
The Gore-Tex jacket is waterproof and breathable for a comfortable ride. With a built-in D-Air airbag system, airbags located in the collarbones, shoulders, chest and back will deploy automatically in the event of a collision.
RRP: £229.99 requires airbag, wired
Made from original Halley Stevenson’s Scottish 8ox silkwax waxed cotton. Featuring a removable liner, thermal qualities and vents for comfort plus built-in shoulder and elbow protection. The Merlin Stafford is compatible with the Merlin Integrated CE Airbag (sold separately and costs £329.99)
The majority of these vests sit over your existing jacket, meaning you can pair them with pretty much anything any time. Currently, they all use a lanyard system, a wireless motorcycle airbag vest has yet to be developed.
RRP: £369.99, wired
Designed to be worn over your jacket, this vest is made from softshell material for comfort and is adaptable to fit most jackets. With an integrated CE LEvel 1 back protector, the quick inflate airbag gives protection to the thorax, abdomen, collarbone and coccyx.
RRP: £449.99, wired
Constructed from polyester, this external airbag vest has Turtle technology airbag protection which inflates in 0.1 seconds. Complete with Knox back protector, canister and lanyard.
RRP: £483.99, wired
An external vest with Turtle airbag which inflates rapidly for protection for your back, neck, coccyx, ribs and chest. Featuring a removable SAS-TEC back and coccyx protector and 3M reflectors.
RRP: £499.99, wired
Inflatable protection vest with Helite airbag system. Made from abrasion-resistant materials and complete with a removable SAS-TEC back protector. CO2 capsule included.
WIRED airbags clip on to a solid area of your bike, usually the top yoke, via a cord. When you have a crash, the force of you leaving your bike will pull the cord and inflate the airbag. There are rare situations where you may be involved in a crash but not extend the cord enough to activate the airbag, for example if you are hit from behind.
If you’re worried about costs, wired airbag jackets and suits are a cheaper option. If you look after them well, store them correctly and follow the instructions, they can prevent serious injury. Most wired airbags will fully inflate in around 0.1 seconds.
WIRELESS airbag jackets and suits work without a tethering cord. Using specialist software, gyroscopes and other gadgets, these airbags are activated once the system notices a change in angle or motion. A benefit of this option is that the airbag can deploy before you've left the bike, for example if you're hit from behind.
You do need to ensure the unit is charged and armed before use. The latest wireless airbags will fully inflate in around 0.03 seconds.
You might have seen some motorcycle clothing described as being ‘airbag ready’ but what does that mean?
Whether that’s for the Alpinestars Tech-Air system, Dainese’s D-Air, Held, Merlin or other brands. Manufacturers are starting to release more jackets and leather suits that are airbag ready.
What this means is that the jacket doesn’t come with an airbag but it has been designed and made in such a way that the manufacturer’s airbag can be fitted and it’ll work safely with the item of clothing it’s paired with.
Take the Alpinestars Tech Race wireless Airbag above. This can be retro-fitted to an Alpinestars Tech Air-ready suit to convert it into a fully-functioning airbag suit. Likewise, you could remove this from your suit and fit it into your Alpinestars airbag-ready jacket.
While it’s comparatively expensive, at £999 for the airbag, the fact you can switch it between different garments means you can ‘convert’ all of your riding gear to have a top of the range wireless airbag system.
Of course, you could just opt for an airbag vest, which although larger and only available with a cable which attaches to the bike, it means you don’t have to replace any other bike gear as you can wear it over the top.
Since 2018, BKS offer bespoke 1 or 2 piece suits with built-in Alpinestars Tech-Air technology.
The system is completely contained so no cords or setup required. The airbags offer 360-degree protection from a rider’s shoulders to their backs. Upgrades available to switch the firmware to street-mode for road conditions.
A bespoke suit will cost around £3500. You can read the BKS press release here.
The chart shows the first signs that Marquez had lost control, picked up by a gyro fitted in the hump of his leathers (labelled as ‘chest’ on the graph). The three accelerometers in his suit also detected abnormal readings as Marquez was thrown from his machine, initiating the airbag deployment.
The airbag, which protects from the neck and shoulders down to the hips, is designed to hold a pressure of at least 1.5-bar for five seconds.
The overall duration of Marquez’s accident was measured as 4.81s, with the main impact 0.585s after the airbag had deployed.
Can I use it again?
Once deployed, the airbag will slowly deflate; if it hasn’t been damaged, it is reusable. For most vests, you will need to buy a new CO2 cartridge after each inflation. For some of the wireless options, you’ll need to send your kit back to an approved dealer who can reprogram the system and fit a new gas canister.
Will it go off accidentally?
No. Airbags need a strong force to set them off. Cords usually need around 30kg to activate the airbag and wireless systems are calibrated to respond to extreme changes in motion and angle. It’s highly unlikely you’ll set your airbag off if you walk away from your bike having forgotten to unhook the airbag cord.
Hit Air vs Helite – which one is better?
We’ve yet to test these two back to back. They are both airbag vests which you wear over your motorbike jacket and they both use a pull-cord system to activate the airbag.
Does anyone do a hi-viz airbag vest?
Both Helite and Held produce versions of their airbag vests in hi-vis yellow. You can see the Helite version here.