Motorcycle airbag systems like the Dainese D-Air system that will soon be released in the US are finally making the move from the race track to the street. Are airbag systems like these the next big wave in motorcycle safety?
This photo collage shows the D-Air system deploying after a crash on the race track. Now, the same technology will be available to consumers, for both racing and street applications.
A few years back, I was a fairly avid (if unremarkable) rock climber. A friend of mine served as my instructor, and the first thing he taught me was a safety lesson. “Forget about the rope”, he said, referring to the thick nylon line attached to my harness – the one that would presumably save my life should I lose my grip on the rock face.
It was a cryptic, Zen-like piece of advice, and I thought about it when I read two recent pieces of news. First, that two riders at this past weekend’s MotoAmerica race at Laguna Seca had tragically lost their lives, and second, that Dainese is finally set to introduce its D-Air Racing technology to North American customers this fall.
The D-Air Racing system is at the forefront of what’s arguably the biggest stride in personal rider protection since the invention of the motorcycle helmet. Simply put, it’s a racing suit equipped with an airbag that (according to Dainese) will provide protection to a rider’s neck, shoulder and collarbones should the rider come off the bike. Similar suits have been worn by pro race riders for several years.
This image shows various iterations of the Dainese D-Air system during product development.
What makes the D-Air system unique: it can be purchased off-the-rack as part of an upgraded version of the company’s Misano race suit, and it’s a wireless system that uses GPS technology in the suit itself to determine whether or not the airbags should deploy. It does not need to be “tethered” (either literally or electronically) to a bike. The news comes after a substantial wait for American riders; Dainese first announced that they would be retailing an airbag-equipped racing suit in North America way back in 2012.
Here’s how it works. The Misano suit’s aero-hump houses an impressive array of sensors – three accelerometers, three gyroscopes and a GPS a along with a gas cartridge and the deflated 4-liter airbag. The sensors monitor the rider’s movements, and the system can translate the movements that a rider might make if the bike becomes terminally unstable (or, of course, if the rider is suddenly thrown from the bike) and deploy the airbag.
Inflate time on the bag, according to Dainese, is 45 milliseconds. That’s fast a a blink of an eye typically takes 300-400 milliseconds. The benefits of the system for riders are considerable; Dainese tests show an 85% reduction in impact force over traditional composite body armor.
The cost will be considerable as well. The Misano D-Air suit is expected to have an MSRP of $2,499. If the airbag deploys, it must be reset and re-armed by Dainese technicians a the company is offering a two year unlimited rearming plan for an additional $299. (This plan is actually a discount, and one that Dainese clearly wants to steer customers towards, as they’ll be charged $200 for an individual rearming.)
For those riders who aren’t looking for a full race suit, the D-Air technology is also available in the company’s D-Air Street jacket. The Street system isn’t self-contained; it relies on a sensor package that’s actually installed on the bike. It’s also not currently available in the U.S., and Dainese has not announced a North American release date.
Dainese isn’t the only gear maker applying airbag technology to protective apparel. Alpinestars launched their Tech-Air Street Airbag jackets in Europe earlier this year a that system offers airbag protection for the rider’s back, shoulders, kidney area and chest. And Spidi has 3 versions of its Neck DPS system: a vest (worn over the rider’s normal jacket), the Venture Neck DPS touring jacket, and a Neck DPS-equipped tracksuit.
Spidi, Alpinestars, and RS Taichi are other major gear manufacturers that offer airbag crash protection in their suits and jackets. This image shows the Spidi Neck-DPS race suit.
It should be noted that Japanese company Mugen Denko claims that it was the first to patent the motorcycle airbag jacket (in 1998) and has been producing the line of Hit-Air jackets and vests since 2001. The price ranges for all of these products vary wildly a the Hit-Air jackets, for example, can be found for less than $600. (It should be noted, though, that the Hit-Air system is fairly simple a the rider’s vest or jacket is leashed to the bike with a cord, and deployment happens when that cord is yanked as the rider comes off the bike. Better make sure you unhook your leash before you dismount!)
So should you invest in any of these motorcycle airbag systems? The obvious answer, given the dramatic increase in protection to your vital areas, is “yes.” And if the cost of the Dainese D-Air Racing suit is offputting, take heart: Moore’s Law teaches us that computing technology is not only getting exponentially better, it’s getting cheaper; in other words, if you can’t afford it now, just wait a few years! A cost benefit analysis is also in order: think of the cost of an airbag-equipped vest, jacket or suit versus potential hospital and rehab bills and time off the bike. (Think also about how much riding you currently do: if your bike is your sole form of transportation, it stands to reason that your risk of getting into an accident is higher, which is a good reason to invest in an airbag system.)
Are systems like this worth the money to consumers? Given the dangers inherent in motorcycling and the huge increases in safety that they create, we say absolutely.
But despite the many pluses, there is a compelling reason NOT to buy a motorcycle airbag system a or at least, to have a clear idea of what it should and should not be for. “Forget about the rope”, for climbers, refers to the fact that a climber must first and foremost rely on his or her skill to keep out of trouble. Regardless of advances in protective gear, the best pieces of safety equipment for a rider are and will always be skill and experience.
Even so, the most advanced protective riding gear combined with world-class riding abilities still offers no guarantees. This truth was sadly displayed this past weekend at the MotoAmerica race held at Laguna Seca: riders Daniel Rivas Fernandez and Bernat Martinez both died as a result of injuries sustained during a tragic multi-bike pileup.
Relying too much on safety gear gives us a false sense of security, and the new rider who thinks that his fancy electronic airbag suit makes him concrete- or car-proof is in for a world of hurt. But while the risk inherent in motorcycling remains, the D-Air system and others like it may stack the odds in our favor – and in the battle between motorcycle riders and all the things out there that can hurt us, we can use all the help we can get.
What impact do you think motorcycle airbag suits and jackets like these will have on the motorcycle industry? Tell us in the comments below!