Best Motorcycle airbag vests 2021 Gear up for Protection
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The best motorcycle airbag vests?
Think about riding a motorcycle.
When I do, I’m not thinking about what is the best motorcycle airbag vest. My mind often gets taken by the thoughts of the riding experience itself, the enjoyment of the travel, and the will to reach beyond what I have explored before.
Then again, the roads aren’t all for my sole amusement. So quite often one particular question comes to mind. What if I was to get into some kind of accident while on the road?
Statistics say that probability exists. Thus, it’s a real issue. Check out the WHO report or the National Safety Council analysis of NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) latest available data, or NHTSA itself.
This is about that time when I reassure myself that I drive carefully and abide by all the road safety rules. But, once again higher values pull me down from my daydreaming episodes. I have a wife, two kids, and I want to live.
Is there a perfect solution that can shield me from every tiny bit of danger that I somehow ride into? No, there is not.
Yet, not all is lost.
Nowadays there are great pieces of gear that can play a major part in my protection. Plus, the bonus of providing me with tools to keep my motorcycle travel adventure dream alive.
Ride along, as we look for the best motorcycle airbag vest, upgrade riding gear protection, and restore the right mindset and enjoyment to motorcycle traveling.
Read on, or use the content table below and fast track to your preferred topics.
Not long ago motorcycle airbags were only available for MotoGP® riders. Which when you put it in perspective and compare it to the automobile world seems kind of weird. Airbags in cars are now one of the most common active-safety types of equipment. In fact, not only can you find several airbags inside a car, but their installation is actually mandatory by law.
Of course, you have Honda’s Goldwing airbag but for the rest of the motorcycles out there, the rider’s only chance to have motorcycle airbag gear protection, is to wear one. It’s how slow things go from technical development to availability to customers.
Fortunately in the latest years motorcycle wearable airbags have come a long way, since first released in the ’90s, and are now available to provide the extra protection that can come to be fundamental in preventing injuries or reducing their severity.
How do motorcycle airbags work?
There are a couple of variations in the technology used, but the basic concept is that a motorcycle airbag is a device designed to protect the upper body.
Upon a high-velocity impact, it automatically inflates with gas released by a canister. The gas can be either carbon dioxide or argon.
The actuation itself is achieved differently depending on the airbag system, although it is always a high-velocity deployment system.
Types and Garments
Motorcycle airbags are available in 3 garment formats. Vests, Jackets, and Suits. Suits are mainly directed towards racing. As for jackets, they focus more on street riding. Vests can double on the purpose. While some models have racing in mind, most of them, or at least the ones that the common rider can benefit the most, are for street use.
The street ones are the ones that I am going to focus on.
Airbag vests have the versatility to be either worn over or under a jacket, depending on the model. They can also be compatible only with the same brand system, or independent from the jacket.
With airbag vests in mind, the next step is to choose from one of the two following types:
Tethered airbag vests like Helite airbag vests or Hit-air.
These require a connection between the rider and the bike.
Smart tech airbag vests like Alpinestars tech air5, Dainese smart jacket, or Klim Ai1 airbag vest.
These are cordless and independent from the motorcycle
Tethered airbag vests
Tethered airbag vests have been around longer. Simpler in construction, they are mechanically actuated through a wire cord that connects the airbag to the motorcycle. When the strength acted on the lanyard tether cord exceeds a determined force, the canister release valve actuates and the airbag inflates. In other words, this airbag type deploys when the rider and the motorcycle separate.
Smart Tech airbag vests
A Smart Tech vest relies on advanced electronics to determine the inflation moment. It does so using gyroscopes, accelerometers, and GPS’s. These sensors are placed in different parts of the vest, analyze and communicate with an electronic control unit.
The ECU calculates in milliseconds the rider’s speed and direction, comparing it to an algorithm created from different scenarios. Detecting high-speed meaningful shifts result in the inflation of the airbag.
To power-up, most of these systems have lithium-ion batteries, which need charging from time to time. Some even connect to your smartphone letting you know their status, among other information.
Questions worth asking in search for the best motorcycle airbag vests 2021
While considering buying any motorcycle airbag vest there are some questions that I need to ask. Making the right decision depends on matching the answers to my specific needs. Of course, the way to value each feature greatly depends on each rider’s requirements.
1 – What areas does it protect?
Upper body protection is a relatively broad term. What I’m looking for specifically is protection to the upper torso areas, that statistically have been affected the most, or seriously injured in collisions.
While all of the airbag vest models, protect the thorax, abdomen, and lumbar spine, there are some that do a better job in protecting the neck and shoulders.
2 – Can I wear it over or under the jacket?
Wearing over or under the jacket have pros and cons.
Wearing it over can mean an additional way to ensure that the jacket gets compressed towards your body and stays fit. However, if the airbag vest is not built with abrasion-resistant materials it could be damaged.
Some may like the high visibility features some vests have, while others may find them too flashy. Nevertheless, the reflective fabric doesn’t need to be flashy yellow.
Wearing it under the jacket is possible in some models. Keep in mind that if that’s the case, the jacket has to be larger in order to accommodate the airbag vest fully inflated.
3 – Is it reusable?
Most are reusable after deployment. If the fabric is undamaged, it’s a simple matter of replacing the CO2 canisters. However, the Smart Tech airbag vests are mostly a one-off deployment system. After deployment, they need to be checked and refitted by an authorized dealer.
4 – Is it comfortable?
Comfort in this type of gear is always a trade-off. It all depends on how much you are willing to sacrifice to improve protection.
Personally, I’d rather be less comfortable than less protected, or if things go the wrong way, injured or even worse.
Weight is a factor, as well as movement restriction and airflow.
The more rigid protection parts the vests have, the more weight added. Take into account that rigid protection doesn’t always mean more effective protection. There is always an amount of weight added that varies.
Movement restriction is minimal. It’s more of getting used to the type of restriction.
Regarding airflow, there is no way around it. It’s another layer added, and for each one, the airflow that actually reaches your body decreases. In the use of airbag vests, both hot and cold weather can present their challenges.
The challenge in cold weather? Smart tech airbag vests that are worn under the jacket can not be used with heated gear. In that case, the better choice could be the use of tethered airbag vests.
The hot weather challenge? Keeping the protection level while trying to cool down. It’s virtually impossible to keep the airflow as if you were riding with only a summer jacket. But having said that, it is good to have a light jacket with good airflow to pair with the airbag vest. I believe it’s a smart compromise.
Bottom line, it’s more a getting used to a new layer, than anything else.
5 – What’s the deployment time?
Deployment time is always really fast. Under 1 second. the faster the better.
6 – Does it have any rigid protection?
Some models have rigid protection incorporated, while others have none. Some even have pockets that can take rigid plate protections, bought separately.
7 – Can it accidentally inflate?
Tethered airbag vests can inflate if the tether cord is pulled with enough strength. 66 pounds or 30 kg is quite some weight to pull and on lighter motorcycles, it would probably be enough to take them down. On heavier bikes, it could pose some problems.
Smart tech airbag vests don’t accidentally inflate unless there is some flaw with the ECU or the algorithm. Updates to the algorithm tend to be regular.
8 – Can a tethered airbag vest cord drag me along with the bike?
No, it can not. When the release valve actuates the cord tether cord gets separated from the vest. Therefore there is no chance it can drag me.
9 – Will it protect me in case of a rear-end collision?
Smart Tech airbag vests will. Dainese Smart Jacket will even protect against stationary rear-end collisions.
Specific questions regarding Smart Tech airbag vests
In addition to the general questions, Alpinestars, Dainese, and Klim airbag protection systems come with some specific answers to look for in smart tech airbag vests.
1 – What are the systems used to deploy?
The Alpinestars Tech Air-5 has 3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes, which totals six integrated onboard sensors. An active electronic system that uses an algorithm to monitor when to deploy the airbag.
The Klim Ai-1 airbag vest is a partnership between Klim and In&Motion. Being that the In&Box, the In&Motion sensor box that is attached to the Klim airbag vest, is what detects the need for airbag deployment. The In&Box has integrated accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS. Like the other airbag vests, it also relies on an algorithm, developed by In&Motion, to perform the calculations needed to be fully operational in the event of a crash.
The Dainese D-Air Smart Jacket uses seven onboard sensors that analyze and communicate with an ECU which Dainese refers to as “The Brain”. Calculations within the control unit are then made, at a rate of 1000 per second. A 360° integration with a gyroscope, accelerometer, and GPS, provides the data for the complex algorithm to determine the need for airbag deployment. It will deploy if it detects lowsiders, highsiders, collisions with objects or other vehicles, and rear-end collisions
2 – What’s the deployment time of these motorcycle airbag vests?
Deployment times vary depending on the vest size. That being said, we are talking about millisecond differences here.
For the record and as manufacturers state, the deployment times for the larger sizes are the following:
Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 – up to 40ms
Dainese D-Air® Smart Jacket – up to 45ms
Klim Ai-1 airbag vest – up to 60ms
3 – Are the gas cartridges replaceable by the rider after deployment?
The Klim Ai-1 has the most user-friendly policy on the gas canister self replacement topic. As by manufacturer instructions, if no damage or malfunction is detected in the airbag itself, the gas cartridges can be replaced by the user 3 times before the need to undergo a technical evaluation. Hoping that you never need to, but keep in mind that each pressurized argon gas canister resells for around 100$.
Alpinestars does offer a somehow similar service, but replacing the Tech Air-5 two helium-argon gas canisters must be done by an authorized technician at a Tech Air dealer. It’s an inflator-only service and it will cost you around 179$. Also, after 3 deployments the airbag vest has to undergo full service at around 299$
The Smart Jacket does not have the option of self replace the gas canister. Dainese states that to guarantee a full functioning product after each activation, the airbag vest must be taken to an official D-air® dealer for Shield maintenance, system recharging, activation and, post-activation inspection by an authorized technician. This operation costs 249.95$.
4 – Is it compatible with other brand jackets?
All of these smart tech airbag vests can be used with other brand’s jackets, independently if you have a Rukka, a Rev’it, or a Klim jacket.
However, only the Dainese Smart Jacket and the Klim Ai-1 can be used both over and under them. The Tech-Air 5 is only to be used under the jacket. Keep in mind that if you intend to wear one of these airbag vests, under a jacket you already own, the sizing must allow for the full deployment of the airbag vests.
5 – How does it arm and disarm?
Tech-Air 5 arming procedure is through closing a velcro strap on the top of the airbag vest. You simply pull up the zipper and close the velcro strap. LED indicators integrated into the lower front part of the airbag vest, let you know the status of the vest. Green LED means ready. A dedicated app also can tell you the airbag status. After that, it’s ready to use and it will deploy if it detects meaningful changes at 15 mph (25km/h).
The Dainese Smart Jacket is powered up when the rider closes and connects the magnetic button on the neck. The blue LED light on the haptic system placed on the upper left chest, lets you know that the vest is in standby mode. It arms when the control unit senses the motorcycle vibrations, or when speed exceeds 6mph (10km/h). After switching to armed mode the vest delivers a vibration warning sign and turns the LED to green.
Klim Ai-1 airbag vest has an on/off button in the In&Box. If turned On, a green led indicator will inform you of the ready mode of the airbag vest.
6 – What is the level of protection provided?
What we know about the level of protection starts in the core of the airbags, and extends to the integration, or not, of back protectors.
Dainese has an approach focused on the airbag itself. It protects the thorax, abdomen, and spine, with no physical back protection added, although it is possible to add one in the jacket. That is, provided that there is enough space for the airbag to inflate (at least 2in or 5cm).
The core of the Smart Jacket, or as Dainese calls it “The Shield” is a patented airbag made of microfilaments. According to the manufacturer, it ensures a high shock absorption capability without the need for a hardshell protective gear, equal to seven individual CE1 rated back protectors. As for chest protection meets or exceeds CE Level 2 for airbags.
Also very worth noting that it protects you against a stationary rear-end collision. Or in order words, if you are stopped at a traffic sign or a traffic light. A word of caution: for the airbag to deploy in this situation, the motorcycle engine must be running for the sensors to detect the engine vibrations. If you ride an electric bike, the airbag vest is unable to detect the vibrations and therefore you are not protected in these situations.
Regarding the abrasion resistance claimed, I don’t think that it should be taken literally to assume that it is a top-of-the-line abrasion protective gear. It doesn’t feel like it. A good protective jacket over it would be a sounder choice, and that applies to all of the motorcycle airbag vests here.
The Klim Ai-1 airbag vest is designed to protect the thorax, abdomen, spine, and neck. As for chest protection, this airbag system has a 5-star SRA rating and is certified to CE prEN 17092-6 for protective riding gear. Incorporated in the rear of the vest, and also housing the In&Box control unit, there is a static CE Level 1 viscoelastic back protector, that replaces the existing back protector on your jacket, should you have one.
Alpinestars designed the Tech-Air 5 to protect shoulders, chest, ribs, and full back. It extends to the outer bicep area, almost fully protecting it. The level of protection claimed by Alpinestars is 18x the protection provided by a single back protector. That results in a up to 95% decrease of the impact force while wearing the airbag vest when compared to the use of a passive protector. The airbag system itself is CE level 2 rated, and the perforated back protector CE1.
7 -Does it have different riding modes algorithm settings?
Klim offers the Ai-1 with the option of adding off-road use to the standard street use. Know that it’s been tested and that some of the riders using it include Dakar Rally riders like Toby Price, Xavier de Soultrait, and David Knight.
The new updated version of the Tech-Air 5 has both street and race mode, and it’s been said that Alpinestars is considering adding an off-road mode as well. Tech-Air Off-Road airbag system is already available to professional rally-raid racers.
The Dainese Smart Jacket is intended only for street use. You can take it to very light off-road, but if subjected to jumps and serious strains, it could accidentally deploy.
The development of different modes for different uses will ultimately depend on the data collected to improve the algorithms, the investment that these manufacturers make in the airbag vests, and the customer demand over the product characteristics.
8 – How long does it take to charge one full battery cycle? And how long does it last?
The Dainese Smart Jacket takes around 4 hours to fully charge the battery, while the Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 and Klim Ai-1 airbag vest do it around the 3-hour mark.
Alpinestars claims the Tech-Air 5 fully charged will last around 30h. The Smart Jacket will run for 26h and finally the Klim Ai-1 25+hours.
Keep in mind that these autonomy values will last about a week of normal riding, considering that the vests shift to stand-by mode when needed.
9 – Does it have tech integration?
The Tech Air-5 has Bluetooth and App integration. The App provides information about the actual operating mode of the System, verifying if the System is functioning correctly or not. It also gives access to several functions while not in motion. The MyRide function displays the duration, speed, and distance of the ride.
The Dainese Smart Jacket has a desktop App with dedicated Windows and iOS versions. Connections are made through a USB cable, in the same way as charging. While not in use and if transportation is needed, it is possible via the App, to set the airbag vest into shipping mode thus preventing unwanted inflation.
10 – How easy is it to upgrade firmware?
On the Alpinestars Tech Air-5 upgrading the firmware can be done by the App. When it detects a new algorithm version, the upgrade becomes available.
On the Dainese D-Air® App you can easily upgrade the firmware.
The In&Box on the Klim can have the firmware updated by using the mobile App, on the configured wifi network or by connecting the App to a mobile phone. With the App, you’ll receive a notification that a new firmware version is available. In this case, the update will automatically be downloaded once your In&Box is plugged in and in the configured wifi network. Using a mobile phone is similar, but you need to connect it to the In&Box via wifi.
11 – What is the price tag on these motorcycle airbag vests?
The Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 and The Dainese Smart Jacket have a price tag just under the 700$ mark, with regular selling for 699$.
The Klim Ai-1 sells for 399$, with the larger 3xl size at 429$, but… and there is a big but in this vest, no pun intended. Klim’s joint venture with In&Motion sells both the Klim airbag vest and the sensor box from In&Motion. To be fully operational, the Klim Ai-1 airbag vest needs to have the In&Box not only installed but also active. So you can buy the complete airbag vest set up for the price above, but to use it for what it was made for, you need to activate it after purchase. That can come in the form of a monthly/annual subscription or a full purchase.
For the sake of comparing costs, and taking into account that the other motorcycle airbag vests here reviewed need a manufacturer-required intervention every 3 years, let’s compare the cost of the Klim Ai-1 in the same time frame.
Cost with In&Box purchase – 399$ for the vest + 399$ for the In&Box = 798$
Cost with 3 year In&Box lease – 399$ + 120$x3 = 759$
More on that in the next question.
12 – Does it have any hidden costs?
As referred above, to have the Klim Ai-1 fulfilling its protection purpose, you can either buy the full product for 399$ or pay a monthly lease subscription from In&Motion for 12$ a month or 120$ a year. Both have advantages and disadvantages that you can read more about in our Klim Ai-1 review.
If your motorcycle riding favors light off-road, and you’ll probably want to take a closer look at this motorcycle airbag vest. However were you to want to have the In&Motion algorithm upgraded to off-road protection, know that this feature is associated with a 25$ per year or 8$ per month cost, subscribed and activated directly from the app. Needless to say that the monthly subscription is a bad deal unless you are planning to use it for three months a year or less.
On the other airbag vests systems the only not so hidden costs, are the replacement of gas canisters after deployment, or the maintenance inspections. By the way, the 3-year inspection is free of charge on the Dainese Smart Jacket (unless there is some part that needs replacement).
Are motorcycle airbags worth the cost?
Yes, they are. No question about it. It’s a life that you’re protecting. Your life.
And yes, it is an expensive piece of equipment, that adds up to the long list of motorcycle protective gear. Like the old saying goes, better safe than sorry. I rather invest in good quality gear, than ride unprotected. Coming up with a good safety plan that can be of use in every single ride is invaluable.
Protection comes in layers. The better the layers, the better the overall protection. We’ve seen that happen with helmets. Mandatory use and improvement in shock absorption became factors in reducing fatal injuries.
Motorcycle airbags have now an important role in redefining safety standards and improving that overall rider protection.
If Airbag Vests can save lives why don’t more riders wear them?
Curiously, most motorcyclists still choose not to use airbag vests.
In Spain, a Motorcycle Associacion (Asociación Mutua Motera — a member of FEMA) conducted a poll following the news that the Spanish Directorate-General for Traffic was considering making airbag vests mandatory.
A whopping 65,49% of respondent motorcyclists said no to mandatory airbag vest use.
For more information, you can check out a great article by FEMA with complete information and infographics.
The Spanish DGT believed that such a measure would help save motorcycle rider’s lives and reduce injuries, so it presented the regulation that would be included in the reform of the General Traffic Regulations and would only be implemented from 2026, but it ended up being postponed.
Are motorcycle airbag vests effective?
In line with the Spanish DGT beliefs, a 2019 study on impact conditions in motorcycle road accidents conducted by O. Ballester and others, concluded that the thorax, abdomen, thoracic and lumbar spine and shoulder injuries that could potentially be mitigated or avoided thanks to airbag devices represent 75% and 64% of AIS1+ and AIS3+ injured victims, respectively.
For me, it’s putting it plain and simple. If I wear a motorcycle airbag I’ve got a better chance of preventing or reducing serious injuries.
It’s that safety equipment that I hope that I will never use, but I know that I should never ride without it.
That alone is worth the investment.
And I get to feel safer by upgrading my riding safety plan.
What Motorcycle Airbag Vest is Best for You?
The Best Overall
Alpinestars Tech-Air 5
Overall, I found this motorcycle airbag vest to be the more complete solution. It’s lightweight and easy to use. The two riding modes available come stock with the Tech-Air 5, and they are not required to be purchased separately. The mobile App functionality is very good, with plenty of useful information and features.
- Easy to use
- Shoulder / upper arm protection
- In-App information
- Can only be used under the jacket
- Storing difficult than other models
The Most Versatile
Dainese D-Air Smart Jacket
If it’s the versatility you are looking for, this is the jacket for you. Wear it under, over, wear it everywhere, and store it with ease. Easy to arm and disarm, it will keep you protected from everyday commute to the longest motorcycle travel adventures. It’s lightweight, and you can wear it seamlessly. Stationary collision protection is a great plus.
- Easy to use and store
- Compatible with every jacket
- Rear-end collision protection
- Lacks shoulder protection
- No race or off-road mode
- No mobile App
The Off-Road Capable
Klim Ai-1 airbag vest
Want to extend the range of your motorcycle adventure travel, into off-road routes that require more technical riding and harsher strains? This is the airbag vest for you if you don’t mind the extra subscription cost.
- On and off button
- Off-road mode available
- Subscription required
- Not so easy to use as competitors
- Requires GPS signal to activate
The No Smart-Tech
Spidi Air DPS Airbag Vest
Simple, yet effective. This tethered motorcycle airbag vest can be used over your jacket. Reflective fabric makes you visible. It has neck protection. Chest protector can be added as an optional.
- Safety collar
- Chest protection bought separately
The No Smart-Tech High Visibility
Helite Turtle 2 Airbag Vest Hi-Viz Yellow
Helite has produced good-quality airbag vests. This one is highly reflective, with an integrated back protector, and the inflated area extends lower than others.
- High Visibility
- Protection extends to the lower back
- Back Protector included
- Might obstruct jacket air intake
The Bonus Leather Style
Helite Turtle airbag leather jacket
If a classic leather motorcycle jacket is something you can’t live without, and you are not willing to sacrifice protection, this jacket is the solution.
- Outer shell with 1.3mm full-grain cowhide leather
- Back, shoulders, and elbows integrated protectors
- Removable insulation layer
- Not suited for Summer riding
- Mechanically actuated
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