Updated: Feb 10
I’ve been fascinated with anything with wheels since I was a little kid. I have operated every kind of wheeled vehicle from a bicycle to 5-ton six-wheel-drive Army truck, and even some tracked vehicles, in my lifetime. I have watched the automotive industry make many improvements. The most important improvement has been in safety.
Some of you may remember the time when the family would all pile in the car and if there weren’t enough seats, the smaller ones would sit on someone’s lap. Seat belts were there, but almost never used. And an airbag was someone who talked too much.
When I was a motorcycle officer, we trained a lot and were even given a pay supplement, because riding a motorcycle was considered a hazardous job. I was even injured during my career. I got hit by a semi-truck and suffered a broken femur among other things. This was years before the new advances in safety for motorcycles.
The Motorcyclist's Airbag
Now motorcyclist have airbags. For the past 20 years or so the motorcycle racing industry has been working on ways to make the sport of motorcycle racing safer. They have been experimenting with air bladders that are sown into the rider’s suit and different ways to inflate the bladders when the rider goes down, or up in some cases.
Technology has offered a solution and now there are products on the market that can reduce injury and even save the life of a motorcyclist who gets in a crash. From the airbag suits of the racetrack research and development come airbag vests and jackets.
The airbags in a car form air cushions between the passengers and the hard parts of the vehicle that the passengers could potentially impact during a collision. These air cushions provide protection to the head and upper body. While the racing style airbag provide upper and lower body coverage, the street riding style airbag protects the rider's upper torso including vital areas of the body like the rib cage, the collar bones, the shoulders, and the back.
How It Works
Whether it's a full suit, a jacket or a vest, the motorcycle airbag it works like the one used in cars in that there is a bladder that fills with air. The vest is worn under a jacket. The air comes from one or more small cylinders of compressed gas . The motorcycle airbag provides extra protection by absorbing the impact that a rider will receive with the ground after a collision. Test results have shown that the airbag vest will absorb 95% of the impact.
The car version is activated by switches in the outer perimeter, bumper or side, of the car. The switches are triggered upon impact. Motorcycle airbags are activated manually or electronically. The manual airbags use a tether that connects the rider and the motorcycle.
The electronic versions have gyroscopes and accelerometers and an ever-evolving Artificial Intelligence (AI) based on an algorithm to monitor the rider’s position is space and time. When the AI detects that the rider’s position has changed from what it been tracking it sends a signal to discharge the gas cylinders which inflates the bladder. Manual or electronic airbags all fully inflate within a few tenths of a millisecond after firing.
For example, the rider is going straight and level, but suddenly starts going upward or downward while continuing to go in a straight line. The AI will notice the rapid change in position based on the information it receives from its sensors and within 25 to 40 milliseconds the airbag will inflate. The airbag will remain inflated for a few minutes after a crash.
The AI technology is constantly being update especially for the automatic devices. The data from its memory is downloaded and compared to that of other airbags on the network. Then the algorithms are updated. So, the AI gets smarter. There are apps that connect a cell phone to the device. Connecting to the app allows the manufacturer to update the airbag software. Every time the electronic airbags is deployed it must be serviced by the manufacturer. Manually fired airbags can be recharged by the owner with a gas cartridge replacement.
We Were Born to Be Wild, But...
Motorcyclist should wear a helmet and other protective clothing. My motorcycle Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a sizeable investment. My helmet was about $400, jacket $200, gloves and boots $200, and the airbag vest $700. Not having to take another ride in an ambulance to the hospital, priceless. If you ride or know someone who rides, check out this new personal protection equipment for you or them.
Even though we were born to be wild, we can still be as safe as possible so that we can sing about it later.
After doing my own research, I bought the Alpinestar Tech-Air 5 System. I got mine for just under $700 on sale from Revzilla. It uses the technology of gyroscopes, accelerometers, and an AI system.