The Simpler Motorcycle Airbag Jackets Might Be the Best

Apart from your helmet, one of the most important pieces of motorcycle gear is CE-certified armor. However, as vital as it is, an armored jacket isn’t necessarily on the cutting-edge of biker safety. That’s because you can now choose from a wide selection of motorcycle airbag jackets. But even though the latest ones offer some advanced tech, the YouTube team at FortNine prefers to keep things simple.

Motorcycle airbag jackets aren’t just for MotoGP riders anymore

Initially, airbags in motorcycle jackets were MotoGP tech, The Drive reports. And the technology didn’t really become available to everyday consumers until about 5-6 years ago. But even then, it was limited to full racing suits: great for dedicated track-goers, not so great for common riders on a budget.

Nowadays, though, the technology is cheap and compact enough to make motorcycle airbag jackets and vests affordable. And they work basically like the airbags in your car, RevZilla explains. During a crash, a triggering mechanism releases compressed gas into the bag. It inflates in less than a second, cushioning your body and organs from the impact. And once the dust clears and adrenaline settles, you just recharge the motorcycle airbag jacket before your next ride.

However, while all motorcycle airbag jackets follow these basic principles, they go about it in different ways. For example, some jackets have built-in airbags, while others are universal-fit pieces worn under or over existing gear, MCN reports. And some manufacturers require to buy the jacket and airbag vest as separate parts, RevZilla reports.

But the biggest differences are down to the triggering mechanism.

Why FortNine prefers the simpler manual designs

As FortNine explains in the video below (mild language warning), motorcycle airbag jackets fall into two broad categories.

The first kind is the manual ones that use a tether to pierce a CO2 cartridge to inflate. Then there are the electronic airbag jackets, which have built-in computers connected to accelerometer, GPS, and gyroscope sensors. If the sensors say the rider’s crashing, the airbags inflate.

Admittedly, the electronic Dainese Smart Jacket and Alpinestars Tech-Air jacket have genuine MotoGP development behind them, The Drive reports. And with its latest updates, the Tech-Air airbag jacket supports Bluetooth and app connectivity, Cycle World reports. However, the Alpinestars jacket needs to be calibrated every time you turn it on, Motorcyclist reports.

The Dainese Smart Jacket isn’t without fault, though. True, its slim design means you can wear it with essentially any motorcycle jacket you already own, Motorcyclist reports. However, as FortNine points out, that same design limits how much it can inflate, thus limiting protection. Plus, to recharge it, you have to send it back to Dainese for a $250 service, Cycle World reports.

More to the point, all electronic motorcycle airbag jackets suffer from the same flaw. Namely, you have to recharge them. And some, like the Ixon airbag vest, even have subscription-tied features, Bennetts reports. True, that means you can save on some costs during the off-season. But if you’re going to buy an airbag jacket anyway, why chance the possibility of a low battery or a missed payment?

An uninflated high-vis Helite Turtle 2 airbag vest on a mannequin
Uninflated Helite Turtle 2 airbag vest | Helite

Thus, FortNine recommends a mechanical motorcycle airbag jacket/vest like the Helite Turtle 2. While it has a physical tether, it won’t go off just by stepping off the bike, ADV Pulse and OnlyTwoWheels report. And even with the tether, it inflates just as quickly as the electronic jackets. But instead of a proprietary cartridge, you just need a $25-$30 CO2 cartridge that you can install at home.  

Is buying any kind of motorcycle airbag jacket or vest worth it?

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FortNine has another reason to recommend the Helite Turtle 2. When it inflates, it also inflates around the rider’s neck and shoulders. This lets it function as a neck brace, limiting unnecessary—and potentially deadly—head movement.

That being said, it’s not the ideal motorcycle airbag jacket for every rider. Although MotoGP requires riders to have airbags, regulations prohibit tethering riders to their bikes. That’s why racers use electronic jackets. And if that’s how you ride, FortNine recommends the Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 over the Dainese Smart Jacket. Plus, while the Dainese airbag jacket is comfortable and has a long-lasting battery, it doesn’t have a dedicated track setting like the Alpinestars one, reports.

A gray Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 airbag vest
Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 airbag vest | Alpinestars

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As far as costs go, all three of these airbag vests are roughly the same price. RevZilla quotes the Large-size Helite, Alpinestars, and Dainese vests at $659, $699.95, and $699.95, respectively. They’re all universal-fit, though each supplier also has proprietary jackets available.

Considering you can buy a quality back protector for less than $100, an airbag vest and/or jacket seems very expensive. Especially the ones with proprietary equipment. However, as someone who’s been in multiple cycling accidents, I can attest to the importance of proper safety gear. While you don’t necessarily have to buy it immediately, it’s an extremely worthwhile investment, RideApart reports.

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