Alpinestars has released details of their brand new airbag system under the Tech-Air name and it works in a way no other motorcycle jacket airbag system has worked before. Everything is integrated into the jacket – you put in on and away you go.
Up until now, there have been two different systems used for motorcycle jacket airbags available for street use. The first and cheapest was by way of a tether attached between the jacket and the motorcycle. When the rider comes off the bike, the tether is pulled out of its clamp and the airbag inflates. It’s a cumbersome system that requires the rider to attach/reattach every time they get on and off the bike, and it would’t inflate if you lowsided and remained within a short distance of the bike.
The second system was offered by Dainese which involved sensors in the jacket wirelessly communicating with a second system installed on the motorcycle. This system had to be installed by an authorized technician and is currently only available in continental Europe (though there is one dealer in the United Kingdom). Dainese has more recently teamed up with Ducati which has the D-Air system built into some of their bikes.
But the Alpinestars solution is by far the most elegant. First of all, it can be used on any bike. There’s no requirement to tether the system to your motorcycle or have a seperate computer installed on the bike. This allows you to easily switch between bikes without re-configuring or re-initializing the the setup. The system is completely housed within the jacket and is self-contained, requiring no pre-configuration and is immediately ready for use. As a result, no sensors or equipment needs to be installed on the motorcycle and no time is needed in setting up electronic pairing between rider and/or passenger and motorcycle.
So, how does it work? Obviously Alpinestars are keeping things close to their chest because this is a big leap forward in the technology. But they state that they have formulated some very sophisticated software algorithms to predict the impact, ensuring the airbag is deployed before the rider hits an obstacle. Amazingly, the jacket will work both on the street and off-road and there’s no need to deactivate the system if leaving the road for off-road trails or to stop in between to change settings. Changing surfaces while adventure riding therefore presents no problem
It gets even better. The actual unit will be interchangeable with other compatible Alpinestars jackets, so theoretically you can have a jacket for winter, one for summer and even I suppose one for the track, and switch the airbag and control unit between each. At launch they’re offering two jackets, the Valparaiso touring jacket and the Viper street jacket with more to come. The electronic unit is protected by a durable and water-resistant casing which, when worn under a compatible outer jacket, means the airbag system is fully weatherproof.
There’s a few downsides though. Like the Dainese offering, you will need to charge the control unit. It offers 25 hours battery life and one hour of charging equates to about four hours of operation. Also, if you are in a crash, you’ll need to send the jacket to Alpinestars (or a licensed dealer) to have the airbag and inflators replaced. That’s not something you’ll obviously (hopefully) need to do often, but it is a hassle. Regardless of a crash or not, the system needs to be serviced once very two years.
But given the benefits of this, that extra hassle and cost is worth the added protection. The new Tech-Air will be available in Spring 2015 with pricing yet to be disclosed and will potentially offer the first leap forward in rider protection in decades.