I’ve heard it time and time again.
“They look ridiculous.”
“They cost more than my first bike.”
“Won’t it inflate accidentally?”
“I’d rather invest in riding courses than some expensive vest.”
“My friends will totally pull the cord to deploy it on me as a prank.”
Okay so that last one actually sounds pretty funny, and I want to see a video if this happens to you (or you do it to your buddy).
But you know what isn’t funny?
The bill to fly a helicopter to the track to medivac your bag-of-broken-bones body back to the hospital.
And avoiding THAT is what a motorcycle airbag is good for.
My coworker endo’d his Ducati V4 after Turn 1 at Laguna Seca at ~130mph and walked away with just a broken wrist. He has his expensive airbag suit to thank for protecting the rest of his body and didn’t miss a single day of work.
– Wonderful Redditor here
Now I’m sure many of us would actually like to miss a day of work. That said, disagree all you want in the comment section below if you’re cool with going to work as long as it means you avoid a chest full of broken ribs. That’s what I thought…
Despite being around for over thirty years now, motorcycle airbags are not yet commonplace in the motorcycling community. And that’s a shame, because they could save a LOT of lives and agony. Not to mention MONEY!
The biggest objection I hear to airbags is COST. Motorcycle airbags are not cheap!
But consider this: do you know how much it costs to airlift someone to a hospital?
According to air hospital service Flying Angels, the average emergency helicopter ride costs about $40,000. An ambulance ride, after insurance, will cost between $500 and $1,000 according to CBS News research. And that’s before any hospital stays, medical operations, or loss of income.
Now does $700 for a motorcycle airbag sound like a lot? To me it sounds like the deal of the century.
You deserve to wear a motorcycle airbag. Your mom and dad, your kids, your husband or wife, your dog deserve to see you next Thanksgiving. So I went out and did the research, chatted with my friends, wasted a couple days on Reddit, and put together this guide to the best motorcycle airbags.
Let’s put all your questions and worries to rest.
- Motorcycle Airbags: What do I need to know?
- The Best Motorcycle Airbag for Most Riders: Tech Air 5
- The Premium Motorcycle Airbag: Tech Air 10
- Other Motorcycle Airbags: Why Not Helite?
- Cheap Motorcycle Airbags: Avoid Them!
- Are motorcycle airbags worn under or over a jacket?
- Is a motorcycle airbag jacket worth it?
- Can a motorcycle airbag go off while I’m riding?
- What size motorcycle airbag should I get?
- Where should I tether a motorcycle airbag?
- What motorcycle airbags are good for off-roading?
- What motorcycles have airbags?
Motorcycle Airbags: What do I need to know?
No other riding gear on the market can give you nearly the same neck, spine, chest and back protection as a motorcycle airbag, short of not riding at all (and where’s the fun in that?). MotoGP started requiring racers to wear airbags in 2018 because they are so effective at reducing injury and death.
But there are a few things you should know before you buy the first one you see.
Different Types of Motorcycle Airbags
Motorcycle airbags come as either vests you wear under/over a jacket or pre-integrated in to a jacket or racing suit.
Each airbag will trigger in one of two ways:
- Tethered Airbags: The old school tether uses a cord connected to your bike to trigger. Pull hard enough (like a highside) and they’ll inflate like Michelin Man. No batteries, electronics or other technobabble.
- Electronic Airbags: The new kids on the block use GPS, accelerometers and gyrometers to sense if the airbag needs to deploy because you’re in a crash. A tiny computer basically runs the numbers and answers the question “Are we in a crash” a thousand times a second. Pretty cool. You have to charge these, but they’re probably slightly better in many different crash scenarios than a tether.
How Do Motorcycle Airbags Work?
Whether the tether reaches the end or the computer says “YES, WE ARE CRASHING!!” the action is the same. Some mechanism slams into the top of a compressed gas cartridge, filling up the jacket in something like 50 milliseconds. That means an airbag could inflate about six times over before you even finish blinking.
That gas creates a cushion all around your body, which absorbs impact. Normal motorcycle armor is built to disperse impact, but you see absorption is 50x more effective than dispersion at mitigating the force of an impact. So one light and thin motorcycle airbag could be worth FIFTY back protectors!
Not looking so expensive now is it?
Common Objections to Motorcycle Airbags
Airbags are new, the technology is misunderstood, and trolls on the internet never sleep. So here’s my response to a couple common objections I hear often about motorcycle airbags.
Aren’t motorcycle airbags hot to ride in?
Motorcycle airbags aren’t exactly breathable (kinda defeats the purpose), so this is a valid concern. That said, they aren’t like other riding gear – you can size up a bit to let more air flow around without much impact on protection. The airbag will have to seat properly once inflated anyway.
Pop a mesh jacket over an airbag vest and you’ll still have plenty of airflow through your armpits, which will wick away a lot of heat. And again, is a little extra sweat worth it for avoiding those hospital bills?
In the spring and fall, your airbag doubles as a liner as well. Not bad.
Motorcycle airbags are ugly!
Yes they usually come in hi-viz or black. Hi-viz might be a benefit for you. But if you don’t want to look like a crossing guard on your 131ci Street Glide, you have options. Wear the airbag under a not-too-tight jacket, and you get the benefit without anyone seeing it.
Won’t my motorcycle airbag accidentally inflate?
The short answer is… no. If you’re dumb like me, you might dismount without untethering and pull hard enough to pop the vest. But most of you won’t get to that point. If you’re worried about that, pick up an electronically-triggered vest. The algorithms in those learn from every deployment from every rider, so they’re very well tuned.
Don’t I have to toss the airbag after it goes off?
Thankfully you don’t have to toss the airbag if it goes off, accidentally or for real. Many airbags use replaceable 30g to 45g CO2 cartridges that cost about $25 on Amazon or at a cycling or outdoors shop (i.e. Bass Pro Shops). It’s so easy to swap the cartridges a monkey could do it.
Some jackets use secret gas blends, and you’ll have to send those in to the manufacturer for a refill. But most of these are the electronic variety; they will only go off if you truly need them to save your skin. Still worth it!
With those out of the way, here’s the MotoGearNuts recommendation for the best motorcycle airbag.
The Best Motorcycle Airbag for Most Riders: Tech Air 5
Whether you’re commuting everyday on a cafe racer, hitting trails on your BMW GS, or riding backroads on the weekend, the best airbag for you is hands down the Alpinestars Tech Air 5.
This lightweight, slim airbag is barely noticeable under your jacket, and you can even wear it over a jacket too. The Cordura exterior means the airbag can handle a high speed slide on pavement without ripping. No need to worry about accidentally setting it off when dismounting your bike – it’s computer inflated.
This airbag inflates around your shoulders, back and chest to protect from impact and stabilize your helmet in a crash. That means less chance of rib, shoulder, neck and spinal injuries.
Your back gets some extra protection with an integrated CE Level 1 back protector. And it’s idiot-proof: it turns on when you put it on and connect the Velcro tab, and it vibrates to let you know its status (like when it needs a charge). With just a 1-hour charge, you’ll get 10 hours of ride time, and the battery holds up to 30 hours of charge.
Size up one size for a little more airflow, or to fit over a jacket.
Hitting the track? The next one might be a wiser choice.
The Premium Motorcycle Airbag: Tech Air 10
The Alpinestars Tech Air 10 is almost twice the protection of the Tech Air 5, but why?
Hip and thigh protection. This vest goes all the way down past your tailbone and around your hips and thighs, which are a common impact point in both street and track crashes.
The Tech Air 10 is slim enough to fit under the full-body racing suit I hope you already have, if you’re hitting the track!
Similar to the Tech Air 5, you just connect the velcro waist belt to turn it on and disconnect it to turn it off. Dead simple. You get a nice integrated back protector in this suit as well.
Other Motorcycle Airbags: Why Not Helite?
So there are several other options on the market for motorcycle airbags, and I’m not a hater of any of them (except Klim – I’ll deal with you later). However, they’re all around the same price points as my top two picks: $700 to $1,000.
Helite Turtle 2 Motorcycle Airbag
One popular option is the Helite Turtle 2.
People seem to love this jacket for two reasons:
- You can replace the CO2 canister after it goes off
- They perceive the tether as more reliable than electronics for triggering inflation
If you’re riding offroad and coming off a lot, the easy replacement of CO2 canisters makes a lot of sense. You save yourself at least a month without your airbag, and you can replenish your airbag during your ride. Otherwise, I don’t see much benefit. Hopefully your airbag NEVER goes off!
As for tethers vs electronics, that point might have made sense 10 years ago. But now, these airbags have been in the market for five, sometimes ten years already. That means they have a MOUNTAIN of crash data informing the electronic algorithms, so I have no doubt electronic airbags perform faster and more precisely in all crash scenarios vs a tethered setup.
That said, you do have to remember to plug an electronic vest in to charge every so often. Make this part of your post-ride routine and you’re set.
Pro Tip: Put a note to charge your airbag on the hook where you hang up your riding jacket.
If you still prefer the old school Helite Turtle 2, you can pick it up at the links below.
Dainese Smart Jacket Rev2
Dainese also develops many vest, jacket, and racing suit airbags – all electronically triggered. One of them is the Smart Jacket Rev2.
Now I don’t have much against this jacket – it’s just fine – but it’s more expensive than the Alpinestars Tech Air 5 while offering way less protection. The actual airbag inside this vest only protects the chest and back. The Tech Air 5 also protects the shoulders, upper arms, and your sides – wrapping all the way around to the back.
If you like Dainese or you have some discount hooked up (hey, shoot me an email with that code!) then you can pick up the Dainese below.
Klim Ai-1 Airbag Vest: A Trick!
Here’s how this is going to go down:
I’m going to say, “Don’t you dare buy that Klim vest.”
And you’ll say, “But Derrick, it’s only $400!”
And that’s where Klim got you… You see, you need to pay a monthly subscription in order for this vest to work at all!
It functions kind of like a lease, and I get why they do it – it brings down the initial cost of the vest. But after just three years of paying the insane $12/month or $120/year subscription cost, you’re over the lifetime cost of a Tech Air 5.
Beyond that, it’s nothing special. A bit more protection than the basic Dainese Smart Jacket Rev2 offers, but still less than the Tech Air 5. Electronically activated, it inflates in just 60 milliseconds – on par with others on the market. One nice feature is you can recharge the gas in this vest yourself, meaning you can reset it on the side of the road if it does go off.
If you really cannot afford to drop $750 today on an Alpinestars Tech Air 5, I’d rather you wear the Klim Ai-1 Airbag vest than nothing at all. You can pick it up for $400 at the links below.
Other Options for Motorcycle Airbag Vests, Jackets, and Suits
There are plenty more offerings from Alpinestars, Helite, and Dainese for all types of riders on Revzilla – even an airbag backpack! Check them all out here.
If you’re regularly hitting the track, do your friends and family a favor and pick up a full race suit with an integrated airbag like the Alpinestars GP Pro v2 (on closeout) or Dainese Misano 2 D-Air Perforated Race Suit.
Add a good helmet, gloves, and riding shoes and you’re good to go.
Cheap Motorcycle Airbags: Avoid Them!
I know cost is important. When I first started riding, I think I spent $100 on a decent lid and $30 on some bright blue gloves with plastic sliders (I thought I was a badass, touching knees and sliding out). That’s all I could afford, and my buddies rode with less.
Airbags do not come cheap, but in a crash they can save you many thousands of times there cost in medical bills, not to mention pain and agony.
So when someone sends me something like this $130 airbag on Amazon, I sigh and go get another cup of coffee – because I know I have a lot of writing to do.
The time honored slogan applies here: You get what you pay for.
When your choice is between $100,000 on medical bills and possible permanent loss of mobility for the rest of your life, or $750 on a good motorcycle airbag system, does that 0.000062% difference matter?
Helite, Alpinestars, and Dainese systems are all heavily tested and used by pros. You can watch the crash videos in MotoGP and see how amazing those race suit systems are in real-world crashes.
A $130 kit from Amazon that was tugged on by a bearded YouTuber once? I wouldn’t take my chances. Even if the tethered firing mechanism is equal to the Helite Turtle, you don’t know how strong or quality-assured the seams and materials are. It takes a few bad stitches to create a leak that renders the entire airbag useless in a crash.
I wouldn’t take my changes with that hospital bill if I were you. Just pick up the Alpinestars Tech Air 5 and hopefully you’ll walk away from your next crash.
Time for FAQs.
Are motorcycle airbags worn under or over a jacket?
Good question! Most airbags are worn over a jacket. But you might wonder, is the material strong enough? Take the Helite Turtle, for example – it uses Cordura, so it’s tough as nails and can withstand a nice hot meeting with the pavement. Sometimes, a mesh jacket will disintegrate while the Helite remains intact!
Is a motorcycle airbag jacket worth it?
Motorcycle airbag jackets are worth it, because they cost a tiny fraction of the injury they provide an amazing amount of protection against rib/chest, back, neck and spinal injuries. A motorcycle crash can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention pain and grief. There is a ton of data and anecdotal evidence that airbags reduce those costs to next to zero, even in very bad high speed crashes. Investing in a motorcycle airbag jacket might be the best decision you make for your safety on the road.
Can a motorcycle airbag go off while I’m riding?
Most likely, no. Tethered style airbags need about 60 pounds of force to activate. Computerized ones are even smarter, thanks to all the crash data collected and compiled in their algorithms. There are tons of Reddit threads where beginners worry about this, but actual airbag users say it doesn’t happen.
What size motorcycle airbag should I get?
When in doubt, size up a bit! Airbags inflate plenty, and you’ll want that extra size to fit over your jacket and layers while still giving you breathing room. Don’t forget to make sure it’s long enough as well.
Where should I tether a motorcycle airbag?
Attach it to the front of your bike frame, close to you. Whether it’s a rear-end or front-end collision, fast deployment usually covers all scenarios – even lowsides.
What motorcycle airbags are good for off-roading?
Off-roading increases the chances of triggering your airbag, but if it goes off, you’ll only need a new cartridge. Airbags are unmatched when it comes to absorbing high-force impacts and stabilizing your neck. However, a neck brace and good off-road armor suit might be just as effective.
Recommendation: Helite Turtle 2 – easy to swap out a new CO2 cartridge, durable, simple to strap on over any offroad gear.
Coming Soon: Alpinestars is releasing the Tech Air Off-Road designed specifically for rally racing competitions. Perfect for off-road.
What motorcycles have airbags?
Believe it or not, the Honda Gold Wing is the only motorcycle with built-in airbags, and they’re just in the front. But guess what? Honda recently filed a patent for an airbag that travels with the rider – how cool is that?
P.S. – Airbags are not as important as a good helmet. However, they might be second.
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