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Airbags and Motorcycles: A Look at Motorcycle Airbag Vests

Climbing in the saddle of a motorcycle is inherently risky, but that risk is often worth the reward for riders who appreciate the open-air freedom only riding offers. Unlike cars, trucks, or SUVs, motorcycles offer zero protection as you navigate the road. You’re not sitting in a high-strength steel cage but are vulnerable and physically immersed in the world around you. It’s an incredible experience that can be life-threatening when things go awry.

Many riders opt for high-tech gear with built-in armor, from helmets and jackets to riding pants and boots. However, sometimes this armor isn’t enough. Take one look at MotoGP and World Superbike riders, and it’s easy to see why. Professional riders are required to wear motorcycle airbag vests as an additional layer of protection. The real question is the practicality of these vests for everyday riders who aren’t speeding through a circuit.

How do motorcycle airbag vests work? What are the advantages and disadvantages? And what can we expect from the industry as ongoing advancements in airbag design promise to increase our safety in the saddle?

Airbag Vests: How They Work

As the name implies, a motorcycle airbag vest is worn in addition to your everyday riding gear. Think of the airbags in a vehicle but on a more compact and portable scale. It offers another level of protection to mitigate injury in the event of a collision on your bike.

There are two types of airbag vests: tethered and untethered. Tethered airbags have been around the industry the longest and work similarly to a tether on a four-wheeler or boat. You wear the vest or jacket with a built-in airbag, and a tether connects the airbag to your motorcycle. When that tether or the connection between the vest and the motorcycle is broken in a crash or collision, the airbag inside the vest or jacket activates.

Untethered airbags are more technologically advanced. They are commonly referred to as “Smart Airbags” because they rely on artificial intelligence to activate. Instead of requiring a tether to the motorcycle, the airbag is wireless, so you don’t have to worry about the tether maintaining contact with the motorcycle. Instead, the airbag system has integrated technologies, such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, that detect collisions. Once detected, the technology automatically deploys the airbag before the rider realizes what’s happened.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages of wearing a motorcycle airbag vest are obvious when you look at MotoGP and World Superbike. Why else would they be mandatory in these circuits? The advantage is the same for everyday riders because, undeniably, there is nothing wrong with another level of protection when you’re that vulnerable in the saddle. What are the disadvantages and other considerations?

Another Piece of Gear

Many riders are concerned with having to wear another piece of gear. Your riding gear should fit comfortably and offer optimal protection without limiting your mobility. The idea of adding another vest to your setup is troublesome because there’s the potential you’re wearing too much or you can’t move as freely, thus counteracting the added protection you get from the vest. Fortunately, there’s a solution.

The motorcycle industry is constantly advancing, so motorcycle airbag vests aren’t as bulky as they once were. Additionally, they are usually lightweight and use mesh material to offer optimal comfort. Some gear manufacturers are even integrating airbags into their jackets, so you’re not wearing an extra piece of gear.

Tethered vs Untethered

Beyond this disadvantage, there’s something else to consider when deciding between a tethered and untethered vest. What happens if you’re in a collision, but the tether doesn’t break, and you’re not thrown off your bike? The airbag won’t deploy unless you’re mindful enough to pull the tether as the accident occurs. That’s a significant risk that an untethered or smart airbag doesn’t pose with its advanced design.

Investment and Value

How much value do you place on your safety? The question seems silly, but that’s what you’re considering when you shop for a motorcycle airbag vest. Tethered airbags are generally more budget-friendly, but it’s critical to account for the risk mentioned above. Alternatively, you can spend more on an untethered airbag vest and heighten your safety without concern of a tether activating the bag. Ultimately, it comes back to how much you’re willing to invest in your safety in the saddle.

Recharge and Reuse

One of the biggest questions regarding an airbag vest is whether it can be reused. Fortunately, if the airbag is in good condition and not damaged from the collision, it can be reset and repacked with a new cartridge. In most cases, you can do this yourself without sending it back to the manufacturer.

Future Advancements

The riding industry is constantly advancing, with motorcycle manufacturers looking for ways to bring our performance dreams to life and heighten our safety behind the handlebars. These advancements are exciting because they’ve given us airbag vests and car-style airbags on bikes like the Honda Gold Wing that offer another level of safety as we ride. But why stop there?

Airbag vests have become increasingly popular over the years, but manufacturers like Honda are looking beyond the vests and the Gold Wing’s airbags. Honda is working on a new airbag design that works similarly to a vest without forcing the rider to wear another piece of gear. The idea is to mount the airbag on the motorcycle in front of or behind the rider to offer optimal protection. It wraps around the rider and detaches in a collision. This detachment is critical, offering mobile protection if the rider is thrown off the bike.

Honda’s concept is revolutionary in several ways. First and foremost, the idea advances the industry and encourages other manufacturers to find comparable solutions. Likewise, it eliminates the need for riders to wear or invest in extra gear or weigh the advantages of a tethered or untethered system. Instead, the protection is built-in and automatic.

Valuing the Ride, Valuing the Rider

Chasing the horizon on two wheels is both risky and rewarding. It’s impossible to truly explain the feeling of immersing yourself in the world around you, even if that world is rush-hour traffic with honking cars or the smell of manure from a local farm. Riding leaves no room for error, requiring your full attention as you become part of the landscape.

When it comes to riding and safety, riders are always looking for ways to reduce the risk of doing what they love. We’re spending top dollar on helmets and investing in high-quality gear with built-in armor that offers another layer of protection and peace of mind. We want to heighten our safety, but not at the cost of our maneuverability and flexibility so that we can handle our bikes with ease.

Motorcycle airbag vests offer protection without compromise. In some cases, it means adding another lightweight piece of gear, but in others, the airbag is integrated into our jackets. Either way, an airbag vest can undoubtedly offer additional protection as we ride. Moreover, these vests are the stepping stone for future advancements, inspiring concepts like motorcycle-mounted airbags that promise to forever change and improve our safety as we chase the horizon.