The motorcycle airbag vest is the next step in the evolution of motorcycle safety. Previously, motorcyclists could only rely on impact resistant padding and abrasion resistant materials to try and reduce the chances of sustaining an injury during an accident, but those days are almost over.
Over the past few years, significant improvements have been made to airbag technology, allowing life-saving inflation devices to be scaled down into packages small enough to be worn on a motorcycle. What’s more, sophisticated computer programming, modelling, algorithm-fiddling and number-crunching now allows these devices to pre-empt an impact, only deploying when there’s a real threat of an accident.
It’s no secret that airbags are effective at saving lives on the roads, but for years, that technology was reserved for car drivers and other four-wheeled road users only—with the exception of a few heavy motorcycle cruisers that had special air bags of their own.
We’re looking at wearable airbag vests that can be worn under or over any jacket, which inflate to protect your vital organs and vulnerable areas, such as your collarbone, spine, ribs, and neck. These aren’t jackets with air technology, but dedicated vests that you can wear with any kind of jacket. Here are some of the best motorcycle airbag vests on the market:
It’s no secret that airbag vests are expensive. However, you don’t have to be a millionaire to own one. At the (relatively) more-affordable end of the scale you can find some excellent products from lesser known brands. One of the best budget-friendly vests on the market comes from MotoAir. The MotoAir Airbag One Vest is a simple, tough, and reusable piece of safety equipment that will protect you in the event of an accident.
This handy vest is designed to be worn over the top or underneath of your existing motorcycle gear, working in partnership with your motorcycle jacket and motorcycle helmet to keep your back and neck as protected as possible.
The vest is powered by a CO2 cartridge that inflates within 0.18 seconds of being triggered. The trigger mechanism is a cable-operated pull-cord that connects the rider to their motorcycle. In the event of an accident, and if the rider is forcefully ejected from their motorcycle, the CO2 canister will inflate and protect all the right areas.
MotoAir’s Airbag One is a reusable vest that can be recharged with a replacement CO2 canister. Each vest comes complete with a CO2 cartridge, a lanyard separating system, a carabiner, and two anchoring cables.
It’s a versatile vest that can be worn for more than just motorcycling too. It’s ideal for snowmobiles, jet skis, all equestrian activities, and most extreme sports.
Affordable CO2 powered protective vest
Provides protection to the neck, spine, abdomen, chest, and skull
The Helite Turtle vest is a more premium vest that can be worn with your existing riding gear. In recent years, the Helite brand name has emerged as one of the most trustworthy and reliable brands in the inflatable protective industry. The Turtle airbag is one of their most successful products.
The latest version of the Helite Turtle has some cool new features. Previously, the vest was a lightweight inflatable jacket that could be worn on top of your regular jacket, and it would simply inflate in the event of an emergency, protecting your important parts and keeping you as safe as possible. The new Turtle vest has been upgraded with the addition of SAS-TEC armor!
Helite’s addition of removable SAS-TEC armor takes the Turtle to the next level. Now it offers additional impact protection, with more rigid features to disperse energy and protect vital regions of the body. There is also a soft neoprene collar, reflective stripes, and 600D Cordura panels to resist abrasion.
The actual inflation device is operated with a cord-release mechanism that triggers inflation if a rider becomes forcefully removed from the motorcycle. Full inflation is almost instantaneous, with an effective deployment time of less than 0.1 seconds.
This vest is ideal for motorcyclists but it’s also practical for bicyclists, scooter riders, and ATV enthusiasts too. It’s not the cheapest on the market, but it’s one of the most celebrated devices out there.
Next, we have this cool vest from Hit Air. The Hit Air brand has a number of exciting products on the market, for a wide variety of applications. While most of their products are tailored towards equestrian pursuits, they brand also has a dedicated motorcycle division that specializes in the development and manufacturer of high-quality “shock buffering systems.” The MLV-C inflatable vest is one of those excellent products.
The MLV-C vest is a lightweight vest that can be worn over the top of your existing jacket, allowing you to have airbag protection with any outfit. It’s made from a light material that features reinforced paneling and tough stitching, with optional LUMIDEX reflective features (if you opt for the reflective model.)
The actual airbag delivery system has a very high-speed deployment time. As soon as the tether-operated trigger is activated, full deployment of the airbag takes 0.225 milliseconds. That’s 0.25 seconds. That’s faster than the blink of an eye, which is rated between 300 and 400 milliseconds.
Hit Air’s MLV-C vest is powered by a 60cc CO2 cartridge that must be replaced after every use. Luckily, these cartridges are pretty cheap, and can often be found for less than $30. Another cool feature is the option of adding CE-rated SAS-TEC armor in the chest and at the back.
For traditional riders who prefer to wear leather rather than modern woven fabrics over the top of their regular jackets, the Helite Custom vest could be of particular interest. It looks like a traditional black bike vest, with a simple and plain sleeveless look, but it can be fully inflated to produce a protective air cushion for when things get a little heavy.
Compared with motorcycle airbag jackets, these vest options can be worn with any other riding apparel, or with none at all—though we don’t recommend that at all. If you prefer wearing leather, this is for you. Made from high quality full grain leather, with stretch leather panels, this vest hide a gas-powered airbag system.
The tough 1.2mm cowhide leather offers top notch abrasion resistance and a classic looking style, but it’s the air tech that really sells this one to us. Using a CO2 gas cylinder and a coiled wire tether operating system, the vest can fully inflate in less than 0.1 seconds.
The actual airbag is an improvement of the Turtle model listed above. Upon inflation, it provides a strong inflatable casing around your neck, spine, back, chest, internal organs, and hips and pelvis too. According to independent testing, this air vest is up to 4 times more effective than other similar systems.
Other cool features include zipper panel access that makes it easier to sew on patches, exterior and interior smartphone pockets, removable SAS-TEC level 2 armor, and a unisex fit.
Cow hide leather with stretch panels
SAS-TEC armor included as standard
CE-approved air bag technology
Reusable jacket only requires 2 minutes for full reset
Dainese might be a more familiar brand name to you than most of the others on the list. Over the years, Dainese has been at the forefront of motorcycle race technology, and it should come as no surprise that the company is one of the industry leaders in air bag innovation. This Dainese Smart vest takes MotoGP technology and reworks into an affordable and practical piece of riding armor.
Unlike most Dainese motorcycle airbag jacket products, this is a standalone air bag system and doesn’t require an expensive Dainese-branded jacket to function. It uses the same D-air technology but in a scaled down form. Now, it’s a sleeveless vest that can be worn over or under existing garments, with a sophisticated deployment system.
Other vests use a coiled wire trigger system, but the Dainese D-air package is different. Instead, it relies on seven active sensors that process signals at 1,000 times per second, and compares the feedback with a complex algorithm that will trigger the airbag to deploy if it detects an impending accident. If you’re in danger, the airbag will deploy.
When the airbag is fully inflated, it offers CE-rated air protection to level 1 and level 2 standard, which is up to 4 times more protective than standard rigid armor. While it’s more complex than a tether, it can recognize more types of potential accidents, from low sides to high sides, and even front and rear end collisions. It works when you’re standing still too.
Lastly, we have another vest from Helite. This airbag jacket is the top of their range, and it’s specifically tailored towards track riders—which means if it’s good enough for protecting track day racers, it should be more than adequate for casual road users! The main difference between a track-focused vest and a road-focused one is aerodynamics.
For the GP Airbag Track Vest, Helite has worked hard to create a product that has a tight but comfortable fit that doesn’t compromise on flexibility or aerodynamics. It’s been specially designed to accommodate a race suit’s hump, improving aerodynamics and lap times without compromising on safety.
The actual vest inflates to optimal pressure in under 75 milliseconds. The inflatable liner expands to protect a rider’s neck, spine, chest, ribs, pelvis, internal organs, and provides additional cushioning to the head. It also features a hard shell area that reduces impact shock.
It’s also 100% mechanically triggered. While mechanical triggers aren’t as sophisticated as electronically- activated airbag motorcycle jackets, they are more convenient. They don’t rely on batteries, and no special calibration needs to happen during installation. It’s simple plug ‘n’ play.
For those looking for tough, abrasion resistant 1.2 mm cow hide protection, with an integrated airbag system that can easily be worn over the top of any race suit without compromising on aerodynamics, then this motorcycle airbag jacket covering vest from Helite is the one for you.
Designed with aerodynamics and race performance in mind
75 millisecond inflation speed
1.2mm cow hide material
Motorcycle Airbag Vest Buying Guide
What Is A Motorcycle Airbag Vest?
A motorcycle airbag vest is a special piece of protective equipment that inflates around the body’s most vulnerable parts in the event of an accident. These vests can be worn under or over existing motorcycle apparel, adding another layer of protection against serious injury.
A vest-type of inflation device is fairly universal and can be worn with almost all kinds of regular riding wear, while a motorcycle airbag jacket has integrated technology that can’t function without the rest of the jacket.
How Does A Motorcycle Airbag Work?
Wearable airbags rely on the use of CO2 cartridges. When triggered, these cartridges release a gas that inflates a series of bladders and tubes, cushioning the rider in the event of an accident. There are two different types of triggering mechanisms: mechanical or electronic.
Mechanical triggers use a coiled wire tether that attaches the rider to the motorcycle. In the event of the rider becoming separated from the bike, the jacket will inflate.
Electronic triggers require the use of sensors. These sensors send information to a small computer that constantly monitors the situation, comparing the results with an algorithm. The core algorithms are based on 1000s or hours of accident simulations.
How Effective Are Motorcycle Airbag Vests?
Airbags that are mounted on motorcycles have been thoroughly tested by Honda, reducing forward momentum by up to 62% and reducing the chances of major head trauma by up to 83%. These stats are for motorcycles with integrated systems. For wearable systems, such as Dainese’s D-Air system, impact reduction can be reduced by up to 90% when compared with conventional composite armor.
It’s true that airbag motorcycle jackets and vests are expensive, however, they may be far cheaper than hospital bills in the long run. And that’s only if you’re weighing up the financial side of things, and for a relatively minor injury. Any armor that can prevent a major head, neck, or spinal injury is worth it.
Even if you claim to be a safe rider, or the best motorcyclist in the world, there’s no denying that the road can be a dangerous place and there’s nothing wrong with another layer of protection. Especially one as unobtrusive as this.
What Features To Look Out For?
The area of your body that gets additional protection from the inflation device should be one of the most important features you look for. Most airbag systems will inflate to protect and cover your neck, spine, and chest. Almost all of them will do that to a degree. However, it might beneficial to look out for vests that offer additional coverage.
Some have expanding bladders that protect your lower spine, hips, and pelvic area. Others have larger neck collars that expand to cradle your neck a little more, reducing the risk of damage from helmet-related injuries too.
Naturally, you want an airbag that can deploy as quickly as possible. The faster, the better. While most reputable products will inflate faster than the blink of an eye, there are some that even faster than that. Anything under a second is good, but anything faster than 0.25 seconds is even better.
If you’re investing in your safety, there’s no reason to pay money for a slow product when there are faster ones available.
Mechanical triggers with coiled wire and lanyards are much cheaper than their electronic counterpart but they may not be as effective. In the event of a big accident, they will almost certainly deploy, but not all accidents are big in nature. And an accident doesn’t have to be huge to cause horrific injury.
An electronic trigger has been tuned to work for a huge variety of crash situations based on computer modelling. They are more expensive though, and need to be configured and installed on a single motorcycle, and can’t easily be used with another. Although unlikely, sensors can fail or trigger an inflation by accident. Plus, they rely on battery power. These are important things to consider.
For this reason, it’s worth reading a wide range of reviews from existing customers and other motorcycle journalists and writers too.
Any additional protection is always welcome. Apart from being a motorcycle airbag vest, what other protection is available? Are their composite armor panels to improve impact resistance? Is the main textile abrasion resistant? Does it come with armor pockets or reflective strips? These are important things to keep an eye out for.
Some of these vests can be worn underneath regular motorcycle jackets, while others are specifically designed to go over the top. It’s important to work out what kind you’re after. If you want to wear one underneath your existing jacket, it’s worth checking the size because it may not fit under an already snug-fitting jacket. A tight fit won’t just compromise your comfort, it may prevent an airbag from deploying properly too.
Similarly, if you’re worried about sports performance, it’s best to find an airbag system that’s aerodynamic and won’t cost you a few hundredths of a second on your next lap time.
Lastly, always make sure that you’re buying a system that has been tested and certified by a respectable governing body. For example, Europe’s CE rating is a good one to look out for. This means that a product meets certain safety requirements across a wide range of categories. Always be on the hunt for that certification before you make a purchase.
Joe is a motorcycle industry veteran who has not only been paid for his words on the industry but also to throw a leg over a bike on the track. Besides riding, and occasionally crashing motorcycles, he also likes to build up older bikes in his garage in Germany. He says; "I like what I like but that certainly doesn’t make my opinion any more valid than yours…" We like Joe's educated opinion and hope you do too.