A motorcycle airbag vest is not a replacement for good roadcraft and riding skills. But it may save you from serious injuries in the unfortunate event of an accident or crash
The Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 system is an airbag vest designed for motorcycle riders. It is an autonomous system designed to be worn under the rider’s jacket (either leather or textile) and provides upper body protection in the event of an accident.
In this review I will tell you about the Tech-Air 5 system, my experience riding daily with the system and my own real-life experience wearing it during an accident.
Tech-Air 5 in Brief
The Tech-Air 5 is a street airbag for street jackets. It is independent of the jacket, and can be worn under any jacket from any vendor. As long as there’s 4 cm of space between the vest and the jacket, which is a requirement in order for the airbag to inflate. It is a standalone system: there is no tether to the bike, no need to zip it to your jacket and there is no GPS dependency.
It is made of a soft, flexible, breathable mesh material. It has a honeycomb-style CE Level 1 back protector, which covers the ECU, helium-argon canisters, and sensors. The sensors monitor body movement, body position, speed, acceleration, lean angle, posture, etc, and have a set of parameters which define “normal riding”.
In the event of an accident or a crash the Tech-Air 5 offers a rapid deployment. It Inflates in 20-40 milliseconds (!), depending on vest size and provides full upper body coverage: back, ribs, chest, collar bone, sides, shoulders and the top of the arm.
My own experience confirms this to be true.
How Does It Work
The Tech-Air 5 is worn under your jacket and you wear it like a standard vest. After zipping it up you close the magnetic velcro flap at the top of the zipper, which activates the system.
The system then goes through its boot sequence which includes an internal check. The three LED’s on the bottom of the vest blink during the boot sequence, then show the status of the system and battery level.
During “normal riding” the Tech-Air 5 just sits there under your jacket. As it’s an independent/autonomous system you do not need to do anything after it boots up. The system’s sensors monitor your ride, speed, acceleration and other parameters.
It goes into action when it detects an accident or a crash. Anything that is not defined by Alpinestars as “normal riding”. Alpinestars used a vast amount of data, collected over 20 years, to develop an intelligent crash detection algorithm that can differentiate between “normal riding” and a crash. When an accident or a crash is detected the gas is released from the helium-argon canisters and the airbag is inflated. This happens within 20-40 milliseconds! It remains inflated for a few minutes, then slowly deflates. I can confirm from my own experience this is true.
Alpinestars keep improving the algorithm based on additional crash data they collect. They make the improvements available to Tech-Air 5 systems with periodic firmware updates..
Real World Experience – Riding with the Tech-Air 5
Prior to buying the Tech-Air 5 I did a bit of a research on the available motorcycle airbag systems. I decided to get the Tech-Air 5 as I did not want a tethered system. In addition, the Tech-Air 5 offered better protection coverage area than other brands. The disadvantage of a battery-powered device and the associated required charging did not bother me.
My experience with the Tech-Air 5 included daily commuting and weekend rides. I found riding with the Tech-Air 5 to be comfortable with both my leather jacket and my textile jacket. The system does add a bit of a bulk (after all it is an additional layer), however, it is hardly noticeable and does not result in any discomfort or restriction of movement. Basically I could hardly feel the extra layer.
Despite the fact I’m wearing an additional layer I do not feel hot with the vest, even on hot days. Airflow and ventilation are good, thanks to the mesh fabric. Yes, you do feel a bit hotter on hot days, and yes, the vest does block some of the airflow. But all in all I have not felt uncomfortable. Plus, the extra protection is definitely worth it.
During my daily commute I ride with a backpack (either Ogio Mach-3 or Viking Moto Backpack) and have no issue with bulkiness or discomfort. In fact, at the time of my accident I was wearing my Viking backpack (more about my accident below…)
On my weekend rides the system did not feel heavy or uncomfortable, even after 4-5 hrs of riding.
And then I had an accident…
Real world experience – My Accident and the Tech-Air 5
After about a month of riding daily with the Tech-Air 5 I was unfortunate to be involved in an accident. However, I was fortunate to be wearing the Tech-Air 5 at the time of the accident.
The accident happened when I was approaching a traffic light at low speed. The light was red. When the lights changed a driver bumped into me, pushed me over, and I came off my bike. The driver then escaped from the scene of the accident while I was lying on the road! (thank goodness I installed a dual-camera dashcam!)
Although the accident occurred while I was riding at a low speed the fall was nasty. I had bruises all over my legs from the ankles up (yes kids, always wear good boots!) and on my hip. However, there were no bruises or injuries on my upper body from the hips up. None!
The Tech-Air 5 inflated the moment the car hit me, before I came off the bike. By the time I fell to the ground the vest was fully inflated. There is no doubt it saved me from sustaining more severe injuries.
For a few minutes, while the Tech-Air 5 was inflated, I felt like the Michelin Man…
A couple of days later I uploaded the crash data from the system to Alpinestars using the app. Within 4 days they sent me the crash analysis report, confirming the system inflated at the time I was hit by the car, and a full second before I hit the ground. My injuries (or lack thereof) confirm this. My injuries (or lack thereof) confirm beyond doubt that the technology works!
The downside? After deployment the system has to be sent to Alpinestars for inspection, a recharge of the canisters and repack. This is no cheap affair: in Australia it will set you back $400, which is 40% of the RRP of a new vest!
However, after experiencing an accident wearing the Tech-Air 5 I will pay for the repack/recharge and I will keep wearing the Tech-Air 5 on every ride without exception.
I recommend wholeheartedly an airbag vest to every motorcycle rider! An airbag vest is not a replacement for good riding skills and good roadcraft. We still need to have the best riding skills and best roadcraft. We still have to ride responsibly on public roads and not push beyond our limits. We still have to ride as if all drivers are out there to get us.
The Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 is not a replacement for any of the above. However, it may save us from bad injuries (or worse) in case we, or other road users, make a mistake.
I can definitely confirm that in the case of the Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 the technology works!
Stay upright, ride safe!
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