2021 Bison Air Vest Buyer’s Guide

2021 Bison Air Vest Buyer’s Guide

You’re on the track, approaching the apex of your favorite corner. As you graze the candy stripe with your knee you gradually slip your hand off the brake lever and begin rolling on the throttle. The rear steps out... A lot more than you intended actually, and before you know it you’re in trouble. As the bike drifts further sideways you instinctively chop the throttle causing the rear end to hook up, you’re whipped over the tank like a BB from a slingshot and before you can contemplate what’s happening you’re upside down six feet in the air. You catch a glimpse of your bike tumbling down the asphalt before closing your eyes, cringing for what’s coming next: the impact of your body onto the asphalt at high velocity.


Or…


It’s a crisp fall morning and you’re taking the backroad in to work. A half mile from your destination you round a curve just as a car appears from a blind drive. The driver spots you, and in a moment of panic they come to a complete stop - unfortunately the car is stopped fully across your lane. Survival instincts kick in, your body instantly pumps with adrenaline and the most logical decision is made in just milliseconds. You aim for the lowest part of the car - the hood - stand up slightly on the footpegs and -BANG!- you’re sailing through the air, anticipating the inevitable harsh landing and tumble.

Whether you’ve been in one of these situations or just want to plan ahead for it, chances are if you’re reading this article you already know the massive benefits provided by adding an air vest to your suit or jacket. If you’ve started shopping for your vest (and the required air-compatible suit or jacket) you may be more confused than ever. There are dozens of options out there and each is unique in it’s own way. 

Even at the most basic level an air vest is a big investment however prices vary hundreds of dollars between brands. What are the tradeoffs of the inexpensive vest vs. the super high-tech (and high-dollar) vests on the market today, and which vest is the best option for you? We’re here to help you figure it out!

First let’s talk about some key areas to consider while shopping for your new vest. As we move into speaking about each of the vests we will reference these key points to help you make a solid choice for your needs and budget.

Air vest types

For all intents and purposes, all air vests can be broken down into two basic types: electronic and mechanical. Electronic vests employ accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS or a combination of those technologies to determine when a vest should be deployed, at which time an actuator punctures a cartridge to inflate the system. Mechanical vests do away with all that high tech stuff but that doesn’t mean they aren’t effective. Typically these air vests will be tethered to the motorcycle and inflate when the rider comes off the bike, thereby exerting enough force to pull the mechanism and puncture the CO2 cart.

There are pros and cons to each system, but the simplicity and reliability of a mechanical deployment should not be overlooked. As Knut Wagner of Max Moto/Helite USA explains, “Look at the Ford Model T compared to a new Ferrari: They both use windshield wipers! Why? Because the mechanics of it just work.” It’s a good analogy, especially when you consider windshield wipers are a safety item and there have been several different methods explored for clearing water from our view while driving. In the end, good ol’ gears, linkages and rubber blades do the trick as well as anything else without being too complicated.  

Repacking (recharging) method

One of the things you should consider when shopping for a vest is whether or not you can deal with downtime and cost associated with shipping the product back to the manufacturer for inspection and inflator recharge following deployment. Basically, electronic vests will need to be sent back after inflating, while mechanical vests can be “reset and recharged” at the track in just minutes. Because there is a charge for the mail-in services (or the refill cartridges), we recommend factoring that into your budget.

Coverage areas

Another area in which the less expensive vests differ from the pricier options is inflation coverage. For obvious reasons, this should be your most heavily weighed metric. While we understand that for many of us the budget comes into play more than we would like, scraping together a few hundred dollars to jump up to the next level of coverage might mean the difference between a few thousand dollars in medical bills!  

Deployment/inflation speed

There are three main factors that impact the speed in which a vest inflates: Inflator style, gas cartridge volume (how much gas is on standby to inflate the bag), and air bladder volume (more coverage means a bigger bag and slower inflation). You’ll generally find that the more coverage a vest has, the slower it fully inflates. The same make and model vest will even vary in inflation speed from smaller sizes (S/M) to the largest sizes (XL/2XL). While there are small variations in how rapidly each vest inflates, most listed here will get the job done rapidly enough for track use. Wherever available we have listed the inflation speeds for each respective product.

The vests

Without further ado, let’s get started listing the products and their benefits. In no particular order, here are the most popular and - in our opinion - intriguing vests on the market to start 2021:

Alpinestars Tech-Air Race

  • Alpinestars Tech-Air Race

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes (must procure LED harness from Alpinestars directly)

    Vest Type: Electronic

    Repacking method: Must ship back to Alpinestars (two deployments in Race algorithm, or one deployment in Street mode)

    Inflation speed: .045 second

    Coverage areas: Upper arms, shoulders, clavicle, front/rear/side torso

    Price: $1,149.95

    Overview:

    One of the most trusted brands in motorcycle racing equipment, it comes as no surprise that Alpinestars comes to the table with a few of the most comprehensive, safest and therefore popular air vests on the market in 2021. Built initially for - and a proven performer in - MotoGP racing, the Race version of the vest is the clear choice when budget is no concern and top safety is a priority. 

    Unbox the Tech-Air vest and you’re sure to find yourself impressed with the materials, build quality and technology packed into this piece of equipment. A shell comprised of Lycra and 2- and 3D mesh house inflation bladders which boast the best coverage of anything else listed here. A sturdy yet lightweight back protector houses the Electronic Airbag Control Unit (ACU) as well as two argon inflator cartridges. The ACU can be set for two different algorithms: Race and Street. In Street mode, the vest will deploy both carts at once for maximum inflation in the most rapid time possible. In Race mode, one cart will deploy per event. This allows for more than one use during a weekend of track time. In either case, once both cartridges are deployed the vest will need to be returned to Alpinestars for inspection and recharging. Price to recharge the system is about $300.

    Besides the spendy buy-in and upkeep, the Tech-Air’s only real achilles heel is weight and bulk. When a Bison client places an order for an AirHide suit and mentions that they are planning to use Tech-Air, we always recommend kangaroo hide to help offset the added weight of that vest. Once installed in the suit, the Tech-Air vest sits between the rider’s body and the inner liner of the suit. While the vest itself isn’t particularly uncomfortable, it can feel a little unwieldy at first while also reducing airflow even through a perforated suit.   

    Additionally, because the vest installs directly into the overgarment it cannot be used in just any suit or jacket. Chest zippers, velcro panels and an LED indicator harness must be installed within the leathers to ensure compatibility. In addition, exterior and interior panels of the suit must be built to allow for proper expansion of the vest when inflated. Our Bison Thor.2 suits with AirHide have all the necessary components needed to work properly with the TechAir Race system, save for the LED harness which must be ordered from Alpinestars directly and is installed in minutes by the customer.

    PROS: 

    • Best inflation coverage of any vest available today.
    • Integrated system means no need for additional back protector and intrusive cartridge pouches, tethers or buckles.
    • High-quality construction and optimal function.
    • Excellent race-proven support.

    CONS:

    • One of the heaviest options, can add a noticeable amount of weight and bulk.
    • Requires a suit with specific build components and measurements.
    • Most expensive initial purchase price on this list.
    • Requires a $300 recharge and inspection after deployment.

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “If IronMan wore an airbag vest it would look and function just like this - just in red and gold.”

    Dainese Smart Jacket

  • Dainese Smart Jacket

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes

    Vest Type: Electronic

    Repacking method: Must be recharged at a Dainese store or mailed in

    Coverage areas: Chest, back, upper clavicle

    Price: $699.95

    Overview:

    Do we even need to give Dainese an intro? When you see this logo on a product you know there are years of development and experience behind it. The Smart Jacket is no exception. 

    Perhaps the coolest part about this Dainese vest is that it can be worn over or under a suit or jacket. In stark contrast to the Alpinestars offering, Dainese’s product is lightweight, low-profile and breathable. It can even be folded and put into a backpack with room to spare for a commute. So what’s the catch?

    Well, for starters the vest isn’t quite as thorough in it’s coverage area as the TechAir systems. Dainese also doesn’t recommend using the vest on track. The software simply isn’t optimized for the type of riding and situations that track riders may find themselves in. Lastly, repacking must again be completed by an Authorized Dainese Dealer at a price of - you guessed it - $300. The good news is this can normally be done same-day and does include an overall inspection.

    The bottom line is if you are planning to ride on the street and maybe just start on the track at a moderate pace, this might be a nice option for you. Bison AirHide suits and jackets can properly accommodate for Smart Jacket inflation. If you are primarily a track rider and Intermediate or faster pace, we’d recommend exploring other options. 

    PROS:

    • Best airflow of any option.
    • Low profile, can be folded and stowed when needed.
    • Advanced technology for street riding.
    • Great value compared to the competition.

    CONS:

    • Software not optimized for track riding.
    • Slightly reduced coverage area compared to some competitors.
    • Requires a $300 recharge and inspection after one deployment.

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “It’s smart, but it’s not a jacket! It is, however, a very good vest.”

    Duhan Motorcycle Air-Bag Vest

  • Duhan Motorcycle Air-Bag Vest

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes 

    Vest Type: Mechanical

    Repacking method: Trackside, via replaceable CO2 cart

    Inflation speed: .03-0.9? (We have yet to find a reputable number on this metric but will be performing a test in-house. We’ll update this number upon completion of that test.)

    Coverage areas: Front ribs, back ribs, kidneys and clavicle

    Price: ~$250

    Overview:

    We’re going to switch it up completely on you here and move from two of the more well-respected names in the industry to a virtual nobody! Ladies and gentlemen, we introduce the Duhan air vest. “Who the hell is that?”, you might be asking. Well, Duhan is a Chinese company who makes some actually-not-completely-terrible-looking riding jackets and garments. They also make a few different models of airbag vests. The one we’re going to look at today is worn periodically by yours truly, and that is the Duhan… erm, “Motorcycle Air-Bag Vest”. Seriously. That’s what it’s listed as on their website and I don’t know what else to call it. 

    The thing with this vest is, it’s not a bad looking piece but more importantly it also works really well. Shape of the vest and installation into the suit are nearly identical to the Helite Turtle which leads me to believe this might just be a knockoff. In fact there are no real special features or attributes that set the Duhan apart from anything. Channeling my inner Jeff “the Dude” Lebowski: It’s just, like, a vest. And it (allegedly) inflates when you crash, man. 

    Okay so this inexpensive, nondescript hi-viz little guy has to have some redeeming qualities if I’m taking the time to dedicate an entire section to it right? But of course! Let’s go back to that “inexpensive” part: $250. $250! That’s right you can buy an air vest which works in a Bison suit for just $250. On top of that, the vest is lightweight, has a slim profile and installs between the liner and outer shell of our AirHide suit which means it’s very unobtrusive and comfortable. BUT WAIT, it gets better! Crash it? Buy a replacement CO2 cart for $30, screw that puppy in and get back out there!  

    “Rob, say no more! You’ve sold me on the Duhan!”

    Ehhh, hold up just a sec. Where do I begin? 

    First, the simple act of just buying the thing can prove to be difficult and frustrating because there don’t appear to be any real Duhan distributors stateside. The only options we can find for purchase are via eBay or AliExpress, and in almost every case the vest is coming from overseas (China). Shipping can be pricey, and the wait for delivery is sure to be a long one. But beyond the initial annoyance of just trying to get the thing in your hands, consider how aggravating it would be to have an issue with the vest and no one to help you with a repair or replacement. Customer service is a big deal, and we haven’t had much luck finding any Duhan assistance from anyone. 

    Next, let’s address the fit and function of the vest. As I mentioned earlier, the Duhan vest sits behind your AirHide liner. A port on the lower front torso of the suit allows the buckle for the CO2 tether to poke out and snap onto the leash, the other end of which loops around your bike’s subframe and up between the tank and front of your seat. Slots in the chest of the suit behind the torso zipper allow the three buckles to be threaded through and snapped securely prior to zipping your leathers. Unfortunately the CO2 cart and inflator assembly on the right chest can be a little annoying, and if you’re in a hurry to get suited up for 3rd call you’re probably going to hate your life as you try to weed the buckles through the chest slots.

    Again, I personally ordered this vest and waited a long time to receive it. I never crashed it, and I loaned it to MotoAmerica Twins Cup racer Kris Lillegard for the last half of the 2020 season. He’s not a crasher so (thankfully) he never had an opportunity to crash test it either. We both agreed the buckles were annoying to fumble with as we got prepped to go on track, and one time Kris forgot to buckle the leash which resulted in the chain and rear tire tearing up the cord. There’s definitely more analog stuff going on here than with the two aforementioned products, but that’s not just a Duhan thing - it’s an inconvenience inherent to all the mechanical vests.   

    Lastly, and most importantly: inflation rate and coverage. We have read times of anywhere between .03 and .09 for inflation times, but we’re going to see if we can pin down a time independently. As far as coverage goes, this unit has two large “tubes” which run up the front of the chest, over the shoulders and behind the neck. The kidneys and back also get moderate - indeed secondary - protection.

    At this point I’ve dedicated about 75% more text to this cheapo bag than I did the Dainese unit. On one hand, that seems ridiculous. On the other hand we have found that more people ask us for information on this air vest than any other brand. It certainly is an intriguing option given the price point and ease of use. Would we recommend it for track use and/or racing? We trusted it enough to give it a shot in the pro ranks if only for testing purposes, but it simply doesn’t have enough pedigree and real-world feedback to offset the fact that we haven’t tested it personally in an actual crash. You have to make the call on this one: is saving a few hundred dollars worth your well-being? We think we know the answer.

    PROS:

    • Stupid cheap.
    • Easy and inexpensive to recharge.
    • Lightweight.
    • Integrates behind the AirHide liner.

    CONS:

    • Can be difficult to procure stateside.
    • Lack of factory or distributor support.
    • Difficult to get fastened prior to riding.
    • CO2 cart and mechanism on the chest can be annoying.
    • Unproven performance and unverified stats.

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “It’s better than nothing, we guess.”

    Helite Turtle 2

  • Helite Turtle 2

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes 

    Vest Type: Mechanical

    Repacking method: Trackside, via replaceable CO2 cart

    Inflation speed: .094 second

    Coverage areas: Front ribs, back ribs, kidneys, clavicle, neck support and hips.

    Price: $659

    Overview:

    Founded in 2002, Helite was not the first company to step into the motorcycle air vest industry however they are still considered by many to be pioneers in the field. A lot of R&D and testing has been done to ensure their products meet and exceed industry standards and expectations, and Helite has a history of standing behind their products. We really like Helite as a company, and we find their vests to be well thought out and very protective. 

    Since I burned up our character count with that overly-wordy Duhan review above I’ll try and keep this one simple, and that should be easy to do since the Helite is so similar to the Duhan. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it does appear Duhan ripped the Turtle design from the vest to the inflator. That makes sense on Duhan’s part, since this system works great and does so using a simple mechanical device. Essentially all the functional pros and cons listed above translate here, but there are some important differences: Helite backs their products with CE certification, excellent customer service and a 4 year warranty. Additionally, the Turtle 2 foregoes a back protector for added air coverage over the spine. 

    At first glance the $659 price point of the Turtle may be hard to justify over the price of the Duhan, but take into consideration that you will actually have a warranty, certifications and real customer support. You also won’t have to order it from a questionable seller and hold your breath for two months while waiting to see whether or not it will actually arrive. Unless you are absolutely in a financial bind and can’t afford the extra couple hundred bucks, the Helite Turtle 2 is clearly a better choice than it’s Chinese counterpart. But wait, does Helite have something even better in the works for the trackday riders and racers? Read on my friend...

    PROS:

    • Affordable price point.
    • Air vest pedigree thanks to prior equine experience.
    • All the benefits of the Duhan vest but with added back protection.
    • Four year manufacturer warranty.

    CONS: 

    • Difficult to fasten prior to riding.
    • CO2 cart and mechanism on the chest can be annoying.
    • Not optimal for track and race use, although it can be done. 

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “It is indeed ‘turtley enough for the turtle club’ (I’m sorry it had to be said). Quite possibly the best all-arounder on the list although not optimal for a racetrack.”

    Hit-Air (MLV, VHR, ST and RS-1 series)

  • Hit-Air (MLV, VHR, ST and RS-1 series)

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: (Pending) 

    Vest Type: Mechanical

    Repacking method: Trackside, via replaceable CO2 cart

    Inflation speed: .18 second (ST/MLV/RS-1 only)

    Coverage areas: Front ribs, back ribs, kidneys, hips, neck, upper arms and clavicle

    Price: $420 (ST)-$530 (MLV)

    Overview:

    Hit-Air has been around since 1995, and in 1998 they were the first to develop a functional air vest for motorcyclists. But does the company with the most experience in the segment equate to having the best air vest? That depends on your needs. 

    Let’s begin right where you are likely to start: Shopping and comparing each of the Hit-Air models. This can be frustrating. A visit to the Hit-Air website will turn up several different models of vests with different monikers, yet with little in the way of stats or features to differentiate each. There is also no pricing listed on the site that we can find. Essentially you have the MLV and ST series, the faster-inflating VHR and their only vest marketed as being “race oriented”: the RS-1. On paper, each of these vests have promisingly-low weight and profiles, massive areas of coverage and easily-replaceable mechanical deployment systems. The price is right too! 

    There’s one big downside though; If you’re a racer or you’re looking for a vest that installs under your nice Bison leathers, Hit-Air vests may not be an option. Essentially Hit-Air products have always been designed with the purpose of wearing over your riding suit or jacket. The MLV, ST and VHR series vests have very large inflation channels which make in-suit inflation a challenge especially in the neck area. In addition, those large bladders mean more time is needed for full inflation. At .18 seconds (MLV/ST/RS-1), inflation time is double that of it’s next closest (recorded) competitor. The VHR does have a more race-proper inflation time of .09 however there is an interesting caveat on that model: We couldn’t seem to find it listed for sale anywhere at the time of this writing!

    So what about the RS-1? Well Hit-Air moved the tether to the back of the vest which seems smart. After all, as we noted in our review of the Helite and Duhan models, having the cartridge and inflator on the lower torso certainly proved to be a nuisance. This model has a much lower deployed profile than the other Hit-Air models, interestingly that doesn’t translate to a quicker inflation time than it’s MLV/ST cousins. It’s also unfortunate that Hit-Air designed the front of the RS-1 vest with a velcro fastening system which does not lend itself to installation within a Bison AirHide suit (or any other suit for that matter).

    Earlier in this section I mentioned that the Hit-Air vests “may not” be an option for use under race leathers. At this time we are working to confirm that the Hit-Air MLV/ST systems can in fact operate properly in our Bison AirHide suits. We do love the coverage area these systems provide, and we feel that the longer inflation time is a proper tradeoff for the added cushioning especially in the neck and hip areas. We have equipped our latest AirHide suits with additional expansion panels to accommodate these larger inflation channels and will report back once testing is complete. Regardless of compatibility, Hit-Air’s pedigree in the industry and positive reputation meant we felt it appropriate to include them in this guide. If you don’t mind wearing your vest on top of your leathers, any of the Hit-Air models are worth consideration. 

    PROS:

    • An industry pioneer.
    • Excellent coverage and protection.
    • Simple and easy cartridge recharge.
    • Competitive price point.

    CONS:

    • Most models not recommended for race use.
    • At time of writing, not for use in AirHide suits and jackets.
    • Must be worn on the outside of the suit.
    • Difficult to find information and vendors for some models.
    • Slower inflation speed than the competition, even on the RS-1 “race” model.

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “Hit-Air makes a quality product but it would appear they’re due for some product line realignment. Comparing stats between models and exploring purchase options is flat out confusing, even on their own website.”

    Ixon U03

  • Ixon U03

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes 

    Vest Type: Electronic

    Repacking method: Trackside, via proprietary refills

    Inflation speed: .055 second

    Coverage areas: Front ribs, back ribs and neck/clavicle

    Price: $399 vest, plus $399 or $12/year for In&Box (required for activation). Additional fees apply for “Track Option”

    Overview:

    A company perhaps best known as the “dark horse” gear supplier for MotoGP participants, Ixon is no stranger to the rigors of racing at the highest levels. When it came time to build an air vest however, this French company elected to partner with airbag experts In&Motion to create what they felt was the best universal motorcycle airbag. The result is a very nice unit. There’s no denying the versatility and protection offered by the resulting Ixon U03 vest, especially when you consider it’s one of only three air vests approved for use in MotoGP by FIM (the other two being Dainese D-Air and Alpinestars Tech-Air).

    Now, Ixon isn’t the only company partnering with In&Motion for their vest tech. In fact, I&M is producing vests for Held, Furygan, RST, Triumph, and Klim (among others). The reason we include the Ixon and Klim in our list of Bison-compatible vests and omit the others is simply because while each is different in it’s own unique way, the Ixon and Klim vests represent each end of the race/street/ADV spectrum respectively. They also happen to work in our Bison AirHide suits very nicely thanks to their fastening styles and fit.

    As you may have noticed in the U03’s stat lines above, there’s a little bit of weirdness that comes into play when you purchase the Ixon vest. At just $399, the vest itself seems a bit of a value… except now you need to make a second decision: how will you choose to purchase your In&Box electronic brain device? That’s right, Ixon sells the electronic brain separately from the vest itself. Would you prefer to pay $399 up front, $12/month, or $120/year (the latter two options representing a three-year lease)? The vest won’t work without the In&Box device, which makes sense I suppose, but it sure seems like a complicated proposition. After all you just read through all this stuff and decided on the U03 but now you have to figure out how to buy the In&Box? It’s a bit like going to buy a new vehicle with cash and being asked in the finance office whether you’d like to purchase or lease the engine that goes in the car. 

    Now there are some added benefits to the lease program which include VIP service, ‘unlimited’ warranty, the ability to terminate the lease and mail the In&Box back, and the option to upgrade to the new generation of In&Box when your three year lease is up. It’s not that confusing once you really get a grasp on it, yet we can’t help but wonder how many people simply get overwhelmed with the options and added fee of the electronic unit and go a different route. 

    Speaking of added fees, there’s one more we should probably tell you about: Do you plan on using your U03 vest on a racetrack? Do you expect your new $800 (or $399 + $12/month) vest to deploy properly and retain it’s factory warranty if deployed on said racetrack? If so, you’re going to have to pony up for what Ixon calls “Track Mode”. Again, there are multiple ways you can make your installments: $8/month (cancel anytime) or $25/year. This is starting to feel like my $2.29 Waffle House bacon sandwich that ends up being $8 after I add the stuff required to make it edible.

    Alas, there are a litany of good things to say about the Ixon U03. It’s a comfortable, protective unit which can be worn over or under a variety of garments on and off the track. At 3.3 lbs the U03 is significantly lighter than the Tech-Air systems, and as with all vests under the In&Motion umbrella, quality is top-notch and the tech works well. Refill cartridges are proprietary to the vest, but they can be replaced trackside by the user and retail for about $99 each. That’s a far cry from the $30 CO2 carts used in the mechanical vests, but it also beats the $300 factory recharge fees (and downtime) you’ll encounter after the competitor’s E-vest deployments. One last thing to keep in mind; In&Motion recommends shipping the vest back for inspection after three deployments.

    So the perceived nickel-and-dime purchase process can be daunting, but the important question is this: is the Ixon U03 a decent value compared with it’s Alpinestars Tech-Air Race rival? Let’s do the math: $399 + $120/year In&Box lease + $25/year Track Mode = $544 in year one, with a total spent after three years equaling $834. Don’t forget you’re going to want two or three of those recharge carts on hand at $100/each. My self-built $8.34 Waffle House sandwich is delicious but is it better than a $11.50 gourmet burger (Tech-Air Race)? Well, to summon one more analogy: The Ixon simply doesn’t have as much “meat” to it. Inflation channels of the U03 are similar to the Duhan and Helite in terms of placement and volume, meaning you don’t get the benefit of wraparound ribcage or upper arm protection as you would with Alpinestars’ offerings. In the end your personal needs will dictate which vest works best for you, but we feel the U03 is a worthy alternative to the Tech-Air Race vest. 

    PROS:

    • High quality unit.
    • Simple but effective deployment and coverages.
    • One of the few E-vests that can be repacked trackside.
    • Can be worn over or under garments on and off track.
    • Lighter than most of the E-vest competition.

    CONS:

    • Purchase process is a bit clumsy.
    • I gotta pay extra for Track Mode??
    • Refill cartridges are proprietary, pricey.
    • Doesn’t attach directly to race leathers, won’t install behind the mesh liner.
    • Less coverage than the Alpinestars vests. 

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “A tasty choice, just be sure to add up the cost of all the condiments.”

    Alpinestars Tech-Air5

  • Alpinestars Tech-Air5

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Only with street jacket

    Vest Type: Electronic

    Repacking method: Must ship back to Alpinestars after deployment

    Inflation speed: .02-.04 second depending on size

    Coverage areas: Upper arms, shoulders, clavicle, front/rear/side torso

    Price: $699.95

    Overview:

    We’re going to wrap this buyer’s guide up where we started, with an Alpinestars vest! Another electronic vest, but we think you’ll find this one to be a lot simpler than the others. Simple to buy, and simple to install, with no wiring harnesses or electronic brain to worry about. The TA5 is a fully integrated and self-contained unit meant for use under an appropriately-sized (4cm larger) jacket. It doesn’t even need to be Tech-Air compatible! So why isn’t this one on the list of Bison AirHide compatible vests? 

    For better and for worse, this vest is almost identical to its sister Tech-Air Race model. But whereas the Race vest installs into a Bison AirHide suit via chest zippers and several velcro panels, the TA5 vest simply sits on the wearer prior to putting a jacket on. Additionally, this all-in-one unit has a large hump on the upper part of the back protector which houses the inflator device in a different way than the Race unit does. These two differences create a couple headaches when the rider attempts to use the vest with a race suit: First, because a one-piece suit must be pulled upward and over the shoulders as the arms are slipped in, the back protector hump catches on the collar and speed hump of the race suit. Second, once the arms are mostly slipped in, the loose upper arms of the TA5 vest bunch up and ride up to the top of the wearer’s shoulders. All this stuff culminates in a mass of baggy material at the neck which cannot be manipulated to be made comfortable.

    Last year we designed a Thor.2 AirHide suit specifically for a Tech-Air5 vest. Measurements were taken with the vest on, and accommodations were made for potential challenges we identified. Once we received that suit and it was clear the vest would not fit, we remeasured, added additional space in the arm hole openings and upper shoulders, and even added accordion panels at the top of the shoulders and back of neck to allow for more flexibility as we pulled the suit over the TA5 back hump. The second suit arrived, and we still could not get the TA5 under the leathers without a whole lot of help from two people. Once on, the vest just felt uncomfortable and bulky. We then installed a Tech-Air Race vest and it fit perfectly and comfortably. Conversely, I wore the same TA5 vest under a street jacket and it was fine. Our consensus was that this vest simply isn’t made to work with a one-piece race suit.

    And I suppose that’s not a big deal considering there is currently no Race software available for the Tech-Air 5. It is strictly recommended for street use only. That being said, there is rumor of a race-oriented unit coming in 2021. When all is said and done, if you are looking for a simple unit that doesn’t need fancy subscriptions or even GPS to keep you safe on the street, there really is no need to look further. TechAir 5 represents a ton of technology and protection at a terrific value.

    PROS:

    • Beautifully made.
    • Simplest electronic vest available.
    • Doesn’t require GPS, wires, or subscriptions.
    • Can be worn under almost any appropriately-sized jacket.

    CONS:

    • Street use only.
    • Can’t be worn comfortably under a suit, only jackets.
    • Heavy.

     

    BOTTOMLINE: “Just a race algorithm and slimmer profile away from being a no-brainer.”

    Helite “New Integrated Race Vest”

  • BONUS: Helite “New Integrated Race Vest”

  • Bison AirHide Compatible: Yes, with AirHide manufactured Jan. 2021 and beyond.

    Vest Type: Both electronic/mechanical styles to be offered

    Repacking method: Trackside via cartridge replacement

    Inflation speed: TBD

    Coverage areas: Front ribs, back ribs, kidneys, clavicle, neck support and hips.

    Price: TBD, estimated $800-1,000 for electronic system

    Overview:

    If you’re looking to integrate an airbag vest into your race suit, here’s a bonus option for your consideration - although you will have to wait a little longer for it. 

    At the time of this writing this vest does not yet have a price or even an official name in the US market, although Helite did make it available in Europe this past year with extremely promising results. We’ve been keeping an eye on this one, and I recently spoke to Knut Wagner of Helite USA to find out what we can expect in regards to seeing this exciting new product in the states. Mr. Wagner says certifications are ongoing and dragging a bit thanks to COVID slowdows, however he is quite confident that the vest will be available to the American public in Q1 2021. 

    Wagner also says Helite has taken great care to optimize things like deployment speed and core pressures while retaining Helite’s already-great neck and hip protection. “I will tell you our system has quite a bit more inflation area, especially in the neck.” says Wagner. “Watching some of these racers crash, you sometimes can’t even tell their suits have deployed. Our system is quite different and the suits require several modifications to allow for the necessary expansion. It’s very protective.” 

    At this time there isn’t much information about the vest and Helite USA is (understandably) hesitant to divulge much insight as they make final tweaks and earn certifications. What we can tell you is that this vest will secure into the suit with a low-profile deployment pack that installs inside the suit’s speed hump. Trigger and deployment occurs via GPS/accelerometer, however Helite tells us there is likely to be a less expensive mechanical tether-style version of the vest available in the future. We assume this tether will be mounted on the back as well, although this is mere speculation at this point. Repacking on either model can be done trackside by the customer. “It was important to us that the rider has the ability to recharge the vest trackside simply by replacing the cartridge and firing pin, and resetting the system. We wanted it to be very user-friendly”, said Wagner.

    At this time we have the guidelines from Helite to make the proper adjustments necessary to accept this new vest into our future AirHide suits. Beginning January 2021 we will be installing the necessary hardware and expansion panels on our AirHide suits to allow yet another great option for use in our leathers. In addition, we are working with Helite to procure an early version of the vest for testing. Stay tuned for updates very soon!  

     

    Go Fast, Be Safer!

    So there you have it, seven of the most popular (or at least, intriguing) airbag vests on the market today (plus one coming soon)! Hopefully we helped guide you to your next safety-related purchase. Keep in mind this is obviously not all the vests available out there, and there is even more information to be had on each model. We recommend doing more research before making your choice, but we have included a quick reference chart below for those of you looking for the Cliff’s Notes. As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions about any of these vests or how they work in specific applications. Happy riding, and as always - Go Fast, Be Safe!

     

    2021 Bison Air Vest Buyer’s Guide
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