BMW and Alpinestars’ motorcycle airbag jacket is the first to use smart technology in a fully self-contained system that can be used on ANY bike. Check out this revolutionary new technology derived from the highest levels of MotoGP racing, and how it’s making it safer than ever to be a motorcycle rider.
If you’re on this site, it’s probably safe to say that you love the thrill of riding a motorcycle. Whether you ride dirt or street, on- or off-road, you are probably fully aware of the risks associated with riding, and do it anyway because it’s so thrilling, you deem it worth the risk.
But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a huge amount of risk involved. Motorcycling is one of the few activities that can easily result in catastrophic injury or death when things go wrong, and many give up riding after a close call, or when a spouse or kids become a part of their lives. I love riding, as you probably do, but there’s no denying it – it’s an incredibly dangerous sport.
Luckily, in just the last few years, there’s been a dramatic leap forward in safety equipment for riders that is completely changing the odds for us, and the push has been entirely driven by smart technology. In recent years, there have been leaps forward in the technology integrated into motorcycles themselves to make them “smart,” with systems like ABS and traction control that help us stay safer out on the road. But now, that smart technology is making its way over to actual motorcycle gear too. And what you see here might be the biggest advancement in smart safety gear ever – the wireless airbag system developed by BMW and Alpinestars called Street Air.
Here’s how it works. The system is built around an inner vest that houses both the airbag and an integrated back protector that visually resembles back protectors used in road racing. However, inside the back protector resides an integrated control module and two compressed air capsules that, when deployed, blast the airbag itself – a vest-like air bladder that covers the shoulders, chest, back, and kidneys – full of air in a fraction of a second. The vest pairs with a jacket which activates the system as soon as it is zipped closed, and contains an LED display on the sleeve to indicate system activation and state of charge.
Now, this isn’t the first airbag system designed for riders. In fact, airbag systems have been available in some form since the early 2000s, and they weren’t even first developed for motorcycle riders, but rather, for riders in equestrian sports. The difference with this system – and it is a critical one – is that it’s the first one in history to operate completely independently of any kind of external triggering device. The entire system, along with its control module, is housed within the vest, and it uses a series of three sensors – one in each shoulder, and one in the control module itself – along with a microprocessor that uses a sophisticated algorithm to detect a crash. This system was developed in MotoGP racing, and is used by the likes of Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, and Dani Pedrosa.
The system takes between 30-60 milliseconds to detect the crash, depending on the nature of the event, and another 25 milliseconds to inflate the airbag itself. For reference, a human eye blinks at between 100-400 milliseconds, so the BMW/Alpinestars can take you from crashing to fully protected faster than the fastest blink of an eye. In fact, the system is so advanced, it can in many cases detect that a crash is about to happen before it actually does – in a loss of control, for example – so you can be protected by an envelope of air before you even actually crash. Now that’s fast!
That the Alpinestars system uses self-contained “smart” technology is a huge key in bringing the idea of motorcycle airbag systems to the mainstream, because it overcomes the main objections that exist with other systems. Because it uses sensors to gather data and interpret a crash, rather than a low-tech physical tether, it is not necessary for a rider to attach and detach a tether, reducing the chances of an accidental deployment (and yes, that happens!)
And because it does not require Bluetooth pairing to a specific motorcycle (the way Ducati/Dainese’s system works), it can be used with any rider, on any bike, without any additional equipment. Though the system is branded by BMW and Alpinestars (who developed the system in conjunction with each other over the span of several years), you can take your BMW Street Air jacket and hop on a carbureted 1970s Honda CB, and still be protected by the airbag.
The downside of this advanced, revolutionary technology? It’s not available in the States! This system is currently only available in Europe, though it is expected to be launched in North America in the next year. In addition, because the system is wireless, it must be charged in order to work – the system uses a lithium-ion battery charged via USB, and takes 6 hours to get a full charge, which will deliver 25 hours of activated riding time.
Despite the minor drawbacks, this seems to be a revolutionary system with a wide range of applications, from street riding to off-road riding and racing, and even applications in other sports in the future. So while motorcycle riding might never be considered “safe,” with the incredible safety technology and equipment that exists today, both in our gear and in our bikes themselves, there truly never has been a better time to be a rider as far as safety is concerned (as long as you are wearing your gear, of course!)