CONVINCING CUSTOMERS to spend money on safety technology is tough.
Case in point: airbags for automobiles. John Hetrick, a U.S. Navy engineer, designed one of the first airbag systems based on his experience using compressed air for launching torpedoes from submarines. His 1951 patent is a good example of an invention with a great deal of“safety value but no economic value, as the patent expired before his idea was adopted by the automotive industry. Use of airbags wouldn’t become widespread in automobiles until the early 1990s.
Airbags for motorcycles are problematic in that there is no contained space to keep the occupant/rider and airbag in contact during an accident.
Consider Honda’s motorcycle-mounted airbag (image, left) introduced in 2006: To solve the problem of airbag support, tether straps anchor the airbag to the frame and support the rider’s forward motion during deployment. To date, the Honda Gold Wing Airbag (GL18BM) is the only motorcycle equipped with an airbag. Priced at $29,550, the GL18BM is not an entry-level machine, nor is the airbag technology protection that it provides.
There are other ways to offer customers airbag protection for a fraction of the price… in the form of a riding jacket or vest. Here we’ll review some of the selections available, and then discuss how you can sell them to customers.
Airbag racing suits were developed for use in Grand Prix competition, and airbag-equipped vests and jackets have been available in limited forms and designs since 1976. Today they are becoming more widely available as improvements emerge in airbag technology and the appearance of the riding gear that utilizes the technology.
The most basic type of riding gear airbag protection is a vest that can be worn over a riding jacket. Airbag vests can use one or more CO2 cartridges for inflation, triggered by a lanyard connected between the vest and motorcycle or by electronics that use crash sensors. When the rider “exits” the motorcycle during a crash, the lanyard system releases a pin that punctures the cap of the CO2 cartridge. The rapidly expanding gas inflates a tube-like structure that cushions the neck, back, base of spine and chest, providing more protection than a solid back protector or traditional armor.
Airbag vests are portable, not only between bikes but also between riders by a swapping the vest. The Hit-Air YS vest is one of the latest examples of a modern vest. It retails for $489 and is available in adjustable medium and large sizes. Some motorcyclists joke that if the lanyard is pulled accidently (or on purpose by someone having a bit of fun) the vest or jacket will inflate. This is not true, according to the company. The Hit-Air jackets and vests, for example, use a coiled, stretchable cord attached to the motorcycle. A quick-disconnect clip attaches the cord to the vest. The cord’s length is adjusted so the rider can stand on the pegs and stretch it to its full length. If the rider is thrown from the bike, it takes a little over 65 lbs. of force to set off the airbag.
IMAGE, RIGHT: The Hit-Air YS vest can be worn over any type of riding jacket. The CO2 cartridge and trigger mechanism is located in the front pocket. A lanyard is connected between the vest and motorcycle and triggers airbag deployment if the rider is thrown from the motorcycle. The trigger, or Key Ball, has a unique design and false deployment is reportedly rare, according to the company. When the vest is inflated (on right), the rider’s neck, back and tail bone are protected.
Because it fits over a traditional riding jacket, the YS is available in 3XL to 4XL sizes. Its large reflective strips and fluorescent yellow color make it stand out for nighttime riding. The vest sells for $489.
In this cutaway of the Hit-Air vest (left), the air tube configuration can been seen. When high-pressure gas from the CO2 cartridge is released, it fills a continuous urethane tube that provides cushion to neck, chest, back, hip and sides of the rider’s body in the event of a crash.
The CO2 cartridge can be replaced in a few minutes by the owner for about $20. Cartridges are sized according to the type of vest/jacket.
The Hit-Air Key Ball and CO2 cartridge are stored in a front pocket on the YS vest (image, right) and other Hit-Air jackets. The key ball holds a holds a compression spring and interlocking needle with the key box. When the lanyard is pulled with enough force, the key ball comes out of the key box and a needle is released that punctures the gas cartridge. The vest inflates within a quarter of a second. The CO2 cartridge can be easily replaced by the owner with no special tools.
Airbag riding jackets, see next page
Riding with any type of motorcycle vest proclaims “This is safety gear!” and may be a turnoff for some of your customers. A better alternative for most riders, and an easier sell for a dealership, is a riding jacket with the airbag system built in.
Following are three riding jackets with airbag protection. Different activation technology—lanyard, wireless and jacket sensor —is used to trigger the airbag system on each jacket . Styling, liners, abrasion resistant materials, reflective materials and pockets are similar to non-airbag jackets. Prices tend to the high end of expensive riding non-airbag riding jackets.
The Hit-Air HS-3 riding jacket (left) features a sporty design and mesh lining for hot weather riding. The jacket has reflective stripes and abrasion-resistant material plus an optional water-resistant and breathable liner. It comes in red, red/black, black and light gray and in sizes from S to 2XL.
The HS-3 is clipped to the motorcycle via a lanyard. In the event of an accident the lanyard pulls a key ball triggering system and a series of interconnected tubes inflate from an on board CO2 cartridge. The inflated tubes form a cushion for neck, chest, back, side and hip protection for the rider.
Once the jacket is deployed, the cartridge can be replaced by the owner in a few minutes, making it post-crash reusable, assuming that the jacket is not damaged from abrasion. Optional back and chest padding is available, the jacket has removable sleeves and retails for $549.
Hit-Air makes 14 styles of jackets and 14 vests—even some for use when riding horses.
Motorcycle apparel company Dainese has been developing racing suits with airbag technology since 2008 and the results of these systems are now available for street use in the Dainese D-Air jacket (right).
The D-Air airbag system works differently than lanyard triggered jackets in that is uses a motorcycle-mounted control box that communicates with the onboard electronics in the jacket to trigger the airbag. Sensors that detect a crash are located on the motorcycle.
Ducati has partnered with Dainese to produce the first production motorcycle that incorporates jacket/airbag technology—the Multistrada 1200 S Touring D|air. This system constantly monitors the riding environment using a sophisticated activation algorithm and can determine if the bike is sliding, rider(s) falling or an impact is about to take place. The bike-mounted control system wirelessly signals the airbag module built into the jacket and triggers inflation (see image, below) for both the rider and passenger.
The D|air Street system (left) constantly monitors what is happening during a ride and, using a sophisticated activation algorithm, is able to distinguish between a non-dangerous situation and impending doom. If a crash is imminent, the system wirelessly inflates the airbag fitted in the Ducati D|air Street Jacket.
The Dainese jacket will protect body parts that are most exposed impact, including collarbones, thorax and chest area. In addition, the D|air Street limits extreme neck movement by reducing helmet oscillations while rolling.
The D|air Street jacket must be purchased separately from the bike. The D-Air controller and jacket are available as standalone products as well. They are not inexpensive, with the controller costing around $590 and the jacket at just over $900.
Available in Europe for Spring 2015, Alpinestars’ Tech-Air’s airbag deployment system is completely self-contained. There is no lanyard connection, no electronics installed on the motorcycle, and no wireless connection used to trigger the airbag system.
The Tech-Air software algorithm is designed to predict an impact and ensures that the airbag will be deployed before the rider hits an obstacle, Alpinestars says. The sensors that work with the software are built into the jacket and the system works in both on and off-road environments.
The Tech-Air street airbag and electrical components are integrated into a removable and interchangeable breathable mesh vest worn under a compatible outer jacket. A rechargeable battery pack allows 25 hours of continuous use or riding time. The system is turned on by zipping up the jacket, and a left sleeve-mounted LED confirms that the system is operational. When deployed, the system offers protection for the full back, shoulders, kidney areas and chest.
Alpinestars has two Tech-Air compatible jackets (see image, above right), the Valparaiso and Viper. Both incorporate CE certified shoulder and elbow protection and can be used as a standalone jacket without the Tech-Air system. The airbag vest sells for around $1,500 with the all-weather Valparaiso jacket retails at $800 and the Viper jacket $450.
How to sell airbag gear, next page
HOW DO YOU SELL AIRBAG GEAR?
When selling riding gear as a function of safety a more gentle and educational approach can be more effective.
Motorcycles and motorcycle riding gear have hidden safety technology built into the product. Motorcycle tires are but one example: Most riders are unaware that exclusive rubber compounds and tire designs used in road racing tires in the 1980s are commonplace in the street tires of today.
ABS braking systems are a more obvious example of built-in safety. If a specific motorcycle comes with ABS as an option, with a little sales education it’s not too difficult to convince a potential customer that having ABS could be a real benefit. Because it’s not readily visible on the motorcycle, the “safety” aspect does not affect the look of the bike and takes the emotion out selling it as a safety feature.
If several jackets have a similar look and comparable features, and the one with the airbag is only more expensive, some customers can be convinced of the additional safety benefits.
Selling a riding jacket with airbag technology is similar: The airbag is not visible and, therefore, not necessarily an emotional part of the jacket-buying experience. If several jackets have a similar look and comparable features, and the one with the airbag is only more expensive, some customers can be convinced that having an airbag system can offer safety benefits.
When airbag jackets were first introduced, many dealers considered them to be a novelty item. They lacked styling, weather resistant fabrics, pockets and were just plain ugly. Those shortcomings are less of an issue, as all three of the manufacturers featured in this article understand that styling and riding comfort related features are what sells—not safety alone.
Hit-Air, Dainese and Alpinestars have all done extensive testing in laboratory, racing and street environments for their airbag technology, and claim that a rider involved in a crash where their body could be impacted by pavement or other obstacles is better off wearing airbag jacket/vest technology than not. Airbag-equipped jackets simply offer a greater level of hidden protection than a traditional jacket.
We expect that as more companies offer these jackets, the costs will come down and they’ll be more competitive with standard riding jackets. Now, however, because airbag jacket/vest technology is still new, your dealership will have to be proactive in introducing them to customers. Some ideas to accomplish this include displaying them at events, providing demonstrations so customers can see one inflate (Hit-Air jackets are ideal in this situation because they can be triggered with a lanyard) or offering one up as a raffle prize.
Going forward, as airbag jackets continue to look more like traditional riding jackets, and offer the same outer materials and convenience features, their hidden safety technology will just be another selling point—and not the only point.