airbags: not just for cars anymore

Alpinestars Tech-Air vs. Dainese D-Air: Motorcycle Airbag Systems, Compared


September 24, 2019 Cars : Motorcycles By Photo by Carolyn Merey

Airbag technology for motorcycle riders is quickly entering the mainstream — and two Italian brands, Alpinestars and Dainese, are at the forefront of the trend. Both of their respective systems, known respectively as Tech-Air and D-air, are completely autonomous; there are no tethers between rider and bike. In the event of a crash, both can fully cocoon a rider’s upper body in less than half the time it takes our brains to react to the same stimulus.

The Dainese D-air system made it to market first, with public protection available for track use in 2011 and a street system making its debut in 2012. Alpinestars Tech-Air line, on the other hand, didn’t hit store shelves until 2014, but was able to pull data from a much larger pool of professional MotoGP riders to hone and refine their technology, enabling it to boast being the first rider airbag system to not rely on a physical tether the way early D-air systems did.

Both systems are good. In fact, I’d argue that every rider on today’s streets should be wearing one or the other. But is one better? Since the beginning of the season, I’ve been riding exclusively with either the Alpinestars Tech-Air Touring vest (installed into its Andes Pro jacket) or the Dainese D-air street system (integrated into the Carve Master II jacket) to figure that out. Here are their pluses and minuses.

Technology

Now in its third generation, Dainese’s D-air system incorporates sensors in the form of a gyroscope, accelerometer and a GPS unit that monitor conditions and converse with one another more than 1,000 times per second as part of the network called the Intelligent Protection System (I.P.S.). The data collected and analysed during a ride is filtered through an algorithm designed to detect events ranging from collisions and high-sides to mild low-sides that don’t result in the rider separating from their bike.

If an “event “ is recognized by the I.P.S., and you’re moving faster than 30 mph, a gas canister will fire, causing the wearer’s neck, chest and back to be enveloped in four liters of inflated protection within 45 milliseconds. The internals of the airbag itself are constructed using Dainese’s patented Microfiliament technology: both sides of the inner lining of the airbag are connected to each other by millions of fibers, all to ensure the bladder opens evenly across its entire coverage zone, providing equal protection density throughout. The D-air airbag transmits a mere 450 pounds (2 kilonewtons) of external forces to the rider.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Street system works in a similar manner, in that sensors are employed to monitor conditions. There are three accelerometers in play; however, only one gyroscope is included in the information loop, and there is no GPS as Tech-Air isn’t held to the same speed restrictions to activate. Regardless, the inertial algorithm employed by the Tech-Air Airbag Control Unit (A.C.U.) is able to detect and respond to an incident within 30-60 milliseconds, depending on its speed or force. And, unlike D-air, the A.C.U in the “street” version of Tech-Air remains active even when stopped, to protect against hits from behind when stopped at the lights.

The A.C.U. itself is housed in a CE-Level II rated back protector that is incorporated into the Tech-Air vest, along with twin argon gas canisters. Once initiated, inflation takes approximately 25 milliseconds, cocooning an even larger area of the rider than D-air covers (back, shoulders, kidneys, chest and upper abdomen) for a full five seconds before deflating.

Both systems have the ability to receive firmware updates, which is a simple and easy affair once plugged into a computer. (Only the D-air system is Mac compatible, at least for now.

Advantage: Alpinestars Tech-Air

Functionality

Thankfully, I haven’t had to rely on either the Tech-Air or D-air systems to save my bacon, so I can’t speak firsthand as to how well either does in the ultimate test. But in terms of everyday usability, there are some important differences between the two.

First and foremost, Alpinestars’ decision to run with a modular airbag system should be applauded. For many of us, the type of bike or riding style we engage in will change from year to year — or, for some with multiple steeds in the garage, even day to day. And with those swaps, the style of jacket chosen will often change too. Provided you buy into their Tech-Air Compatible line of offerings, Alpinestars can afford you the same levels of protection sheathed in textile or leather, with designs that stretch from a vintage look to something more futuristic — or even an abrasion-resistant hoodie.

Dainese, on the other hand, fully integrates their D-air system into the jacket you’ve chosen. Aside from the obvious potential issue of not being able to approach protection with chameleonic adaptability, it also means that should you have an airbag-deploying event, your entire jacket needs to be sent in for repair and recharging — an issue the Tech-Air customer will not suffer.

All being said, the Dainese D-air system is noticeably lighter, both when in hand and when riding around. And the Carve Master II I’ve been testing it in wears like a well-tailored jacket. The Tech-Air Andes Pro feels clunky and quite heavy in comparison, and needed more adjustment via the jacket itself to properly fit. Even when cinched to match your body’s profile, it remains clear that this is a two-piece system.

Advantage: Alpinestars Tech-Air

Jacket

Both the Dainese Carve Master II D-air and Alpinestars Andes Pro Tech-Air compatible jackets I’ve been wearing are classified as adventure/touring jackets. In other words, both are textile jackets with a longer, three-quarter length cut, a bevy of pockets and some form of all-weather treatment. And while both tick all of these boxes well, it wasn’t exactly a fair fight. The Carve Master II is a premium, top-of-the-line model jacket, while the Andes Pro is Alpinestars’s entry-level Tech-Air adventure/touring jacket. There are higher-end jackets in the Tech-Air compatible lineup, but they come at a premium that prices them well beyond the D-air Carve Master when they’re equipped with a Tech-Air Street vest.

The Tech-Air Compatible Andes Pro comes equipped with CE-Level I protection at the elbows and shoulders, while the Carve Master offers up CE-level II composite cups at these locations. The fabric used on the D-air Carve Master II, which Dainese calls Mugello, has a much more premium feel to it. Comprised of an abrasion-resistant blend of micro nylon and elastomers, it has enough stretch to allow easy movement in the saddle (and airbag deployment) while remaining well-fitted. The Carve Master II also comes equipped with a zip-in/zip-out liner and a removable thermal collar, making it better for cooler days.

The Andes Pro utilizes Alpinestars’s proprietary weatherproofing system dubbed Drystar, which does a great job of keeping the rain out while keeping the jacjet breathable. Add to this the ability to open two huge vents running from collarbone to navel, and you have a jacket that works quite well in the summer months. On a recent trip from Toronto to North Carolina, I saw temperatures range from the low 40s through the 90s, rode right through a deluge at the northern tip of Ohio — and the Andes Pro served me perfectly fine.

Dainese, on the other hand, tapped industry leader GoreTex for their integrated waterproofing membrane while also dosing the exterior fabrics with a secondary treatment of weather resistance. Combined with the storm flap covering the entirety of the main zipper, little to no rain is getting in. And despite the lack of massive vent flaps, there is enough air movement to stay cool on warm days.

Both jackets also feature waterproof pockets large enough to stash phones in when the heavens open up, and can be attached via zipper to a set of like-branded pants. But the premium fit and finish of Dainese’s jacket score it the win here.

Advantage: Dainese Carve Master II D-air

Annoyances

There’s ultimately little to complain about with either of these jackets — and less still that stems from their airbag system. That being said, the D-air unit does give off more of a hunchback vibe, as its I.P.S. has a bulge that sits right between the shoulder blades. Thanks to its tailored fit, the bulge is fairly pronounced.

Another issue with the Carve Master II concerns its main zipper. To avoid the need for a two-way zipper, Dainese stitched the base of their zip higher on the body of the jacket, which makes getting the zipper started a frustrating experience. Things usually refuse to line up properly; you need to contort the jacket to have both ends meet properly.

The Andes Pro, on the other hand, suffered some fraying at the ends of both cuffs after barely 1,200 miles of riding. None of the stitching let loose, but this shouldn’t be happening so soon in any jacket’s lifespan, entry-level or not.

Advantage: Dainese Carve Master II D-air

Value

The Dainese Carve Master II D-air jacket currently sells for $1,550. For that money you get a truly premium adventure/touring jacket equipped with bleeding-edge safety technology. That isn’t an insignificant amount of money for a jacket, but when you consider the levels of performance motorcycles offer at a fraction of the cost of their four-wheeled equivalents, splurging on your health and safety isn’t a bad idea.

The Alpinestars Andes Pro Tech-Air Compatible jacket retails for a reasonable $550, but without the Tech-Air Street vest, it’s just another jacket. That vest will set you back an additional $1,150, which means the total package rings in at $1,700. However, thanks to its modularity, that additional $150 buys you the ability to spend even more to have more than one Tech-Air equipped piece of kit.

Advantage: Alpinestars Tech-Air

Verdict

Choosing between the Dainese D-air and Alpinestars Tech-Air systems is a Coke vs. Pepsi affair. For many of us, it will come down to personal preferences and brand loyalty, as the safety tech offered by both is both similar and effective.

But looking at these two products through an objective lens, the extra $150 for the Alpinestars kit seems like a worthwhile investment. I personally like the idea that I can swap the Tech-Air system in and out of a multitude of jackets to match a look, bike or mood. I also appreciate that, should I have an off that cause the system to deploy I’m not left without my entire jacket while it’s serviced. Additionally, the fact that the Tech-Air system remains active even when stopped is a huge bonus. Especially if you ride in an area where lane-splitting and traffic filtration is still frowned upon.

Note: Dainese has now released its D-air Smart Jacket, which is a modular system that can be used under or on top of any riding jacket, regardless of brand.

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Dainese and Alpinestars provided these products for this review.

 

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