Insight in to the next generation of crash protection, the airbag system
There is a large room, tucked away in the depths of Dainese's R&D facility in Molvena, northern Italy, that receives few visitors from the outside. In silent testament to nearly 30 years of crashing, over 400 spent leather suits hang, in row upon row. They've served their purpose and each bears the scars of its particular engagement with the enemy - tarmac - proudly on sleeves, legs, shoulders, knees...
The roll call of names is impressive - Spencer, Merkel, Lawson, Schwantz, Fogarty, Bayliss, Biaggi, Rossi. That's two decades' worth of MotoGP and World Superbike heroes - and crashers. Dainese use this collection of leathers as reference material as on the racetrack - which is, after all, a form of controlled environment - the effects of leaping off a fast-moving motorcycle can be studied, measured and learnt from.
The road however, where us mortals spend most of our time, is far from controlled. On the racetrack you don't get cars pulling out, lamp-posts, buses and other hard, unfriendly objects. On the street, you do and each is potentially very lethal to the average motorcyclist. In recent years Dainese - and a whole host of other manufacturers - have raised the game as far as race protection is concerned. Leather suits are now sophisticated technical items and armoured to buggery yet still very wearable. Gloves and boots feature protection that even 10 years ago would have been unheard of. And all this is thanks to what happens when the like of Fogarty, Biaggi and Rossi get it wrong.
But what's the next step in protective wear for the street rider? Airbags, that's what and don't scoff or roll your eyes at the thought of some horrendous safety-nanny type device. There's some very rational thinking and a whole lot of money been spent by the likes of Dainese to bring airbag technology to the motorcycling masses. We asked Marco Rubini, a technician who's spent two years working on the D-AIR project (see below for a sequence of the D-AIR system), to explain just what it's all about: "Primarily the D-AIR offers impact protection for the chest, back and abdomen but also inhibits major movement of the head. The waistcoat contains three compressed air canisters, which inflate three 30 litre bags for at least 20 seconds. The canisters are triggered by coded radio signal - the transmitter of which is located on the bike and powered by its battery - when a certain (very sudden) deceleration level is reached. A unique credit card controls the device, and information up to two seconds before an impact is stored.
"The D-AIR has three modes of operation - Off, where both jacket and transmitter are just that, Standby, which means the jacket is live but the bike ignition is off, and Activity, were the transmitter is live, too. Leave the jacket in Standby mode and when you turn the bike on the jacket will automatically flip to Activity mode. Any malfunction - or low battery level in the jacket - and the rider is notified by a vibration, like a mobile phone. The transmitter locks after it's been triggered and presuming the outer material is not damaged new bags and canisters can be fitted. The system must be fitted by a specialist Dainese Dealer, though and will be available mid-2002.
"Next, we're working on a D-AIR application for race use - but this is a very different situation to the road, as there is usually no significant initial impact to trigger the airbag. Also the type of crash is very different - much faster obviously, but with a highside there is obvious need for impact protection - but we need to make the system smaller, lighter and able to work in conjunction with a leather suit. I hope that in the next two years we'll have a prototype ready to test."
Hmm. You and I won't be testing it, we can leave that to the gods. I tried the D-AIR jacket on - it was a little heavy, but once on, still comfortable. Build this tech into your typically armoured heavyweight winter jacket and you'd hardly notice it. What I couldn't try, of course, is crashing in the D-AIR. And that's the point - nobody wants to crash, and the best way to avoid hurting yourself on a motorcycle is to not fall off it. But we do and will, always. It's very easy to be sceptical about programmes like Dainese's D-AIR and Spidi's DPS gear and if you had it, wore it and never crashed it could be the worst £450 you'd ever spend. On the other hand, if you had it, wore it, then hit something very awkward it may be the best cash spent in your life.
Perhaps, in another 10 years airbag technology in motorcycle clothing will be as common as body armour is now. And that won't be a bad thing.
Spidi have also been working with airbag technology and recently launched the DPS range of safety jackets. Unlike Dainese, Spidi have incorporated a protection system within a regular Cordura jacket. The rider is connected to the bike via a rip cord, automatically pulled if the rider unexpectedly ejects. Within 0.8 seconds air chambers within the jacket inflate to protect the riders neck, back, shoulders and chest from impact. A valve opens some five seconds after the airbag deploys to release the air very gently, and assuming there are no tears in the chamber, a new canister can be fitted in readiness for the next time...
Although a far simpler system than the Dainese D-Air the DPS looks like it offers very similar protection, if not more, particularly around the lower back area. The advantage over the Dainese vest is that the DPS is worn as a normal jacket rather than an additional garment. One downside though is that if your mates down the pub find out what the yellow toggle on your jacket does, the temptation to give it a tug would be far too much as you nonchalantly stand at the bar sipping your pint.
Become a fan of Visordown
Follow us on twitter
Other Immediate Media Sites
Our eCommerce Platform
© Immediate Media Company Ltd 2012. This website is owned and published by Immediate Media Company Limited. www.immediatemedia.co.uk