Alpinestars has been working on its airbag technology, dubbed Tech Air, for more than a decade. The system was announced in 2010 and made famous after a successful deployment during Jorge Lorenzo’s fantastic highside at Laguna Seca in 2011. Now the same technology that protects MotoGP racers is available to the public, and Alpinestars was generous enough to offer us an airbag-equipped Race Replica suit so we could see what living with the new Tech Air technology is like.
The suit we received isn’t the eponymous Tech Air suit, which is available now, but a Race Replica suit that was outfitted with the Tech Air airbag system. The Tech Air and Race Replica suits are identical save for the Tech Air’s added graphics and the fact that it comes with the airbag system already installed. No other suits are currently capable of being retrofitted with the airbag system.
Even before you consider the airbags, the Race Replica suit is one impressive piece of kit. It’s A-stars' premium race suit, and the same setup worn by Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. External hard armor shields the shoulders, knees and elbows, while CE-approved internal armor resides underneath and extends beyond the joints to cover your shins and forearms. Soft padding in the liner offers additional protection, and with the included Bionic back protector and chest guard in place you’re as ready as you’ll ever be for a high-speed tumble.
Accordion panels permit freedom of movement without sacrificing protection. These sections
The magnetic sensor at the suit’s collar is a critical yet precariously mounted component.
Alpinestars pioneered some impressive manufacturing techniques with the Race Replica and T
The fit is fantastic thanks to generous Kevlar stretch panels and accordion leather sections. Alpinestars says the elasticated leather is pricey to manufacture but we say it’s pure magic in terms of improving fit and flexibility, and the Replica suit uses loads of it. The suit is perforated from the neoprene cuffs to collar, providing plenty of ventilation.
On to the airbags system, which won Best New Technology (along with Dainese’s similar D-Air system) in our 2012 Motorcycle of The Year issue (MC, Sept.). A-stars’ autonomous Tech Air system consists of a microprocessor and dual nitrogen gas canisters in the back hump, two airbags within the shoulders and three-axis accelerometers located in the hump, elbows and knees. The sensors collect data on the rider’s body position, lean angle, G forces and other critical factors that are used to identify a crash scenario. By design, Tech Air reacts to a crash as it’s happening, not after you’ve come off the bike as with tethered systems.
Running around or even jumping on a trampoline while wearing a Tech Air-equipped suit will not cause a deployment, mainly because the system isn’t active until you’ve exceeded 60 mph. The control unit polls the accelerometers every 2 milliseconds and compares data to algorithms developed from reams of data collected during years of racing and on-track testing. Alpinestars says the system is smart enough to tell the difference between a tank slapper, lowside or highside crash and respond accordingly. Studies show that most injuries occur from highsides, with the most common injuries occurring to the collarbone. That being the case, A-stars has designed Tech Air to protect the collarbone area with two 1.4-liter bladders that absorb and disperse impact energy. A pyrotechnic charge fires one of the nitrogen canisters, inflating both bladders in just 45 milliseconds. The airbags remain turgid for 5 seconds then deflate over a 20-25 second period. Since the system was developed for racers, Tech Air has two nitrogen charges and the system will re-arm after 60 seconds, enabling the rider to remount and continue riding with another deployment available.
The system is turned on via a switch on the control module and armed when the wearer zips up the suit, connecting two sensors located at the collar. Beyond that, the only thing you really notice is the panel of LEDs on the left forearm used to communicate the system’s status and compel people everywhere to ask questions and crack Power Rangers jokes. The system is powered by a battery that takes 2 hours to charge and lasts for about 8 hours if you’re riding, or several days on standby.
I haven’t had the, um, opportunity to experience a deployment, but Bradley Adams, Associate Editor at our sister publication Sport Rider, experienced Tech Air’s capabilities when he highsided a ZX-10R at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Data pulled from his suit’s control module shows that Bradley was spat off at 90 mph and spent almost a full second in the air (250 milliseconds longer than Lorenzo at Laguna!) before coming down on his left shoulder. The predictive capabilities of the Tech Air system ensure the airbags inflate prior to impact, and in Bradley’s case the airbags fired 675 milliseconds before he hit the deck. The accelerometer in his suit’s left shoulder recorded a force of 27 G upon touchdown, yet Bradley escaped with only a separated shoulder. Tech Air isn’t designed to protect the shoulder joint so it’s hard to say whether the airbags prevented further injury, but the predictive capabilities show that the system operates as advertised.
Tech Air’s integrated WiFi module means you can connect to the system with your smartphone
The downsides of Tech Air are few but significant. First is cost: Tech Air adds about $2500 to the Race Replica’s $2899 price (the Tech Air suit retails for $4999). The airbag setup also adds 1.5 pounds to an already hefty suit. Another issue is complication. While the technology is easy to use and maintain, things can go wrong. In my case, the magnetic sensor on the collar came loose, so the suit wouldn’t arm until I re-attached the wire with a dab of silicone sealant. Like the sensor wire, the control module is insufficiently secured within the hump. It’s supposed to clip to the nitrogen canisters but pops off given the slightest bump and is free to float around within the hump, making it hard to reach the on/off switch and offering the potential of wiring damage. Lastly, my suit threw a code midway through a weekend-long testing session. The control module has its own WiFi network so you can check the system’s status via a smartphone or laptop, so I used my iPhone to determine that the left-side leg sensor wasn’t working. Alpinestars says the Tech Air system can operate with up to two accelerometers inoperable, so I was still protected, but it’s discouraging to think that my suit has already had several issues even though I’ve only worn it a few times.
My final complaint is that the suit can give you a false sense of security. That’s a subjective issue, of course, but wrapped in leather and armor and watched over by ultra-intelligent software and high-tech hardware, it’s easy to rationalize taking bigger risks on the racetrack. But Tech Air isn’t a science-fiction forcefield, it’s an added level of protection.
|Alpinestars Race Replica Suit With Tech Air
|Verdict - 4.5 out of 5 stars
|Impressive protection, but too pricey not to be flawless.