Patent News: More Airbag Bikes in Our Future?

Honda’s Safety Horizon Expands With New Airbag Design for the NC750S

honda, NC750S, motorcycle airbags
Honda reveals new patent with an airbag fitted to the NC750S.©Motorcyclist

It's amazing that nearly 10 years after the introduction of Honda's airbag-equipped Gold Wing that it remains the only bike on the market equipped with airbag technology. While automotive airbags first appeared in the 1970s, it's taken decades for the technology to spread to bikes, largely because of the difficulty in predicting how a rider might be sitting in the event of an accident. (The Gold Wing is a unique candidate because the rider's trajectory in the event of a crash is somewhat easier to predict.)

Honda’s latest step to tackle the problem is revealed in a new patent and demonstrated with an airbag fitted to the firm’s NC750S, which isn’t sold in the US market but is closely related to the NC700X and CTX700. The main difference from the Gold Wing bag is the shape and size, with the new design gaining a long, vertical extension above the balloon-shaped main part of the airbag. This is to help counter the fact that most bikes will pitch forward in a frontal collision, throwing the rider upward as well as straight ahead.

honda motorcycle airbag
Illustrated activation of airbag on the NC750S.©Motorcyclist

The idea is that the lower part of the airbag will cushion the rider’s chest and stomach, slowing him down before his head impacts the extended upper section. In impacts with cars, where the rider is likely to be thrown into or over the car body, the upper section is likely to fold over the body, providing at least some cushioning from initial impacts.

As on the Gold Wing, the new system is specifically aimed at frontal impacts and is therefore triggered by a sensor in the bottom of the fork. Highsides, lowsides, or any other accident where the impact is not directly from the front will not engage the airbag system.

The actual airbag technology, apart from its shape, is conventional. The bag is fitted inside a box mounted just behind the bars, and a small explosive charge creates the gasses needed to fill it in the fraction of a second between initial impact and the rider being thrown into the bag. Vent holes allow the gas to escape as the bag absorbs the impact.

Although airbags are never likely to be as effective on bikes as they are in the confined space of a car, where drivers can be surrounded by them on all sides, the combination of modern safety gear, including airbag-equipped leathers, and bags like this fitted to bikes themselves surely holds promise to reduce some injuries in the future.