Sometime ago we took a look at airbags – on riders and on bikes. Now it’s time to take a detailed look at another specific product – Moto-Air’s Summer-Cool airbag vest. Similar in operating principle to the Hit-Air vest which we featured in our last article, the Summer Cool uses the same technology but is cheaper and lighter. Sounds good, but is it better? And should you think about buying one?

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Our view on airbags is pretty simple – we like them – whether fixed to the bike or whether worn by the rider. Airbag devices have already saved countless lives in cars, and given that bikes are generally more dangerous, it seems crazy not to embrace the technology for two-wheelers too.

But our enthusiasm is not shared by all – so far they are fitted to just one bike – the Goldwing – and then as an option. Riders wearing them are in a minority. So why is this? It may partly be because riders tend to enjoy risk and find safety gear over and above helmet and leathers burdensome. But so far the problem has also been cost.

There are two main technologies currently employed in rider-worn motorcycle airbags. The most expensive of these is the electronic airbag suit being developed by Alpinestars, Dainese and others that you may have seen in Moro-GP. This features chemical generation of inflation gas to save weight, and a complicated system of sensors fitted to rider and bike to ensure rapid inflation in an accident, but also to prevent unintentional use. This stuff is not cheap – varying between £600 and £5000.

The second technology is simpler and cheaper, employing a metal CO2 cylinder which inflates a shaped air sack within a jacket or vest when a lanyard is pulled by the rider falls from the bike. Reaction time for this system is fractionally slower, but is still pretty quick and a typical jacket will have an airbag inflation tubes that protect a large part of the body. It’s simple, relatively cheap and, subject to their being no damage to the jacket innards, re-useable.

When inflated, the airbag protects much of the upper body

When inflated, the airbag protects much of the upper body

The Moto-Air system falls into the second, simpler, technological category, with a high-volume, high-pressure CO2 cartridge inflating the airbag within 0.2 to 0.5 seconds.The shaped bag then forms a firm cushion between the protected areas and the ground, reducing impact forces to some of the most vulnerable parts of the body; neck, chest area, back and spine. The product is ISO9001 certified, TUV, SGS and CE approved.

As well as the vest we tested, you can also get a full-jacket version

As well as the vest we tested, you can also get a full-jacket version

Wearing it

bigbikemad riders have worn the Hit-Air product for several years and can vouch that the principle works in a real crash scenario. When Dave dropped his Valkyrie (ouch) a couple of years back, he just bounced down the road and suffered no serious injury. He says this is due to the airbag vest. However, we are tempted to say it may also be linked to his consumption of pies. Ahem.

We haven’t crashed in the Moto-Air product but it’s similar in use. The light weight of the Summer Cool model comes from a mesh-like construction; making it a simple waistcoat that can also carry a hard back protector if required. Sling it on over any bike jacket, and zip up. There are even a couple of handy pockets too. When you get on your bike, just connect up and away you go – once moving you forget you’re wearing it. If you forget to un-clip when getting off – no problem,. It won’t go off by accident. We tried this intentionally and unintentionally and no-dice.

The Summer Cool is a lightweight, mesh vest that can be worn over any bike jacket

The Summer Cool is a lightweight, mesh vest that can be worn over any bike jacket

The Summer Cool attaches to the bike by a system of wires and a metal buckle, and while effective, we didn’t find it as easy to use as the Hit-Air system, which is similar but uses an all plastic lanyard system and plastic push-fit clip. The metal buckle on the Summer Cool was large and a bit more fiddly and was capable of scratching paintwork. We found the plastic and nylon Hit-Air system plenty strong enough but easier to adjust.

Build quality of the Summer Cool vest was good – the 600D Polyester mesh being tough enough to be practical, although probably not as heavy-duty and long-wearing as the Hit-Air product. On the other hand, the metal Moto-Air clip, though bulky, is likely to last longer than Hit-Air’s plastic clip. The Summer cool also features reflective trim, and adjustable waist, YKK Zipper and 3 pockets.

Moto-Air vests have been widely used by the world's police forces.

Moto-Air vests have been widely used by the world’s police forces.

Conclusion

So, both Hit-Air and Moto-Air use similar technology and are likely to offer similar levels of protection in a crash. Both manufacturers offer a range of products including jackets and vests. The Hit-Air product seems better made and has, in our view, a better lanyard / fixing system. On the other hand, the Moto-Air jacket is lighter and allows better airflow through the material.The cylinder is also positioned lower (and slightly on the side, not chest) which some say is more comfortable for women riders. However, while you might think from all that that we tend to prefer the Hit-Air product, choice is actually not that simple.

The biggest difference between the two products is price; the comparable Hit-Air vest retails for around £395, while the Moto-Air item comes in at just £195 – roughly half. That’s a big factor for anyone to take into account, especially given that price is probably one of the barriers to wider acceptability and use.

We’d certainly like to see more airbags available to riders. And the reason is simple; dead and injured bikers are not only very sad news, their stories are also ammunition to the bureaucrats who’d like nothing better than to ban us completely.

We’re not in favour or compulsory airbags, but we do think that every rider should consider investing in one, and that the Government should consider making them VAT exempt. We’ve tried ’em, crashed in ’em and find they are easy to use, no more expensive than a good helmet and could very easily save your life or keep you out of a wheelchair. Moto-Air’s Jacket offers you a high level of protection and now, at a very affordable price.

So far Honda's Goldwing is the only bike to come with an on-board airbag.

So far Honda’s Goldwing is the only bike to come with an on-board airbag.