Dainese's sleek new airbag vest offers shock absorption "equivalent to seven back protectors"
Dainese has stuffed its motorcycle airbag technology into a small, lightweight vest you can wear under or over any riding gear. The Smart Jacket is flexible and unintrusive for the 99.999 percent of the time you spend not crashing, but protects you seven times better than a back protector when your number is up.
I've got back protectors and full leathers, but I've got to confess, they live on the shelf unless I'm headed to the track or the twisties. They're just enough of a pain that I don't bother with them around town – and I recognize that's not the safest position to take, but it's the truth, and I'm certainly not alone.
Riding gear has to be convenient and comfortable for me to choose it for day-to-day riding, and that's why I reckon Dainese might really be onto something with its D-Air Smart Jacket. In short, it's an airbag vest. You pop it on under your jacket – or over a shirt if you're squidding it – and it puffs up into a protective airbag if it detects a crash.
It's got no connection to the bike – instead, it uses its own seven-sensor array including GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes to detect when you're in strife. Dainese says it can detect lowsides, highsides, collisions and rear-enders, even if your bike's stationary at the lights and you get hit from behind.
When activated, the "Shield" airbag system puffs up in an instant, protecting an area from the small of your back up over your shoulders to cover your chest. Dainese says it offers seven times more protection than its own well-regarded back protectors, although it's unclear by which metrics.
A 2016 review on the scientific literature around the effectiveness of different types of back protectors was only able to find two relevant studies on the topic, concluding that "foam inserts in motorcycle jackets and non-standard clothing may possibly be associated with higher risk of injuries, while hard shell and standard back protectors may possibly be associated with a reduced rate of back and spinal injury ... This systematic review highlighted lack of appropriate evidence on efficacy of back protectors."
The Smart Jacket doesn't appear to offer any resistance to spinal bending or twisting, but then if I'm honest I've never been all that confident in how much a "hard shell" back protector can really do in a nasty impact situation either, being as how they're made of plastic.
It certainly looks more comfortable and convenient – it folds down to about the size of a normal vest, it's breathable and ventilated, as well as water-repellent and abrasion-resistant for all-weather use. Unfortunately, you do need to charge it once every 26 or so hours of use, to keep all those sensors running, but we're used to keeping things charged these days, and you can always run a USB port off your bike battery if you're caught short.
Once the airbag's gone off, you can take the Smart Jacket to your Dainese dealer, who can fit a new airbag system for you on the spot and get you back on the road.
The Smart Jacket does look like a step forward in motorcycle safety to us, simply because it strikes us as the sort of thing we'd throw on more often than a back protector. Any piece of gear that can protect you better on the road without getting in the way is a win in our books, even if it comes at a price.
That price is a fairly steep US$699, and we don't have any info on what the airbag refills will cost, so we don't know if it's something you'll want to take out dirtbike riding and have it bang off six times in a day. It comes in six sizes, designed to fit men and women, and will hit stores next month.
Check out the new Smart Jacket in the video below.