Alpinestars Tech Air Race Vest Review
Alpinestars Tech Air protection technology started as a concept in 2001. By 2004, select motorcycle racers were being used as testers and for data logging.
The Tech Air system began in 2009 when Alpinestars contracted riders in MotoGP, and it’s now used across most series and levels of racing. Exactly the same technology that’s used by the racers will now be available to the public in the USA by the end of March 2017. Following are the Alpinestars Tech Air Race Vest Fast Facts:
1. Tech Air is an entirely self-contained, full-torso airbag protection vest that zips into a race suit or jacket; much like a zip in/out liner in a moto jacket. It includes the back protector so no extra back or chest protector is needed. Protection also includes the shoulders and extends down the outside of the upper arms.
2. The Tech Air vest comes in two versions: Race and Street. The street version airbags extend lower down the torso than the Race model. Obviously, you will want to buy the one you prefer. However, the Race version can be configured for both track and street use by plugging the USB cable into a laptop and using the Alpinestars App to upload the other algorithm. The process only takes a couple of minutes so it’s easy to go back and forth as desired.
3. The Tech Air system vest can ONLY be used with Tech Air compatible garments. One suit is available now (in two colors), and one more and a Tech Air jacket will be launching this fall. The specially designed Alpinestars one-piece suits/jackets have specific stretch panels so that when the airbag deploys the suit garment expands properly and you don’t get injured.
The suits can be purchased now without the Tech Air vest and sizing is as normal. I am a size 54 Euro (44 US), and the Tech Air compatible suit is still a 54 and feels like normal, so no need to go up a size to accommodate the vest.
4. The Tech Air vest is entirely self-contained. The Alpinestars technology does not need to use GPS location or a tether to the bike. The Tech Air vest uses three accelerometers (one in mid-back and one on each shoulder) plus a gyro, that feed data to the control unit in the back protector. Complex algorithms using data gathered from over 600 crashes detect when an impact is imminent and then deploys the airbags in milliseconds. Alpinestars claims the Tech Aior vest has never had a failure or a false deployment–not one.
5. The Tech Air Race has two charges, so even if you use it once you still have a spare. There are two compressed air charges per vest, so if you use one, there is still a second available before the vest needs recharging. This is useful if you have several events during the day; a mild get-off in an early race doesn’t mean you have to ride the rest of the day unprotected.
Note: The Tech Air Street vest only provides one charge, not two. The street vest needs to deploy faster and a little more comprehensively as typical street crashes are caused more by impact than loss of control.
6. The recharge process takes about three weeks, although that will likely get quicker. This is not like going down to your local gas station and swapping out the propane canister for your BBQ. The process currently necessitates the vest being sent back to Alpinestars Italy where the crash data is analyzed and the vest recharged. However, Alpinestars has plans for a service center based out of the Torrance office too, so the vest would not have to be sent to Italy.
7. The electrics powering the vest are battery powered and a micro-USB cable and charger come with the vest. The Tech Air uses a small rechargeable li-ion battery that lasts approximately 25 hours of use. It can be fully charged in about six hours, although one hour of charging will provide approx three hours of use, so if you get to the track and realize you forgot to charge your vest overnight you’re not completely hosed. If the battery gets low, the red LED light on the left forearm will blink rapidly, however it means there are still around 2 hours of charge left, so no need to panic.
8. Three LED lights (Red, Yellow, Green) on the left forearm of the suit show the status of the vest. The on/off switch in the rear of the vest has to be up (on), and then to put the vest into standby mode, you snap together the activation flap magnets at the collar while a velcro strip helps keep them in contact. Once connected, the LED forearm lights cycle through while the system boots up, and then the Yellow and Green lights stay on. The vest only goes into fully Active mode (Green LED only) once the vest detects you are actually riding and not simply walking or moving around.
9. The vest feels heavy when you lift it. It weighs approximately 4.5 lbs, whereas the Alpinestars Nucleon KR-R back protector weighs approx 1.4 lbs, and a chest protector another 0.5 lb, making the Tech Air vest about 2.6 lbs heavier. Although that doesn’t sound like much, it is noticeable with the vest on a hanger. However, once I had the suit on and zipped up, it felt like normal and the weight disappeared. While riding, it made no difference at all. So I’d say don’t be put off if you go to a store and simply pick it up; you won’t feel the weight once you’re wearing it.
10. As the video below shows, I “volunteered” to be the crash test dummy at the riders meeting before a recent Chuckwalla track day organized by Foothill Ducati Owners Club. The actual deployment is minimal and sounds like a loud pop; I couldn’t feel it. If you were mid-crash on track there’s no way you’d realize the airbag was going off. In a quiet-ish classroom setting it made us all jump a little! The air bags were wrapped around my torso very well and I was particularly impressed how much shoulder protection there was. I felt like I could take a hard impact to the chest without even really feeling it, and my ribs felt well protected too.
The suit stretched in the right areas as it was supposed to, and although the airbags were definitely very snug around me, they did not restrict my breathing at all, and interestingly, my arm movement was minimally restricted. It felt like a giant, firm bear hug. The airbags took over a minute to deflate completely, so no matter what speed you’re doing you will be protected until long after you stop sliding/tumbling.
11. I then wore the suit with the Tech Air system installed, all day at Chuckwalla. Far from it posing any problems, having the extra protection actually gave me more confidence while riding, and Alpinestars confirm that all riders feel the same way.
Apparently one time Marc Marquez was sufficiently alarmed by the blinking red light on his suit that he came into the pits and asked if it was okay. In that instance the battery charge was getting low, but when he was told he still had another couple of hours he was reassured and immediately went out again with no problem.
12. Pricing will be approx $1,000 in the US for the vest itself. The GP Pro Leather Suit for Tech-Air Race which is the only suit currently suitable for the Tech Air vest, is priced at $1,349.95 and available in the US now.