As a motorcycle attorney I get to talk with a lot of motorcyclists that survived crashes. I also get to meet and talk with the spouse or parents of motorcyclists that don’t survive a crash and die. It makes me carefully analyze how each crash happened. It also makes me analyze how the fatal victims of motorcycle crashes could have survived.
I have had my share of serious crashes in World Veterans motocross races around the world from Namur, Belgium to Glen Helen, CA. I have survived only because I learned early on to dress for the inevitable crash as best you can.
Motorcycle protective riding gear technology has advanced so far from my early years of racing in 1973! Some of the “advances” actually did not work!
I busted ligaments in my knee due to defectively designed Scott plastic boots that protect your leg from breaking but tore up your knee ligaments.
I broke collarbones due to the first Bell full coverage heavy fiberglass helmets that protected your face but always broke your collarbone on the bottom chin area when you fell. But this was a vast improvement over ¾ helmets with Joffa mouth guards.
I had many a Jofa mouth protector slice my nose as I slid backward on the ground face first in a crash! But I also have had my cervical bones remain unbroken when I crashed at high-speeds jumping off the top of 300-foot-tall Mount Glen Helen.
My Leatt neck brace broke, but my neck did not. In fact I broke another Leatt neck brace at Namur also at the FIM World Vet Championships. I would not have survived to race the second round at Donington Park World Veterans Championship race if not for the Leatt neck brace.
Some opine that safety gear is too restrictive. Others opine that such safety gear is too expensive. To those I say you have never felt how restrictive it is to be in a plaster cast for 8 weeks nor paid a $2500 hospital insurance deductible for one crash!
I believe in wearing the best and safest motorcycle gear you can. I also believe if those choose not to want to wear such safety gear, then that is their right to do so, but the sad reality is they are more likely to sustain serious or fatal injuries in a crash but they have that freedom of choice. ( I respect that but I don’t understand how anyone would not protect themselves and their loved ones by managing risks responsibly.)
Moto GP road racing motorcycle riders crash a lot at very high speeds. Yet, fatal crashes are rarer and rarer in Moto GP racing. Part of this is due to better track designs but a large part is due to better protective gear, especially the new airbag vests and race suits technology. This airbag technology has trickled down to be affordable for street and track day riders.
In Louisiana in 2017 it is projected by L.S.U. 89 motorcycle riders will be killed. We can’t afford to lose an brother riders. Motorcycle riding is all about managing the risks. You can manage some risks.
There are now available airbags installed in vests and in full coverage leathers at reasonable costs. Some of the systems are upper vests and have great ventilation, making them wearable even in hot weather. The costs run from $500 to over $1200 depending on the protection offered. Some deploy in as little as 25 milliseconds with GPS computer activated systems and there are lower cost systems with tethers chords you attach to the motorcycle that deploy in less than 75 milliseconds. All offer impressive protection for internal organs, ribs, lumbar and cervical bones.
Moto GP riders have crashed at over 200 m.p.h. with the $2300 Alpinestar full leather airbag system in full coverage leather race suit with GPS computer activation with no serous injuries.
But there are less expensive systems that actually work better for street use available for under $650 that offer the same super protection for internal organs, ribs, lumbar and cervical bones! So for less than the cost of a mid-line full coverage street helmet you can protect the rest of your body from high speed impacts and survive to ride again!
Let’s look at some airbag systems everyone can afford to buy and are practical to use.
Merlin Universal Air Bag-$500
The Merlin Universal Airbag is a slip-on vest that works over any motorcycle jacket to provide Level 2 protection to your neck, spine and tailbone. The Airbag inflates in 80 millseconds when the CO2 canister is activated. It is the lowest cost system available and the newest on the market.
The Held Airbag System by Helite-$625-$649
I really like this system the first time put it on! I put it over a ventilated Joe Rocket style mesh vest and with the Held Airbag System vest on top in hot weather. With this system, you will still be cool in hot weather with excellent ventilation. The Held Airbag Vest is an inflatable protective vest designed by Helite. It it available in bright yellow high visibility color or black with high visibility silver markings.
The Held Airbag Vest can be worn by the riders as well as their passenger and is lightweight and discreet. Just attach the release cord under your seat, mount the bike, attach the cord to your vest and you’re ready to roll.
Accidental activation is virtually impossible as deployment of the airbag requires a minimum pull of 66 pounds. The Held Airbag Vest goes one step further in protection with the addition of a removable SAS-TEC back and tailbone protector along with 3M Scotch lite reflectors for greater visibility.
In the event of an accident, the airbag deploys utilizing a 100% mechanical trigger. This results in maximum reliability with no maintenance. Upon activation, a spring loaded piston pierces the CO2 cartridge and rapidly inflates the airbag around the neck and body. After deployment, the airbag can be reloaded with a fresh CO2 cartridge (sold separately) and is ready to protect again.
The airbag inflates completely within 0.1 seconds. It is a cheaper, simpler system to use and maintain compared to the more expensive GPS/computer activated battery operated systems that require periodic maintenance and a fully charge battery.
The GPS/computer systems are good for one crash only. The Helite system only needs a new CO2 cartridge loaded in to reuse in most instances. Of course the GPS/Computer system vest deploy in as little as 25 milliseconds vs. 60-75 milliseconds for the manual tether systems. (I think the costs and less maintenance is a good trade-off for the slightly slower deploy time in less than 60 mph crashes.)
Spidi Full DPS Airbag Vest-Spidi Full DPS Airbag Vest-$750
The Spidi Full DPS Vest is an inflatable neck and chest protector. The 22-liter vest wraps the rider’s torso and neck, increasing the safety level in the event of a crash. Total activation time is 200 milliseconds. The Spidi Full DPS Vest is rechargeable and reusable after discharge by just replacing the 60cc CO2 cartridge.
Helite GP Air Track Vest-$829
With an aerodynamic design and flexible fit, the Helite GP Air Track Airbag Vest is specially developed for the race track. It also works for leather jackets with humps for the street rider. With the GP Air Track Vest there is no front zipper or buckle on the chest. This is in order to allow the rider much more ease when sliding from side to side on the tank. With the integrated foam surrounding the cartridge area, you won’t even notice it’s there. This vest has room for your race hump and you can move all over the bike with ease. It also has a 74 millisecond deployment time for faster track speed crashes. It is the fastest mechanically triggered airbag available.
Alpinestars Tech Air Street Airbag Vest-$1,149.95
The Tech Air Street Airbag System is a state-of-the-art, tether-free airbag protection system designed to be used with Alpinestars’ Tech Air Street prepared riding gear. The onboard computer system uses Alpinestars’ proprietary algorithms to process the information gathered by the vest’s accelerometers and gyroscope.
Should the system sense a crash, it will deploy a protective airbag, providing comprehensive protection to the rider’s full back, shoulders, kidney area and chest.
The Tech Air is ready to go right out of the box—no need to install sensors on the bike or go through a complicated pairing process. Simply install the vest in a compatible jacket and go ride. The vest’s ever-vigilant ACU is able to detect that things are going awry within 30-60 milliseconds, even when hit from behind at a stop light. It then triggers the dual argon inflator charges, fully inflating the system’s airbag in 25 milliseconds.
Brain damage due to internal bleeding is the top cause of death in 60% of the fatal motorcycle crashes. Internal injuries are the second most common cause of death due to massive internal organ trauma injuries. These new airbag vests offer fantastic protection for massive internal injuries.
They can be worn comfortably, even in hot weather. So what’s your excuse for not wearing protection that costs less than your health insurance medical deductible?
Answer: Now you have no excuse!
GLENN C. McGOVERN
MOTORCYCLE TRIAL ATTORNEY AND MSF BASIC