There’s nothing quite like riding a motorcycle.
Whether it’s commuting to work, cruising the highways, or getting out into the country to see the sights and lean into the curves, motorcyclists are passionate about what they do.
There’s no reason not to be safe while doing it, either, especially with technology constantly evolving to produce newer and better equipment and gear.
With an eye toward being able to ride for a lifetime, here are some of the best new items on the market.
Airbags? For your motorcycle?
While airbags are now considered standard equipment for most consumer automobiles, the time has finally arrived for airbags to protect motorcyclists as well.
Mounting airbags to the motorcycle frame is not yet a viable option for most motorcycles, but motorcyclists can choose to wear a potentially life-saving and injury-saving airbag simply by slipping on a vest or a full jacket equipped with an airbag that will quickly deploy in the event of a crash.
Here’s how they generally work: A vest or jacket is built around an airbag system that is inflated in milliseconds by a discreetly-placed CO2 canister in the event that the rider or passenger is violently separated from the motorcycle.
An inflated vest creates a stiff, protective ‘shell’ around the rider’s torso, collar bone and lower neck that will minimize injuries to the vital organs and bones from both impacts and slides. A full jacket will also protect the shoulders, elbows, arms and sides.
And unlike automobile airbags, which deflate quickly after they’re deployed, these garment airbags lose their air slowly to protect you in the event of a long deceleration such as sliding. What’s more, the airbag itself is protected by tough fabrics so that nothing will rupture once it’s inflated.
Higher-end models also have metal plates built right into the garment, and most airbag vests and jackets come in high-visibility designs to help prevent you from getting in an accident in the first place.
The airbag vest or jacket has a cord that clips to the frame of your bike, with a special release clip for when you dismount at your destination.
So how do you prevent the airbag from inflating accidentally? Well, the manufacturers have thought of everything.
The attachment cord is usually coiled and therefore stretches, much like a bungee cord, so that getting off your bike without first unclipping will not result in the airbag accidentally deploying. Only a violent action, one that involves over 60 pounds of force, that separates you and your bike will trigger the CO2 canister.
One of the best parts of these airbag vests and jackets is that even if you did somehow manage to accidentally set off the airbag, many of them allow you to simply wait for it to deflate and then install a new CO2 cartridge to get you on your way again (for example – buying extra cartridges is therefore advisable, plus many riders will want to test the airbag themselves under controlled circumstances before wearing it on a ride).
Furthermore, these well-constructed items can often have their airbag deployed multiple times before they need to be replaced. If you’ve been in a crash and the airbag deployed, as long as the airbags are not punctured you can continue wearing the garment indefinitely.
Some manufacturers will even analyze the garment for free to see if you can still keep wearing it.
Want to go for full-on airbag protection?
Yes, there are manufacturers that make full airbag riding suits that will protect your legs, tailbone, knees and thighs in the event of an accident.
Once only found in the world of professional cycle racing, these high-tech suits can feature wireless on-board computers that detect your acceleration, deceleration and GPS a thousand times per second using advanced algorithms and deploy only when they sense you’re in danger.
They won’t deploy at speeds under about 20 mph, so tripping and falling on your way to your bike won’t result in your airbag going off.
As you might imagine, this technology can be quite expensive. But if you consider that just the medical costs of even a minor motorcycle accident can easily go into the tens of thousands of dollars, a jacket costing less than a thousand dollars that could limit or even prevent your injuries altogether in the same crash starts to sound like a good deal.
Also consider that in 2013, when the technology was still relatively new in the realm of professional motorcycle racing, MotoGP racer Marc Marquez walked away from a 209.9 MPH crash during a practice run and was then cleared to race in the main event, all because he was wearing an airbag suit.
While a full kit like his might cost you $5,000 or more, the potential benefits are immeasurable.
Here’s a list of some brands to get you started, although there are currently more than a half-dozen companies producing wearable motorcycle airbag systems:
Helite makes wearable airbag vests with the lanyard system (discussed above) that can slip over your current jacket, as well as standalone airbag jackets in a variety of styles.
Hit-Air expanded the tech it used for protecting equestrians and brought it to motorcycle safety, with vests and jackets in styles to suit every taste.
Dainese and Alpinestars are two companies now producing fully wireless airbag products built around a core system so that the compatible jackets are interchangeable. Both companies also offer full suits just like the pros wear for both men and women, providing the absolute maximum injury protection.
Helmets are the essential piece of motorcycle gear, whether your state requires their use or not .
Statistically, injuries to the head and neck are the primary cause of death, severe injury and disability among motorcyclists, so choosing the right helmet should be your first priority whether you’re a new rider or have been an enthusiast for years.
While choosing the safest helmet one can afford should be at the forefront of any motorcyclist’s mind, the color of the helmet can make a big difference as well. Research has confirmed that riders wearing dark helmets were significantly more likely to be involved in a crash than those who wore white helmets.
From that study, wearing a white helmet resulted in a 24% lower risk of being involved in a crash than wearing a black helmet, while a light-colored helmet was associated with a 19% lower risk of a crash.
So, when you’re helmet shopping, consider buying a white or lighter-colored helmet, particularly one with high-visibility elements as well.
Here are some recent innovations in helmet design:
- Heads-Up-Displays, or HUDs, solve one of the major problems for street riders: not being able to see behind you. Motorcycle side view mirrors, while essential, aren’t always large enough to provide the best view of what’s behind you. HUDs incorporated in helmets provide a real time view of everything that’s going on behind you right there in your visor, plus the technology is fully incorporated into the helmet, so there’s nothing to plug in. Some models to check out are the Jarvish, the Reevu, and the CrossHelmet X1, which provides 360⁰ visibility through the innovative use of camera technology and a wide-view visor.
o HUDs can be useful for more than just seeing behind you. Many helmets on the market incorporate Bluetooth technology so that you can listen to music, change songs, get GPS directions, view your speed and compass direction, and get weather alerts, all without ever having to take your eyes off the road.
- LED Helmet Lighting. You can take your favorite helmet and add a wireless LED kit with numerous color options, a flash controller function, and designs only limited by your imagination. With one of these installed, you will drastically increase your visibility at night while also getting a chance to express your individuality. A few examples of what you can do with these kits can be found here, on the Lightmode Helmets website, and their Instagram feed.
- Wireless LED Brake Lights can either come standard with the helmet, or, more commonly purchased and installed by you on an existing helmet. Your visibility to drivers behind you will increase dramatically, especially if you enable functions and effects that create a flickering or flashing effect when you hit the brakes. Some systems even incorporate flashing turn signal lights. These add-on LED systems are available at major retailers like Amazon.com and other motorcycle equipment retailers.
Motorcycle Body Armor
While not as technologically advanced as airbags, wearing body armor designed for motorcyclists in a crash can mean the difference between a life-changing injury and a few bumps and bruises.
Jackets, gloves, boots, and riding pants or suits should be considered essential safety gear for all riders.
Each of these items contain some form of body armor, the most common being some combination of Kevlar and high-density foam.
These materials provide both impact protection and abrasion protection to those parts of the body which have the greatest likelihood of damage in a crash.
While there are not many studies regarding the effectiveness of body armor, it is common sense that riding with more protection is safer than riding without it.
Here’s a list of common types of body armor:
- Armored vests, which provide front, chest and back protection, offer excellent impact and abrasion protection for these areas but no protection for your arms. Most feature a hard shell over a padded interior and thus can be worn under a jacket or over a shirt.
- Armored jackets offer impact protection to the back, shoulders and elbows. Depending upon the jacket material, they can also offer significant abrasion protection.
- Armored suits can be either one piece or two-piece garments which have strategically placed armor in the shoulders, back, elbows, hips, legs and knees. They can be purchased in leather, Kevlar-hybrid, or textile materials depending upon the types of weather and conditions you usually ride in.
- Armored pants also come in a variety of materials and are designed to protect the hips, pelvis, legs and knees. You can even purchase Kevlar-lined denim jeans to keep yourself safe while still looking casual.
- Armored boots. While boots of any variety provide a 51% reduction in risk for foot or ankle injuries and a 71% reduction in open wound injuries, armored motorcycle boots bring the risk of an open wound injury down by 90%.
- Elbow and Knee Guards can be purchased individually as separate items and worn under or over the clothes you already know and love.
- Back and spine protectors can also be purchased on their own, and offer some protection against soft tissue injuries to the back and sides of the body in the event of an accident, as well as limiting puncture or abrasion injuries.
- Hip protection usually is found in specially padded shorts that you wear underneath your riding pants, which keeps them snug to your body as you move about while riding.
- Armored gloves. Motorcycle gloves can be purchased that offer superior protection not just for your hands, but for your wrists and forearms, as it is often your palm that impacts the ground first in a crash. Look for so-called “palm slider” gloves, which are capable of reducing those direct forces, allowing your palm to slide on the pavement rather than ‘grab’ it. Check out Racer, which has a wide range of palm slider gloves, and the Scorpio SGS MK II gloves, which are considered among the best on the market for hand protection.
Other Motorcycle Gear & Equipment Worth Mentioning
LED Motorcycle Lighting. Not only do you get to add to the cool-factor of your ride, but LED lighting can make your bike much more visible, especially at night. LED lighting uses a fraction of the electricity compared to conventional bulbs, is widely available in a variety of colors and design styles at reasonable prices, and can be installed yourself as a weekend project.
Connected Gloves. Not everyone can afford a Bluetooth helmet, but connected gloves allow you to perform many basic tasks on your mobile device and/or GPS simply by touching certain areas of the glove, without your hands ever leaving the handlebars.
Anti-Lock Brake Systems. Another item that’s now standard on most cars is making its way to the motorcycle world. Although still controversial for some in the motorcycling community, statistics show that just like their automobile counterparts, ABS brakes save lives for bikers too.
Technology, especially when developed in consultation with motorcyclists themselves, will continue to evolve with new and innovative products designed to keep riders safe while still allowing them to enjoy the unparalleled freedom of the road.
See and experience the latest gear in person by visiting trade shows and rallies, and consider that while some of the tech listed above may come at a high price, it’s an investment in your health and your ability to keep riding for many years to come.