High speed motorcycle racers have been sporting airbags for years. Most Moto GP suits have sophisticated electronic airbags built in that can sense when a crash is happening to auto inflate around the shoulders and collarbone in less than 5 milliseconds.
As a regular rider, buying a full Moto GP suit for protection is expensive and highly unnecessary, but airbags are still a great addition to your protective gear to keep you safe during a worst-case scenario crash.
The current options on the market come in either a vest that can be thrown over your usual gear or integrated into what looks like a traditional motorcycle jacket. Instead of sensors, the bags are inflated when a tether attached to the bike is pulled. The ballistic inflation happens in about the same time frame as the Moto GP variety and uses small CO2 tanks that are easy to reset after each crash or accidental tether pull. If the wear and tear is minimal, they can be used up to six times without having to send them in for inspection, making the hefty price tag a little easier to swallow.
The tether itself needs a very strong tug to activate so accidental inflation’s aren’t easy. A great feature so even if it does happen you aren’t throwing over $600 in the trash. The bags stay fully inflated for ten seconds before beginning their slow deflation, giving you enough protection to absorb the full crash without hindering your own movements or medical team efforts afterwards.
The airbags inflate to protect the back, chest, ribs, kidneys and around the neck to keep movement limited. Though the airbags add a great extra layer of protection, it is supposed to be used in tandem with traditional motorcycle armor and gear. Not just by itself.
Looking for something even more protective? There is a prototype out there for an airbag cocoon that literally ejects you off your motorcycle in the event of a crash like a flying, demented Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but the actual safety of this method is up for debate. Especially since in the prototype video it looks like your arms are immobilized outside of the airbag to be completely shattered on the pavement. But at least your back is safe, we hope.