The notion of "professional grade" gets bandied about so much it might as well be relegated to a marketing term meaning "rugged-looking." But in the case of the Alpinestars Tech Air – a personal airbag system ten years in the making that fits and functions completely within race-spec motorcycle leathers – the term is no gimmick: it's the very same technology used in professional World Superbike and MotoGP races by legends such as Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. The idea behind the electronic system, which senses a catastrophic event milliseconds after it occurs and deploys before impact, is simple; the tech behind it is anything but.
Tech Air is completely wireless, with a battery-powered 450g (less than one pound) microprocessor and inflator unit unobtrusively housed in the suit's aero hump. Along the suit's arms and legs, five embedded sensors provide continuous feedback to the processing unit every two milliseconds, with proprietary algorithms (based on the aforementioned decade's worth of research) setting parameters for crash prediction. Should the data suggest extremely unusual body positioning – i.e. a serious crash – the shoulder-mounted airbags will inflate with a nitrogen-based gas mixture within 45 milliseconds (that's typically 100 milliseconds before impact, even in low-side crashes when the rider is already inches from the ground) and provide five seconds of protection.
Even cooler, you can use it twice during the same session. The airbags deflate within two and 25 seconds and reset within 60. Thanks to the Dual Charge system and the fact that the airbags remain fully housed in the leathers even when inflated, the same protection is available right away again, assuming the rider recovers the bike. Another clever feature: The system is only activated when the race suit's main zip is fully closed and it determines the rider is actually on a moving motorcycle (meaning, no, it won't engage if you happen to toss yourself off a balcony in your leathers). Also, the battery provides eight full hours of constant usage when "armed," but will remain charged for several weeks in the "active" mode.
Professional grade in this sense does mean staggeringly expensive: Expect to pay around $9,000 for Tech Air with full race-spec leathers. Alpinestars is developing another system more suited more to the street rider, but for the hardcore track enthusiast, there's no better protection. Just ask the pros. [alpinestars.com]