The LED panel on the left arm indicates the status of the suit. Green means good to go, what else?
The airbag system’s monitoring unit and twin canisters are hidden within the suit’s aerodynamic hump. Activating the suit requires you reach in the pocket and toggle the switch to the ON position. Here’s to small hands.
A data chart prepared by Alpinestars shows Bradley’s crash in detail. Notice the airbags deployed an impressive 675 milliseconds before Bradley made contact with the ground. Also notice the daunting 27 g of force that were endured.
A wireless diagnostic card built into the suit allows users to access a dedicated service website specific to their suit that displays everything from battery life to the status of the five accelerometers.
When Alpinestars gathered members of the press last year and introduced the forthcoming Tech Air Race Suit, they presented it alongside a data acquisition chart complete with information gathered during Jorge Lorenzo’s highside at the 2011 Laguna Seca GP. We were amazed by the chart’s detail and impressed with the suit’s evident potential in the event of a fall, but weren’t in the least bit hoping to one day have a chart of our own. Twelve months later and Bradley has a similar printout tacked to the corkboard on his wall. So much for hoping.
The Tech Air’s chassis is identical to the company’s top-of-the-line Race Replica suit. The only visible evidence of the airbag system, in fact, is an LED panel on the left forearm that uses a combination of three lights to indicate the system’s status. An algorithm-crunching CPU is hidden within the suit’s aerodynamic hump, as are the Tech Air’s pyrotechnically charged nitrogen canisters. Five three-axis accelerometers are strewn throughout — one in each leg and arm and one in the control unit — although their diminutive size allows them to virtually disappear within the suit, similar to the two shoulder bags tucked underneath the Tech Air’s accordion-equipped outer layer of leather. Multiple feet of rubber-coated wire ties the accelerometers to the CPU and magnetic arming sensor placed in the upper zipper area, but said wire is piped within the suit’s liner and out of sight.
By the numbers, Alpinestars’ Tech Air is the most sophisticated suit available to the public. Once armed, its microprocessor samples data from each of the accelerometers every two milliseconds. If the CPU determines from the data that a crash is occurring, based on algorithms developed in-house at Alpinestars, the air bags are deployed. The bags themselves take around 45 milliseconds to fully inflate, and Astars guarantees that both airbags will inflate at least 100 milliseconds before first impact. In the event of a fall, both bags remain inflated for a total of five seconds, offering you plenty of time to safely enjoy your sky-ground-sky-ground-sky view. Full deflation occurs in mere seconds, and within a minute the suit resets itself so that unscathed riders can pick up their bike and continue on. The suit’s dual charges offer the rider a second airbag inflation if required.
The Tech Air’s primary components are claimed to add just 450 grams (roughly a pound) to the weight of the Race Replica suit that it’s modeled after, while supplementary wires and piping add a few grams here and there. Throwing a devoid-of-airbags Race Replica suit on the scale alongside our Tech Air sample confirmed the almost negligible difference; the airbag-equipped suit weighs just 1.5 pounds more than its less-equipped counterpart. That moderate increase in weight was a non-issue on the track, and we never really felt the heft once the suit was zipped up. Although we didn’t have the chance to wear the Tech Air and Race Replica back-to-back, we felt that the Tech Air’s accelerometers made things a bit snugger around the leg and arm openings. Other than that small difference, the Tech Air fits identical to the Race Replica, with a well-designed cut that provides all-day comfort at the track without any unwanted chafing.
Activating and arming the airbag system is as simple as toggling the switch on the master control unit to the ON position and zipping up the suit so that the magnetic sensors make contact, although you also have to be traveling upwards of 60–70 mph before the system fully arms (don’t go cruising around the canyons at 50 mph and expect the bags to deploy; they won’t). A quick glance at the LED panel on your arm gives you a better indication of the suit’s status, and we found the three-light display simple enough to understand.
Data pulled from our Racepak G2X data acquisition system showed Bradley was running just under 90 mph on our ZX-10R test bike when he finally decided to see what the airbag system was all about. The highside that ensued was nothing short of painful, and the accompanying chart complete with data from his suit shows all that went down. A spike in the right leg data (bottom pink line) was the first indicator that something was wrong. A mere 310 milliseconds later Bradley was launched from the saddle, at which time the airbags were fired. Then 50 milliseconds later — and 675 milliseconds before first impact (talk about air time) — the airbags were thoroughly inflated, leaving Bradley fully protected by the time he hit the ground.
Peak force reached upwards of 27 g during the fall (for just an instant, mind you, Bradley’s no superhero), yet the only injury sustained was a separated shoulder that resulted from Bradley landing square on his left side (important to remember, the airbags protect the collarbone area, not the sides of your body/shoulder). And while we can’t factually claim things would have been worse with or without the airbags, we’re fairly certain the injuries would have been more severe given Bradley’s hang time and impact force. The suit itself held up impressively: all seams remained intact, and there were no tears to show for our Associate Editor’s adventure, giving us utmost faith in the Alpinestars product.
There’s more than just on-track performance too. Each Tech Air suit is equipped with a wireless diagnostic card that enables the user access to a dedicated service website that displays everything from battery life (the suit’s rated to run eight hours on a full charge) to the status of the five accelerometers. A detailed list of the suit’s history — including a crash report and service work — is also available. Speaking of service, each Tech Air suit must be sent back to Astars’ headquarters following a crash so that the systems can be recharged. In addition, it’s recommended that the suit be sent back every year for firmware updates and a general diagnostics of the sensors.
The Tech Air is without question the most sophisticated piece of protection apparel you can buy. And while we admittedly hadn’t planned on testing its full capabilities, we were impressed with how it fared in Bradley’s get-off, thankful even that the injuries weren’t worse. At $4999 it’s not the cheapest option out there, but let us remind you how much doctor visits and time off work costs. We consider it (relatively) cheap insurance.