ADV Pulse

NEWSLETTER
Get ADV Pulse delivered by email
Sign up for ADV Pulse Weekly

Newsletter

Get ADV Pulse delivered by email
Sign up for ADV Pulse Weekly

Connect With Us

Follow On Facebook:

ADV NewsAlpinestars Tech-Air 3: Airbag Vest That’s Not Just For The Street?

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3: Airbag Vest That’s Not Just For The Street?

A lightweight airbag vest that offers the safety of 9 CE Level-2 back protectors.

Published on 10.05.2023

As adventure riders, we tend to put a lot of miles on our motorcycles and let’s face it, that means we encounter more of the ‘risk’ that is inherent in our sport. One of the most important products to come along in decades that has had a significant impact on improving safety in motorcycling has to be airbag systems.

Alpinestars has been one of the leaders in developing the technology for airbags, utilizing reams of data gathered from their MotoGP and Dakar Rally stars to develop highly-advanced and sensitive crash detection algorithms. Last year Astars released the Tech-Air 3 Vest, the company’s lightest airbag system designed for touring riders, urban commuters and even light off-road adventure riders. The vest is worn either under or over your existing motorcycle jacket, and can be easily folded up and stowed away when not in use.

Alpinestars calls it an autonomous system because it leverages AI to constantly monitor your every movement using 3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes. Like modern electronics on adventure bikes, it has a computer that constantly checks (1,000 times per second) your lean angle, orientation and speed to determine if you’re doing something that looks like you’re about to crash. The crash detection algorithm in the Tech-Air 3 has been developed and refined over millions of kilometers of riding and thousands of crashes, allowing it to accurately assess when to deploy the airbag ahead of an impact or other dangerous situation like a lowside or highside crash, as well as if you’re hit while stopped. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag
Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag
A magnetic clasp is used to hold the airbag in the proper location on your chest.

Once the start of a crash is detected the airbag is fully deployed in around 50 milliseconds (4x faster than an eye blink)  — ample time in most situations for the argon gas canister to inflate the bag before the rider comes in contact with a vehicle, the ground or other obstacle. After inflation, the Tech-Air 3 provides full upper body protection for the chest, shoulders and back all the way down below the waist. In terms of reducing force to the body from a crash, it’s the equivalent of wearing 9 CE Level 2 Back protectors. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag

ADVERTISEMENT

There’s also a pocket for an optional back protector to give an additional layer of passive protection. No other armor or abrasion protection is provided by the vest to keep it as light and comfortable to wear as possible. However, the vest is made of water-resistant material and all the electronics are waterproof. Plus it incorporates stretch fabric on the sides for improved comfort.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest review
Stretch material on the sides gives the vest some flexibility for a more comfortable fit.

Gone are the days in early airbag development when they could be triggered inadvertently by an insignificant event like a slap on the back. Over 20 years of development, these systems have gotten very good at detecting a true fall that necessitates an airbag deployment, rather than just some minor mishap. The system is also upgradable using the Tech-Air App as new refinements are continuously added to the algorithm. 

Maintenance and service costs have also improved to the point where a certified service center can replace the argon canister for $99 after a deployment. The air bladder itself is good for up to three deployments before needing to be replaced. Both canister and air bladder can be replaced for $199 when required, and during every service the vest is cleaned, inspected and updated to the latest algorithm.

Some extra protection that can save your bacon when things go sideways sounds great and all but we had obvious concerns before beginning our test of the Tech-Air 3, primarily related to its ‘Street’ algorithm said to be suitable for ‘light’ offroad. How would it handle adventure rides and how sensitive it would be in rough terrain? Does it interfere with your existing armored riding suit? What if the rider is a frequent faller? We set out to answer these questions and more but first, let’s take a look at how the system works.

How It Works

Starting out, get the Tech-Air 3 to full charge using the USB-C charging slot hidden in a Velcro pocket behind the LED status indicator light on the chest. The vest status light will blink red while charging when it is discharged, then yellow and eventually green when it reaches full charge. The airbag will not activate unless you achieve at least a blinking yellow charge status.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest charging
A USB-C charging slot, hidden in a Velcro pocket behind the LED status indicator, is used to charge up the vest.

Next, you can download the Tech-Air app for either Apple or Google phones to register your device and enter the setup process using a QR code on the inner collar. Once set up, your phone will connect to the vest via Bluetooth allowing you to review charge level, usage time, explore the user manual, update firmware, and more.

The Tech-Air App is where you can manage settings, monitor battery life and update the software with the latest algorithm.

With the vest fully charged, there isn’t any button to turn it on. You simply zip it up and it activates itself when two special magnets at about mid-chest level align themselves. After some blinking and an internal systems check, the status light turns a solid blue (or yellow if it’s not fully charged) to indicate that the airbag is ready and active. To deactivate and turn off the airbag system, simply unzip the vest and make sure the magnets stay separated. The status LED will also vibrate as a non-visual way to indicate that the device has been turned on or off.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest magnetic activation
Zipping the vest up past the LED status light causes two magnets to come together, turning the vest on and activating it.

How It Performed

Using the vest for the first time I preferred wearing it over the top of my adventure jacket, although wearing it on the inside of the jacket felt equally comfortable. However, it’s worth noting that while being able to just throw it on over a jacket is very convenient, it does block some of your chest venting and restricts access to your jacket pockets while riding the bike. There is a right side pocket though that’s big enough to stow away smaller items like ear plugs, glasses, or a wallet. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest test
Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest pockets
Wearing the vest over a jacket blocks your pockets. However, there is a right side pocket on the Tech-Air 3 that’s large enough to stow away a few smaller items.

With it worn on the outside, It has a roomy fit so it doesn’t feel tight around the chest or waist. The gas canister sits on the lower right side of your back and its bulk is a bit noticeable when off the bike walking around but overall the vest feels light and its 4 pounds of mass seems to disappear once you are riding the bike.

At first I was a little weary about what might trigger the airbag, wondering if it might go off while I put on my boots or while hurrying to the bathroom. I soon realized that it takes some pretty extreme forces for it to trigger the airbag. Your body has to change direction very fast in an unusual way (e.g. turning upside down), that clearly indicates to the ECU that some type of crash event is happening. After thousands of crashes logged by Alpinestars test riders over the years, the system is pretty hard to trick.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest review

On the street, it works perfect for commuting, running errands, lane splitting, or performance riding, giving you a new confidence that you’re extra protected in the event of an accident. I think the improved peace of mind you get, as well as that of your family members, is one of the biggest benefits to wearing the vest.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road
Big rocks, ruts, roots and whoops were not enough to trigger an inadvertent deployment of the airbag.

To keep an eye on the battery charge, you can just look at the status light or you can also use the app during your rides. Usable battery life from a full charge is around 40 hours and it takes 4 hours to charge the battery fully from flat. While out on a long ride, the battery has more than enough juice for a full day of riding and can be quickly recharged to full in the evening at camp at a hotel, or even when stowed away while you ride. Just be careful you don’t forget to deactivate it (keep the magnets apart) when you stop riding the bike. A few times I realized I’d been hanging out after the ride with the vest still on for hours, draining the battery unnecessarily. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road

You also must be careful hanging the garment up when not in use. Make sure the zipper is zipped down to about half way so that the magnets can’t stick together and activate the vest accidentally. If you aren’t riding for several weeks, the vest seems to keep a charge fairly well hanging out in the closet but you can usually get it up to full strength with a 15-30 minute charge up. If you’re using it for commuting an hour or so a day, you may only need to recharge it once a week.

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road
The vest’s water-resistant shell passed our splash tests.

So how did it do in the dirt? Alpinestars claims it works for ‘light’ off-road use so I stuck to the fire roads at first. However after hearing other testers reporting that getting it to deploy inadvertently off-road is no easy task, I got the feeling Alpinestars was being conservative with their claim. My first serious off-road use of the Tech-Air 3 was at the Alpinestars Adventure Tour event in Big Bear, California. We headed out on the advanced trails and I was one of the only riders who was not on an Enduro or Rally bike. This ride included Dakar legends Skyler Howes, Ricky Brabec and Toby Price, so you can imagine it got a little spicy. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road

After pounding through rocky trails, steep descents and sand, launching off small jumps and bottoming out hard on big dips and ruts that made you feel your kidneys jiggle, the airbag system didn’t flinch. On subsequent rides, I was airborne on several occasions, bushwhacked my way through tree limbs and brush, and zig-zagged through technical single track trails, yet it still did not deploy. It seems like massive jolts from hard landings or obstacles in the road are not enough to trigger the system. The ECU is looking for major acceleration or decelerations on your body, or a big change in your orientation. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road

So far, I have not taken a tumble or anything else that would actually trigger a deployment but I’m sure that day will come. If you want to see what it really takes to get the bag to blow off-road, take a look at this video from Motorad Film’s Adam Reiman. Here he tests the Tech-Air 5, which uses the same street algorithm as the Tech-Air 3. He gets big air on a motocross track and then runs through a hard-enduro training course, and it still can’t trigger the vest until an actual fall occurs.

This is all terrain that goes well beyond most people’s idea of a typical adventure ride off-road or Alpinestars’ ‘light off-road’ disclaimer. After putting it to the test on some of the hardest trails I’d care to do on a big adventure bike, I feel pretty confident now that it’s not going to get triggered by anything other than a real fall. If you ever encounter terrain that seems so extreme that you need to worry about an inadvertent deployment, it’s easy enough to unzip the jacket ¼ of the way to disable it or you can pull it off and pack it away in your luggage.

Even if it does get deployed on some type of mundane dismount that wouldn’t have caused any real injuries, I think I’d rather pay for the cost of a recharge every once in awhile knowing that it might pay for itself many times over (e.g. doctor bills, missed work) if and when a serious incident occurs. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Airbag Vest testing off-road

So what about the drawbacks? As mentioned above, wearing it on the outside blocks your jacket vents and pockets. Wearing it on the inside will give you access to your pockets but still does insert a layer of material between you and your jacket’s direct chest venting on hot days. I found it to be too hot to wear when temperatures hit the mid-80s Fahrenheit while riding off-road. On the highway, with plenty of airflow, it does not play much of a factor until temps get into the 90s or higher.

Who’s It For

Alpinestars Tech-Air 3 Review

Great for those seeking extra protection during street rides and off-road trails in the average adventure bike range. It makes sense for those new to off-road riding but at the same time if you are falling several times during a trip, it may be better to load up on passive protection until your fall rate decreases. Otherwise, recharging the airbag gas canister after every ride could get expensive. 

Our Verdict

Few new products have been as effective at improving safety in motorcycling as airbag systems. Just ask any MotoGP or Dakar Rally racer. Alpinestars has been developing these systems for some time now culminating in a product that works great on the street or light offroad, with a reasonable price and maintenance costs, that’s also convenient to throw on for every ride. The ATGATT (all the gear all the time) mindset has been at the core of Adventure Riding since the start, and airbag systems like this one could soon become a common safety accessory in the next few years as fears over its effectiveness in off-road settings are shed.

But what about the Tech-Air Off-Road vest scheduled to come to market in the next few months? Isn’t that a better choice? It may be, if you are a dual sport rider who rides primarily off-road or you like to take on the occasional enduro race. There are definitely some advantages like multiple deployments during a ride, canisters that are swappable by the end user, passive armor that still works when you’re out of charges, and multiple selectable algorithms for Street, Rally and Enduro. But for most adventure riders on larger machines, riding trails in the typical adventure range, the Tech-Air 3 should satisfy their needs with less bulk and more simplicity for about $300 less.

What We Liked

  • Surprised us with how well the algo works in difficult off-road terrain.
  • Barely notice it’s there once you’re riding.
  • Convenient to throw on over your adventure jacket.

What Could Be Improved

  • Make the vest out of breathable mesh so it doesn’t block jacket venting.
  • Make the gas canister replaceable by the end user.

Tech-Air 3 Specs

  • 6 integrated sensors (3 accelerometers, 3 gyroscopes or 1 triaxial gyroscope and 1 triaxial accelerometer).
  • Lithium ion battery, with a usage life of 40 hours.
  • 4-hour recharge time from zero charge.
  • Upgradable firmware.
  • Phone connectivity via Bluetooth and Tech-Air App.
  • Wearable under or over a jacket.
  • Washable, water-resistant fabric.
  • ECU and electronics are waterproof.
  • Includes a single ‘Street’ algorithm.
  • Haptic vibration alert when system is armed, disarmed or battery is low.
  • Measured Weight: 4.02 pounds (Size: XXL)
  • Sizing: XS-4XL
  • Colors: Black, Black/Yellow Fluo
  • Price: $599

Shopping Options

Men’s Tech-Air 3Women’s Tech-Air 3

Photos by Simon Cudby, Ely Woody and Nic De Sena.

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney
ADVERTISEMENT

Related Stories

Related Stories

Notify me of new posts via email

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anthony Cooper
Anthony Cooper
October 6, 2023 5:40 am

I love this tech. I have had the Tech Air 5 for 2 years since I had a really bad crash. Even though it’s the street version, I’ve used it off-road and had it deploy when I dumped the bike trying to get the front wheel out of a rut at speed, which is exactly what not to do. The vest deployed as I was going down and it was like jumping onto a bed. Regular armor would probably have been fine, but I would have been very sore the next day (I’m in my 50s). I cannot say say enough about how paradigm-changing this tech is going to be; thousands of fewer incidents of death and paralysis, millions fewer broken bones, and a safer experience for everyone. The other aspect is that this tech can be used for so much more than just moto – military, horseback riding, industrial (falling risks for example). I can even think of a time when athletes can wear it to reduce risk of life and career ending injuries. I love a good hit as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of someone’s life or spine.

These guys are doing God’s work. Good on them.

ADVERTISEMENT

Watch: 2024 Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro Tested

For 2024, Triumph's dirt-focused Tiger 900 — the Rally Pro — has received...

My First Time Riding Enduro, How Hard Could It Be?

Nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Inyo Mountains of California lies a l...

DoubleTake’s Popular Off-Road Mirrors Get Major Upgrade For 2024

Life always looks clearer in the rear view, that is, until you’re looking int...