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ADV NewsNew Alpinestars Tech-Air ‘Off-Road’ Airbag Jacket Tested

New Alpinestars Tech-Air ‘Off-Road’ Airbag Jacket Tested

The much-anticipated off-road airbag system from Astars is finally here.

Published on 03.05.2024

As you may already know, Airbag Systems are the biggest innovation in protection equipment for motorcyclists since the helmet. Development of the Alpinestars off-road-based system got its start back in 2017 and it made its debut at the Dakar Rally in 2019. After proving its worth protecting riders in the grueling race, airbag systems became mandatory in 2021. Leading the way, Alpinestars has been a top innovator among manufacturers of motorcycle airbag systems and as of the last Dakar Rally, 107 riders out of 140 used the race version of the Tech-Air Off-Road, including all three riders on the podium.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
In the last Dakar Rally, the Tech-Air Off-Road System was used by 107 riders including the full podium with Ricky Brabec, Ross Branch, and Adrien Van Beveren, as well as the rest of the top 8 riders.
After 12 stages of racing in the 2024 Dakar, over a total distance of 7,891 km, Alpinestars recorded 323 deployments from their racers. With its 6 triaxial fall-detection sensors logging data each millisecond, you can imagine how much data was captured in this race alone. Not to mention all the data logged over the last 7 years of rigorous testing. That massive amount of data is used to not only better understand what it looks like to be in a crash, but to continually refine the algorithm to ensure each deployment is accurately and timely triggered.
Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
The system is FIM homologated, designed to handle the rigors of fast off-road riding and Rallies, as well as provide high levels of upper body protection on the trails. 
But this tech wasn’t just developed to benefit a small number of elite racers. After a long wait, Alpinestars has finally finished development of a consumer version with the same level of protection for the masses. Whether you’re a hardcore dual sport rider or the adventure rider who occasionally dabbles off-road, the Tech-Air Off-Road offers new levels of safety on a completely different scale. Once an impact or an imminent fall is detected, airbags deploy around the riders torso and neck in a fraction of a blink of an eye, providing protection that can withstand g-forces multitudes higher than any passive armor can. For many in the sport of Rally Raid, it has likely already made the difference between a life-changing accident and getting up and walking away unscathed.
Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
The system complies with FIM regulation where neck movements are limited to a maximum of 40° on the rear and 30° maximum on a lateral direction, significantly helping to reduce and/or mitigate any sort of whiplash and/or neck injury.

There’s also an added benefit of increased confidence to ride faster on the trail. Would you be more likely to ride to your full potential while wearing a helmet compared to without one? What about wearing motorcycle boots versus tennis shoes? The potential for improved speed knowing you’ve got an increased safety net around you is there. I got a chance to test this theory for myself during two days of off-road riding in Death Valley for the Tech-Air Off-Road press intro. Read on to see whether it lived up to expectations.

How It Works

With the Tech-Air Off-Road you are essentially getting the same vest used by racers in the Dakar Rally, although there are a few small differences. For one, the consumer version has been made more versatile for the occasional street use. For instance, it uses a heavier, more abrasion resistant material than the lightweight race-only version. There are also multiple modes on the consumer version, allowing the rider to adjust the algorithm to the terrain. The front chest armor is also smaller on the race version for improved airflow but it also only offers CE level-1 protection instead of level-2.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
The active airbag offers full chest and back protection, plus coverage to the shoulders, neck, and collarbones. The system is also equipped with CE Level-1 passive back and limb protection, along with a CE Level-2 passive chest protector.

Setting up the Tech-Air Off-Road for the first time, fresh out of the box, you’ll need to give it a full charge via a USB-C port. It takes about 4 hours to completely charge a flat battery or if you just need a quick recharge, you’ll get 6-8 hours of use time for every hour of charging. Total ride time is 30 hours on a full charge.


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On the front of the vest, there is a status panel that offers several LED lights to display current information to the rider. The battery LED will show Green if it has more than 8 hours of life, Yellow 2-6 hours, Red less than 2 hours, and Flashing Red indicates you need to recharge immediately. There’s also an app available that gives exact battery charge percentage as well as other unique features, like the ability to record your rides, all via a bluetooth connection. The app was not enabled during our test but is available now for Apple or Android devices.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
An LED panel on the lower front displays the current system status. Riding Modes can also be selected via the LED display, or via the Tech-Air App.

Turning the jacket on and activating it is as simple as zipping it up. There are two magnets that touch at around chest level upon zipping. Contact for more than a few seconds between the magnets puts the jacket in active mode, ready to deploy airbags. A separate LED at the bottom of the panel will show Blue if all systems are go. When the rider wants to turn off the Jacket, they can either unzip it to the point where the magnets no longer touch or hold the button on the status panel down for 6 seconds.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
Three riding modes offer great versatility for a variety of different off-road terrain, while still being suitable for the street.

Once activated, the rider can cycle between three modes (Rally, Enduro, Street) with a 2-second push of the button. As the mode switches, you’ll see the respective LED light up. As far as the differences between modes, Rally Mode is optimized for faster off-road riding on higher speed trails (generally 50 mph or faster) while Enduro mode is best for slower speed, technical terrain. Street mode uses the same algorithm as Alpinestars’ street systems like the Tech-Air 3 vest, which is optimized for asphalt roads and city traffic conditions. An example of how the Street mode might differ from the off-road modes is increased sensitivity to a rear-end hit from a car.

As far as construction the main body of the jacket uses a stretch mesh with externally stitched seams, making it breathable and comfortable when worn directly on the skin. There’s also a set of form-fitting soft armor inserts in the elbows and shoulders, which are also removable.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
Constructed from a breathable stretch mesh, the system is designed to offer ventilation while keeping the protectors close to the rider’s body. The Protection Under-Jacket has a slim-fit, stretch fabric construction and comes with a lateral zipper for easier wear.

The Tech-Air Off-Road also includes an elasticated rear pocket for carrying up to a 3-liter water bladder, along with a top Velcro strap to hold it in place. A unique downward zipper makes it easy to load the bladder while ensuring it doesn’t easily self-open during bumpy rides. And unlike water bladder pockets on many adventure jackets that tend to pull back on the rider around the neck, the form fitting nature of the armored jersey has the added benefit of spreading out the weight much better. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
The Tech-Air Off-Road features an integrated back holder for a Hydration pack with 1.5 to 3 liter capacity.

When activated, data from the sensors are analyzed each millisecond to determine if something looks like an accident is underway. Whether you are being hit by an object, hitting one, or flying off the bike out of control, the airbag will try to detect it and deploy its bags within 40-60 milliseconds depending on your jacket size (larger air bags take longer). For comparison, an eyeblink takes 190 milliseconds. 

The Tech-Air Off-Road System uses a series of tri-axial sensors, including 3 accelerometers and 3 gyroscopes, which in turn, communicate with the System’s computer, sending data inputs every millisecond.

The Airbags offer coverage of your shoulders, collarbones, chest, back, and neck. In fact, the airbag acts like a pop-up neck brace (but without the bulk of one) to help support the head in the event of an impact. Movement of the head is restricted 40 degrees front-to-back and 30 degrees side-to-side, thus helping prevent hyperextension of the neck and potential spinal cord injuries.

After the first deployment the rider just needs to wait for the airbags to deflate after a few minutes, then you’re good to keep riding again. After the first two deployments, the airbag system’s gas canisters will need to be replaced but you still have the passive protection of the CE Level-2 chest protector, and Level-1 back, elbow and shoulder protectors to get you through the rest of the day.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
Both the back and chest use honeycomb Nucleon Cell technology designed to create a passive protector that is ventilated, lightweight and robust.

Thankfully, the Tech-Air Off-Road is ‘user serviceable’ so you can swap out the gas canisters yourself after the first two deployments are used up. The process is pretty simple: just pop-off the rear plastic panel and there’s a small screwdriver included that lets you remove and reinstall a set of new canisters. The cost of two replacement canisters is $169.95. After that, you get two more deployments before you have to send it in to be professionally serviced. A full system service consists of replacing gas canisters and air bladders, a firmware upgrade if needed, as well as doing a systems check of the sensors, and a review of the overall integrity of the jacket. Pricing for the service is expected to be $299, including the new bladders and gas canisters.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
Electronic Control Unit (ECU) and airbag are completely removable so that the protection jacket can be washed separately.

As far as washing, you can wipe down the jacket with a clean, damp microfiber towel after a ride. It is recommended you don’t use anything other than an antimicrobial cleaner. Just don’t immerse the system electronics in water. For a more thorough cleaning, you can remove all the electronics, canisters, bladder, LED panel, etc. The system is weatherproof but it’s not designed to be submerged, so try to avoid going full submarine on any failed water crossing attempts.

How It Performed

Getting Set Up

My initial walk-thru of the device with an Alpinestars tech went smoothly and everything seemed pretty straightforward. Having used the Tech-Air 3 street vest extensively, the general concepts were familiar. However, with this system being user serviceable, there is some additional delving into the guts of the system.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

If the device has been sitting in storage or is fresh out of the box, you’ll need to pull the back panel off and flip a small switch to the ‘on’ position. The rear door is tightly sealed and takes some coaxing to get off using the ‘eject’ draw string. Once off, it looks like you just opened a ticking time bomb with lots of exposed wires and various tubes. Apparently the jacket is approved for carrying on a plane, as long as you put it in your checked luggage. I wouldn’t advise taking it as a ‘carry on’ unless you enjoy full body pat downs.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket tested
A quick release cover opening allows for gas inflator replacement. The system comes installed with two gas inflators, providing riders with two individual airbag deployments before needing to replace the gas inflator canisters.

We went through the canister replacement process and it’s as easy as using the included mini screwdriver to remove the electrical connectors from the canisters, then you simply unscrew the old, screw-in new and reconnect the wiring on the canisters. Popping the lid back on is the most challenging part as it doesn’t always snap into place automatically. Just use firm pressure rather than banging on it and it will usually snap into place.  To lock it in place, give the pull tab a tug while pushing downward on the lid. 

Overall the canister replacement process can seem a bit complex the first time around, especially if you’re not mechanically inclined, but the operation will seem straightforward after seeing it once. Watch a how-to video before diving in, and you’ll be alright.

First Impressions

At a glance, the Tech-Air Off-Road looks very similar to the Alpinestars Bionic Tech V3 Armored Jacket I often wear for dirt excursions of the more challenging type. Like the Bionic Tech V3, the Tech-Air uses a side zipper and two clasps that give it a snug yet comfortable fit once everything is strapped, zipped and clipped into place. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

There’s definitely some extra bulk in the back where the main guts of the device are housed and picking up the two, the Tech-Air feels heavier. However, that additional weight and bulk isn’t a huge difference when wearing it. Comparing comfort, the Tech-Air feels just about as good as the armored jersey. 

The Ride

Weighing the two, the Bionic Tech armored jacket is about 5 and a half pounds, while the Tech-Air is roughly 8 pounds in size XL. A 2.5-pound difference between the Bionic Tech V3 and the Tech-Air Off-Road isn’t insignificant, but I will say I didn’t think much about it once I started riding. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

On the first day I opted to try the Tech-Air out underneath an adventure jacket. First I removed the elbows and shoulder pads from the Tech-Air so as not to double up the padding already included in the jacket. This is the recommended approach due to the pads being a lot easier to access on the armored jacket compared to digging out the pads on an adventure jacket. You’ll also want to remove any back protector from your adventure jacket to avoid doubling up there as well. 

We started the ride on a chilly morning in the desert after torrential rains that had turned Death Valley into a lake and nearly caused the cancellation of the event. Luckily, things had started to dry up for the first day of our ride. I switched the Tech-Air into ‘Street’ mode just before take off, knowing we’d be cruising for a while on the open highway before transitioning to our dirt destination. It was a strange sight coming across fast-flowing rivers and mud-covered roads in a place known for being one of the hottest and driest on the planet.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket tested
Unlike water bladder pockets on many adventure jackets that tend to pull back on the rider around the neck, the form fitting nature of the armored jersey has the added benefit of spreading out the weight much better. 

Riding with an armored jacket under an adventure jacket is always a bit constraining and not the best setup for hours of riding on the highway, yet for short stints like this one, it was completely doable and a small sacrifice to pay considering the extra protection. For those looking to do primarily street miles or daily commuting though, the Tech-Air 3 throw over vest is probably a better choice from a comfort standpoint.

Once off the highway, we traveled on some mixture of sand, whoops and rocks with open trails that saw speeds in the 40-60 mph range. This was a perfect opportunity to switch it into ‘Rally’ mode. Switching modes with the Tech Air under a jacket does require you to pull over, unzip and find the status indicator panel. It’s a little tricky to read while looking down with a helmet on, especially if, like me, you’re reading eyes aren’t as good as they once were. Once I memorized the position of the different modes on the display, it became easier to tell with a glance which mode was active.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
It can be a bit tricky to read the LED status panel while wearing a helmet, but it becomes easier once you become familiar with the positions of the mode lights.

On some of the long, high-speed desert roads, I had a few major bottoming incidents on the Honda Transalp in large ruts. Deep sand, rock drop offs, hard hits and even a few close-call front end tucks never led to any inadvertent deployments. I did get to test deployments vicariously through a few of my companions though who managed to pop off their vests during moderate speed falls. The algorithm detected both get offs precisely and the airbags were deployed before impacting the ground. From the descriptions of the incidents, the impact was soft thanks to the airbags and both riders walked away without injury.

On day two I switched over to a KTM 690 Enduro R and rode with a non-padded enduro jacket, so I reinserted the pads back into the Tech Air. Reinserting the pads was a tad more tricky than pulling them out but still fairly quick and easy compared to doing the same thing with a padded adventure jacket. Having a lighter weight, looser fitting jacket over the Tech-Air was quite comfortable and I didn’t notice the bulk of the back panel as much. 

Our day two was a spirited ride on slower, technical terrain which gave us an opportunity to work up a sweat. I spent much of the day in ‘Enduro’ mode, although at one point I forgot to switch out of street mode and just continued riding in fairly gnarly terrain. This was no big deal though. As I learned from using the Tech-Air 3 with its street algorithm, unless you are actually falling or doing something really extreme, it’s pretty unlikely for it to go off inadvertently.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review with Skyler Howes
We got a chance to ride with 2023 Dakar podium finisher Skyler Howes.Trying to stay on his tail out in the desert was a humbling experience.

I spoke to one of the Alpinestars engineers about inadvertent deployments and he said they are pretty rare even at Dakar. With so many reams of testing data processed and incorporated into the algo, the system is now very accurate at detecting legitimate falls. He mentioned that a handful of the fastest riders have had it happen, but only the most elite Dakar Racers have the skill to do it. It can occur in the dunes where these riders jump the bike so high and far that the impact is almost indistinguishable from a fall. But again, the instances of this are rare and only the fastest of the fast have the ability to do it. Nothing us mere mortals need to worry about.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review
Catching some air didn’t cause any unwanted deployments.

One thing Alpinestars did that was a good idea for this event was take us out to the dunes. It was the perfect place to increase the probability of falls while also keeping the danger level down in the soft sand. And boy did a lot of those bags go off. I believe somewhere in the range of 6 deployments happened in just a couple of hours of riding. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

Personally, I didn’t have any big offs but I came close. It was a slow motion fall and my body never really hit the ground, more of a tip over at the crest of a dune where I fell off the bike onto my knees. Surprisingly the algo was smart enough to realize this was not a proper fall that would require a deployment. Perhaps, the greater sensitivity of the ‘Enduro’ mode was able to anticipate this type of small, inconsequential tumbles that happen frequently during this type of riding.

As far as breathability during this active style of riding, the mesh material gives good airflow to the body once jacket vents are opened. The large chest protector pad that sits in front of the airbag does prevent most airflow in the middle of the chest, and there’s also some limited ventilation in the middle of the back.

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

I noticed some pooling of moisture in both the back and chest when working hard but around the sides of the torso, arms, and neck there’s good airflow. This test occurred during winter, so I can’t attest to how it would feel in hot weather. Riding with just the armored jacket alone felt much better in terms of airflow, very similar to riding with a standard armored jersey.

Who’s It for

If you are the type of rider who already rides with an armored jacket, upgrading to an airbag-enabled armored jacket like the Tech-Air Off-Road is a no brainer. It offers a major upgrade in protection with little sacrifice in comfort. Adventure Riders who are pushing their limits on challenging off-road trails would also be smart to consider making the investment. For those that do ride primarily on the street, a throw-over vest like the Tech-Air 3 might be a more comfortable, convenient and less expensive option, despite the street algorithm. 

Our Verdict

While I failed to deploy the airbag system either by fall or false alarm, it wasn’t for lack of trying. At some point I kept thinking how much more I was protected by wearing just this one device. And that did start to get me thinking about throwing caution to the wind for a bit. I got on the gas and pushed my speed to higher levels than I might normally. Cornered a little harder, got on the brakes a little later, accelerated for longer, and rode at the top of my ability. It was fun to just let go for a short stint but testing fate is never a good idea, so I reeled it back in. Could a device like this change how people ride? Especially, after several falls without consequence?

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

Talking to Dakar racers like Skyler Howes who have used the system extensively, the answer is yes. We actually got an exclusive look at one of his big crashes during the 2023 Rallye du Maroc. In the video, he’s riding through whoops and hits a big hole, sending the bike swapping uncontrollably and ending in a high-speed faceplant to the ground. Under slow-mo you can see the airbag deploy just milliseconds before impact, giving Skyler protection around his torso and neck. 

He walked away from what could have easily been a career ending crash with just a sore back and brake in his tibia plateau. Two months later he was ready for the start of Dakar 2024. And this is just one accident of many where the airbag system might have prolonged the careers of some of our racing heroes. Many of these rally racing incidents have recorded astonishing impacts as high as 28 Gs.

So the big question… is it worth it considering the thousand dollar price tag? Anyone who’s ever had a nasty shoulder, collarbone, neck injury, or collapsed lung will probably tell you it’s worth the ticket to avoid going through that experience. As someone who’s suffered several nasty off-road falls myself, including being paralyzed temporarily from a spinal cord injury, I’ll add my voice to that choir.

From a purely tech perspective, I can see how the price is what it is when considering all the research, development and testing that’s gone into bringing this to market. We can only hope that as these systems become more ubiquitous, the price drops down to something that is more approachable for the average rider. 

Alpinestars Tech-Air Off-Road Airbag Jacket Review

Alpinestars did a good job of adapting the race-only version into something more versatile for adventure riders by enabling multiple ride modes and some built in abrasion protection for the street. The fact that it can be serviced by owners and you get multiple deployments makes it a lot more practical too.

My biggest concern going into the test was that it might go off inadvertently and be expensive to maintain over the long run. From what I’ve experienced, the algorithms are very accurate so you don’t have to worry about wasteful deployments. Unless you are a frequent faller, four deployments between servicing should last a while and the service fees aren’t completely unreasonable.

There’s still more testing to do in hot weather and more rigorous rides to get a better sense of the comfort, but if riders in the Dakar are throwing one of these on every day for two weeks straight, in the hot sands of Saudi Arabia, I’m sure I can handle it on the occasional hot day too. 

The new Tech-Air Off-Road armored airbag jacket is available now at Alpinestars.com and other online retailers.

What We Liked

  • The extra weight and bulk disappears once you are riding.
  • Extra protection encourages you to ride to your potential.
  • Inadvertent deployments weren’t a problem.

What Could Be Improved

  • Make the rear door panel easier to open/close.
  • Switching modes is a little challenging when worn under a jacket.

Tech-Air Off-Road Specs

  • WEIGHT: 5.5 pounds (2,485g) in size Medium
  • FALL DETECTION: 6 triaxial sensors (3 gyros and 3 accelerometers)
  • ALGORITHMS: Rally, Enduro, Street
  • CHARGE TIME: 4 hours on flat battery
  • USE TIME: 30 hours on a charge
  • SIZING: S-2XL
  • PRICE: $999.95

Buying Options

AlpinestarsRevzillaRocky Mountain ATV/MC

Photos by Simon Cudby

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
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Fred FlannD
Fred Flann
March 5, 2024 8:37 pm

Interesting product. I own the Klim airbag vest. However, these vests are rather uncomfortable and annoying to use in practice. Also, the safety benefit is unsubstantiated in reality. Even Leatt neck braces have been shown to provide little or even negative safety benefit from independent, peer reviewed studies and computer simulations. Only Leatt can seem to “prove” how well their product works–but nobody else can. The ambulance study is neither independent nor scientific.

Also, the notion of “There’s also an added benefit of increased confidence to ride faster on the trail.” is really dumb, as you are more likely to get yourself seriously injured if you are delusional wit enough to think this airbag with 1 inch of inflation is going to make you invincible when you smack into a rock after rolling down a cliff.

donny
donny
March 6, 2024 6:35 am
Reply to  Fred Flann

Fred always talks bad here and advrider

Fred FlannD
Fred Flann
March 7, 2024 5:50 am
Reply to  donny

Well, Donny, I have nothing to sell unlike both of these sites. Buyer beware.

donny
donny
March 8, 2024 6:08 am
Reply to  Fred Flann

Poor Fred always whinning. That’s what he is know for on adv rider website

Johannes
Johannes
May 8, 2024 11:29 am
Reply to  Fred Flann

Hi Fred, appreciate the counterpoint. I’d be very interested in reading the independent, peer reviewed studies and computer simulations you cited in your answer. Could you post links to them here? Advance thanks.

Chow
Chow
May 8, 2024 9:53 pm
Reply to  Johannes
Stephen Fischer
Stephen Fischer
March 6, 2024 5:55 pm

Very tempting. I could have used this during a Death Valley ride a month ago where I went over the bars at 20+ when my front wheel hit a rock funny and turned it sideways. I ended up damaging my left shoulder and multiple contusions to my chest. The price seems a bit steep including the 4 trigger limit and then having to spend another $300, but I guess I would pay that in order to avoid the consequences of crashes like this one.

Stephen Fischer
Stephen Fischer
March 9, 2024 8:55 am
Reply to  Rob Dabney

Yeah, and given the cost of my deductible this would have been cheaper. Given the winter-like conditions and I needed to carry my gear for 3 days, I was just wearing a Klim Latitude jacket with its stock padding and a pack on my back.

Dan B
Dan B
March 6, 2024 9:30 pm

Such fantastic tech packed into that thing. However, I think the cost of entry and then the several hundred buckaroo’s to replace the cartridges after two falls is too hefty for mass adoption. I’ve had plenty of falls in deep, narrow and sandy ravines that I would have had to pay $300 after one ride and that was with no injuries without one. For more aggressive riding, this makes sense 100%, but a lot of times I don’t fly off at high speeds (mostly due to my subdued riding style), mostly on slow technical trails. Until Astars can make the system more affordable with third party canisters, I’ll unfortunately have to pass on these. Good article though.

Anthony Cooper
Anthony Cooper
March 7, 2024 6:51 am

About time. I have been waiting for this thing for 2 years. I have the Tech 5 and it has saved my butt at least twice.

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