A recent conversation about bicycle helmets and whether or not to wear them piqued my interest in high-tech safety gear. As yet airbag jackets seem designed for the motorcyclist rather than the bicyclist, possibly because in bike races ounces of extra weight slow people down. Whether this gear makes sense for bicyclists depends on what you actually do with your bike. If you’re a placid road rider, you probably don’t need this. Biker airbags aren’t likely to save you if you’re run over by a car. If you race or jump bikes or hit the dangerous mountain trails, the airbag jacket might be worth another look.
Most would be too hot for bicycling. Leather jackets just aren’t made for people who sweat. The Spidi pictured here might be tolerable, since it’s a lightweight vest meant to wear over protective gear. The Spidi includes a little body armor but the primary defense is the airbag collar. A clip cord attaches to the bike, and if the rider leaves the bike the cord triggers a CO2 canister that inflates the collar. It’s like having an instant cervical collar — before you have a reason to wear one for six months, instead of afterward! The Spidi inflates in under two seconds, which is long enough for that sweet regret you feel as you arc through the air, leaving your bicycle stuck in the sewer grate because you were not paying attention to the road. The Spidi airbag also deflates and packs away into the collar again, and a fresh CO2 cartridge primes it for another fall.
RS-Taichi, a Japanese manufacturer of motorcycle racing suits, makes an airbag safety collar jacket that’s designed for getting back in the race quickly. The inflated collar detaches so the rider can leap up and jump back on the motorcycle without the bubble. Leather construction gives it a better look than the Spidi but it’s clearly too hot for bicycling.
Lots of bicyclists wouldn’t go for this much protection, and I haven’t as yet, but if something similar comes along that’s designed for cycling I’d go for it. In most of my cycling I’ve not even worn a helmet, but over the years I’ve had my full share of accidents and close calls, and at this point I see no reason to leave the helmet at home. Zipping down a fast hill on a bicycle, the major difference between bicycle and motorcycle is that the bike doesn’t dent a car quite as badly if you crash. People hit just as hard, whether they left a bike at 40 mph, or parted unexpectedly with a motorcycle at that same speed. I’m keeping the helmet.