The story of the motorcycle airbag begins farther back than you might think – it was 1994 when the idea began to emerge in the mind of its inventor, Lino Dainese. During a dive, in the middle of a beach vacation, Lino put on a so-called ABLJ, adjustable buoyancy life jacket. It’s a jacket connected to an inflatable and deflatable air tank, which can be used to manage the depth of the dive itself and inflated and deflated to come up or dive more easily. The comfortable feeling of an enveloped body and of safety that the inflated jacket offered was the spark that Lino needed – why not protect motorcycle riders with an air cushion?
Several years of research and different projects passed between the initial considerations concerning an intelligent airbag to protect motorcycle riders and a working product. It was 12 years from the first sketch, which Mr. Dainese drew on a napkin at the coffee bar of the beach where he was diving, to the first real, operational Dainese airbag system with D-air® technology (D-air® for short).
At the Adria International Raceway in Italy, in the winter of 2006, a fully clothed stuntman wearing the first ever Dainese suit with D-air® technology (D-air® suit, for short) rode an Aprilia RS fitted with a simple device to make him fall as soon as he began to lean. There was no need for any great speed, and the risk to the rider was controlled. He was off – at the first hint of a curve the device touched the ground, raised the rear wheel, and set the bike and rider falling. Everything went as planned. It was the first activation of an electronic motorcycle airbag – a triumph destined to change the history of protection in dynamic sports, not for motorcycles alone.
Its debut in the world championship came not even 12 months later. A motorcycle suit with airbags was first activated in racing during 125cc class free practice for the 2007 Valencia Grand Prix by Marco Simoncelli, one of the very first to have faith in D-air®. The first photos, however, aren’t of Marco’s fall, but Michael Ranseder’s, another professional 125 rider who ended up in the gravel shortly after Simoncelli.
The rest is nearly recent history. Dainese D-air® technology began to spread among professional riders in all categories, ever more convincingly. Soon, it became an essential protector, almost on a par with a helmet – those who tried it could no longer do without it. And it evolved over time, due in part to the invaluable contribution of the professional riders themselves, who helped to improve it from the perspective of integration into the suit and ergonomics above all.
A major milestone came in 2018, when the electronic airbag was declared compulsory for all professional riders in all world championship classes, just 11 years after it was introduced for the very first time.
The Dainese D-air® motorcycle airbag was created to protect professional riders on the track, but it was quickly brought to the road as well. Each of the two systems, D-air® Racing and D-air® Road, has been optimized for its specific use from the start, and determining which areas of the body to protect isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. It’s a decision based on a delicate balance that considers both the parts most prone to injury in the relevant environment and the required freedom of movement that the airbag has to guarantee.
To put it more simply, it would be easy to design an airbag that covered the whole body, but it would be heavy and limit the rider’s movement. So you have to cover the most exposed areas, but know how to optimize where it’s needed. That’s exactly why:
The Dainese D-air® motorcycle airbag system essentially consists of two elements:
The Dainese airbag is unique because it features patented microfilament technology. Studies showed that the best solution was to design a bag with a low volume but that inflated at high pressure, forming a protective shield that’s only present when needed.
To achieve that, a necessary step was to ensure that the bag was crushproof once inflated. It’s easy to understand – an ordinary balloon changes shape as soon as you push it, compresses at that point and expands at others, exactly what a motorcycle airbag mustn’t do. The D-air® airbag prevents this precise situation using microfilaments. These keep the two walls of the bag at a constant distance (5 cm) over the entire surface, minimizing deformation at the point of impact even when subjected to great forces. Not only do the microfilaments help maintain the thickness of the bag once filled with gas, they also control its shape when inflated. Specifically, D-air® features a three-dimensional shape that envelops the body and doesn’t change during inflation.
The D-air® airbag has its own engineered shape – it doesn’t just assume the shape of the garment that contains it, suit, jacket or vest. That gives you an even better idea of its crushproof construction. This is the best way to ensure adequate impact damping and dissipation of impact energy over as wide an area as possible.
As explained, the D-air® Racing and D-air® Road bags installed in motorcycle airbag suits, jackets or vests feature different shapes to protect different areas of the body, but the technology and materials from which they are constructed are the same, and are the same as the system used by professional MotoGP™ riders.
The second element of an electronic motorcycle airbag is the electronic control unit. This operates on the basis of data collected by an inertial platform. It features:
The D-air® control unit can process all data received from the sensors 1,000 times per second and automatically recognize any abnormal movement by comparing the recorded values with those in a predefined database. In the event of a match, the system will inflate the airbag device.
There is a sophisticated algorithm to achieve this, resulting from years and years of development and constantly updated, which can analyze the data to identify movements likely to lead to a fall. This is critical, because this recognition, which generally occurs in the early stages of an accident, allows D-air® to activate in time and effectively become protective for the wearer.
The airbag activation logic is very different between the Road and Racing systems. Firstly, the speed of movement is taken into account:
In all cases, when these dynamics are recognized, the control unit sends a signal to the gas generator so that it begins to inflate the bag. The whole process, from accident recognition to full inflation to operating pressure, takes place in a few thousandths of a second.
As an additional feature, the latest-generation D-air® Racing system offers the ability to change the mode and switch from Racing to Road, and vice versa. This can be useful to those who intend to wear their D-air® suit for road riding as well, so that they can take full advantage of the system’s potential under a wide variety of use conditions and always have the maximum protection available.
The pressure inside a Dainese D-air® airbag is between 1.25 and 1.75 bar depending on the model, enough to make it as solid as a conventional rigid protector and then some. Dainese D-air® actually offers protection far superior to that of a standard protector – a Level 2 airbag protector can absorb an impact force equal to that of seven Level 1 back protectors put together. And all of this, remember, stays almost imperceptible up to the moment of inflation.
The precise standard for the level of protection offered by airbags isn’t actually such a simple matter. As always, certification is provided by external bodies, like Dolomiti Cert or TÜV, but the current European technical standard only regulates mechanically activated airbags, through EN1621.4. At Dainese, with the support of the relevant certification body, we effectively wanted to fill in the regulatory gap to give the consumer a clear indication of the level of protection that D-air® products offer.
The result is a procedure involving impact tests carried out according to the standards of 1621.4, the ‘nearest’ standard, but applied to the D-air® electronic motorcycle airbag. The figures are as follows – given an impact energy of 50 J, no more than 4.5 kN must be transmitted to the body for the airbag to be certified Level 1; for Level 2, the most protective, the limit is instead 2.5 kN. For comparison, here are the figures for a conventional rigid back protector – with the same input force, up to 18 kN can be transmitted for Level 1, up to 9 kN for Level 2. You only have to compare the numbers to understand that an airbag like Dainese D-air® has a significantly higher energy absorption capacity.
In any case, if you really want to be protected, it’s important to purchase a motorcycle vest, jacket or suit with airbag bearing the right symbol. And pay attention – the indication “CE” alone isn’t enough to demonstrate that a product is personal protective equipment. The garment has to have the symbol shown below, which we’ll explain in brief.
The reference standard, improper as it is, is EN1621.4, as we said before. Airbag is indicated at the top; the drawing in the middle indicates exclusively motorcycle use. The level of protection, 1 or 2, is indicated at the bottom left. The bottom right shows the protection areas of the system in question, which for a motorcycle jacket with airbag may be as follows:
DC for Divided Chest, two-part chest protector (one to the right and one to the left of the garment opening zipper)
CB for Central Back
FB for Full Back, so with greater coverage on the shoulder blades too
In the case of a motorcycle suit with airbag there is the S for Shoulder option, which applies to D-air® Racing.
We have no doubts and, after this explanation, you shouldn’t have any either.
An electronic motorcycle airbag is an infinitely more refined device than any mechanically activated airbag. A mechanical motorcycle airbag forgoes the whole electronic component, relying on a safety cable that connects bike and rider. When the cable is pulled hard enough, activation begins, the same way as a car seat belt. That’s all very simple and straightforward, but you need to consider a few aspects. The cable needs to be long enough to allow the rider the movement they require when riding, so the rider needs to come off the bike before the activation signal can be sent, resulting in a delay which is to be expected.
The Dainese D-air® electronic airbag isn’t limited in this way, because there’s no connection between rider and motorcycle. As explained, D-air® is designed to activate at the very first signs of abnormal motion, potentially before the rider is unseated. It also offers superior daily practicality – you don’t have to disconnect and reconnect it every time you get off and back on the bike; and if you ride someone else’s vehicle, the protection from the garment you’re wearing is exactly the same, whereas a mechanical motorcycle airbag requires the connection setup.
Dainese D-air® motorcycle airbags meet extremely high quality standards, obviously essential given the function that they have to carry out. There are however some helpful procedures to make sure that the system guarantees correct operation over time.
The most predictable, but no less important, aspect is recharging the battery. The most recent D-air® devices charge like a regular smartphone and have a battery life of up to 26 hours. Every 3 years, it’s also a good idea to contact the Dainese service department for a maintenance check and any restoration of components subject to wear and tear.
When it comes to actual use, it’s of interest that the latest generation of suits with D-air® Racing airbags offers the possibility of replacing the gas generator independently and, in tandem, the airbag can be inflated up to three times. In other words, after the first and second activation, all you need to do is carry out a quick operation to replace the generator and stay protected. You won’t need to have the airbag checked by Dainese staff.
As an electronically operated device, D-air® requires periodic firmware updates, which can improve its performance or offer new features. The new capabilities could, among other things, include enhanced fall recognition capacity, so it’s a step not to be overlooked. Upgrading requires your D-air® to be registered on the Dainese website, which you can do yourself or have performed during maintenance by Dainese staff. Registering your D-air® after purchase is also essential in order to receive notifications when new firmware updates are released.
Having read this far, it’s not hard to understand how much technology is contained in these motorcycle suits, jackets and vests incorporating the Dainese D-air® airbag, which only add a few grams to the corresponding conventional garments. It’s an unrivalled benchmark in technical sophistication, with unprecedented protective capacity and superior ergonomics.
Dainese D-Air® is the best solution for living out your passion free of care.
PLEASE NOTE: Read the product manual carefully before use.