Airbags like this are NOT safe for use on a motorcycle
As a motorcycle riding kit safety advocate, and member of the Bennetts BikeSocial Facebook Group, Martin Foster has identified more potentially dangerous ‘motorcycle airbags’ sold online.
The ex-pat found these fakes while researching kit for Mongolian children racing in equestrian cross-country competitions. They need protection to be as cheap as possible, but the implications of buying these – for horse or motorcycle riding – thinking they’re a budget alternative to properly made and tested airbags are terrifying…
BikeSocial has already reported on supposed ‘motorcycle’ airbags sold in the UK on Amazon; potentially lethal devices that were ordered to be withdrawn by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) due to a drowning risk, they were still being offered for sale as motorcycle PPE, despite not having been tested and certified to the relevant EN 1621-4 standard for motorcycle use.
Without proper testing, there’s no guarantee that the airbags will inflate to an adequate pressure, cover the required areas, or indeed inflate quick enough to be of any use.
Now Martin has bought two airbags for his own research, this time sold on AliExpress, which he’s discovered take FIVE TIMES longer to inflate than a properly tested and certified airbag from the legitimate and responsible PPE manufacturer Helite, and two and a half times longer than the maximum time allowed to meet the airbag vest standard.
“I'm certainly not the first to buy an airbag from Alibaba or AliExpress and take a video of the deployment,” he told Bennetts BikeSocial. “But I wanted to know why these ‘cheap’ airbags are so much slower.
“I bought two samples and used slow motion video at 240fps at find out how they performed compared to a properly certified Helite vest. My size medium Helite Turtle 1 was fully inflated in 75 milliseconds, while the size extra-large was full in 100 milliseconds. The two Chinese airbags I bought from AliExpress – which look very similar to many other ‘budget’ options available on ecommerce sites – took 500 milliseconds.
“The front of the Chinese airbag inflates quickly, but the back is so slow that you can feel it inflating, which is all wrong; it should be explosive and instant. I have to say that the inflation pressure also felt inadequate, but I had no easy way to measure this.”
It’s worth pointing out that having the front inflated does not mean there’s protection in that area; until the entire bag is at full pressure, the gas inside will simply be displaced during an impact, so it’s effectively useless until it’s full.
Besides the fact that the pressure could be too low to be effective, an airbag that’s slow to inflate could, quite literally, be the difference between life and death.
“The two Chinese airbags I bought came with one 35g CO2 canister each, with 1/2"-20 UNF threads,” says Martin. “The Helite uses bigger 45g CO2 canisters with 5/8"-UNF threads. So that's 28% more CO2 in the Helite inflator.
“However, you can source 45g CO2 canisters in both thread sizes and the cap seal looks to be the same diameter, but the diameter of the blade that pierces the canister could have a significant effect.
“The Helite has a 5.9mm diameter blade, whereas the Chinese airbags I bought have 4.1mm, which could restrict the flow of gas. The other problem appears to be the bladder design in the generic Chinese airbags: whereas Helite uses two loops connected with a bridge at the back of the neck, the generics use a single long tube wrapped all the way around the body. With the canister connected at one end, physics tell us that the gas has a long way to go to fill and increase pressure when the tube is 3.8 meters long.”
Sub-standard inflator mechanisms and a single length of airbag bladder appear to contribute to the dangerously slow inflation times
At the time of writing, the airbags Martin bought cost as little as £65.64 on AliExpress, compared to £550 for the Helite Turtle 2 that Martin compared them to. Jackets from RST with autonomous fully-certified In&Motion airbags start at £399 (with a £120 annual subscription), while the Alpinestars Tech Air 3 vest costs £499, and the Dainese Smart Jacket is £750.
That’s a big difference.
But besides the fact that there are no assurances that these Chinese generic airbags have enough pressure to properly protect you in a crash, such slow inflation could make them irrelevant.
It’s like crashing a car then the paramedics putting your seat belt on after.
You also shouldn’t rely on claims of certification, or the ‘built in Knight armour’, which the advert claims to be 2cm thick. Martin measured the foam (NOT armour) that was in the generic airbag he bought from China to find it was just 9.2mm thick.
Buying one of these airbags might appear to save you money, but it’s potentially a total waste of your cash, given that there’s no proper armour fitted, and the airbag could end up inflated AFTER impact.
Better than nothing? Maybe not.
Not only is this back ‘protector’ less than half as thick as it advertised, it’s also not proper armour – it’s just foam