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TESTED: ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

TESTED: ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD


BY: CHAD DE ALVA


Autonomous airbags are arguably the greatest advancement in motorcycle rider safety since the invention of the motorcycle helmet. An autonomous airbag is worn by the rider under their riding jacket or jersey and works on the same concept as the airbags in a vehicle: While the wearer is riding, the airbag is constantly analyzing input from a number of sensors to detect a crash. Once the system has determined the rider is crashing, it inflates an airbag in less than 60 milliseconds that provides additional impact protection to the rider, just like the airbags in a vehicle help to protect the passenger(s).

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Alpinestars has been working on wearable autonomous airbags for more than two decades, and in that time, they’ve logged millions of miles of data and analyzed thousands of crashes from all sorts of riders ranging from the world’s best to average riders commuting to work. Their latest Tech-Air Autonomous Airbag System is called the Tech-Air Off-Road  (TAOR), and it’s targeted squarely at off-road and adventure riders.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM
 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

At first glance, the Tech-Air Off-Road looks just like a fancy full torso separate armor system, which speaks volumes about how svelte this self-contained airbag system is. With removable, passive CE Level 1 Elbow and Shoulder protectors, a fixed CE level 2 chest and a fixed CE level 1 back protector, the TAOR provides a full complement of CE certified protection to the wearer. Yet hiding under the back panel are all of the terminator-status fancy bits that make the Tech-Air Off-Road so much more than any other passive separate armor system on the market.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Under this panel is where the TAOR’s Airbag Control Unit (ACU), battery, and gas canisters are located. The ACU uses multiple accelerometers and gyros to determine what the rider is doing thousands of times a second. When the system determines that the wearer is crashing, the ACU triggers one of the two gas canisters on either side of the ACU, inflating the airbag. When inflated, the Airbag provides comprehensive back, chest, shoulder protection, as well as inflating a collar around the neck that limits the range of motion of the rider’s neck. The airbag will hold peak pressure for five seconds, and then slowly release pressure over the next few minutes.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM
 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

There is no repacking process for the Tech-Air Off-Road. The system will reset and be ready to deploy again after 30 seconds (assuming there is a good canister to use). The canisters are user-replaceable, so you can carry spares if needed on a longer ADV ride. Riders who like to do fly and ride trips will be happy to know that the TAOR is approved to be carried in checked luggage.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

On the wearer’s bottom left of the chest protector is the control pad for the that shows riding mode and system status. There is an LED for each of the three riding modes: STREET, ENDURO, and RALLY, as well as a battery status LED, and a system status LED that indicate battery status and system state respectively. A single button is used to switch between the riding modes and put the system into standby mode.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM
 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

The Tech-Air Off-Road has three distinct riding modes that make the system a quiver of one for all sorts of adventure, touring, and off-road riding situations. STREET mode is obviously named for use on paved surfaces. The big differentiator in STREET mode versus the other two ride modes is that STREET mode will trigger a deployment in situations where the wearer is stationary and then hit by something. Think motorcyclist stopped at a traffic light and then hit by another vehicle or similar situation. ENDURO mode is for any sort of slower to medium speed off-road riding. Alpinestar’s guidance was “ENDURO mode for off-road riding less than 50 miles an hour.” For go-fast off-road riding, use RALLY mode. In these two modes, something like tipping over while stopping won’t necessarily trigger a deployment, which is great for instances where you wouldn’t want a deployment anyway.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Using the Tech-Air Off-Road is about as easy as it gets. Charging the unit is done via a USB Type-C port on the bottom of the control pad. Alpinestars claims around 30 hours of active battery life, and the system can be charged while armed if needed. As you zip the TAOR up, you’ll feel the system vibrate to let you know it’s now armed, and you’ll see a solid blue system status LED and a green LED illuminated for the riding mode you’re currently in. If your TAOR has been deployed four times, the system status LED will show solid yellow instead of solid blue, which is your reminder to send the TAOR into an Alpinestars service center to have the system inspected. Switching riding modes takes a single, two second press on the control button.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM
 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Alpinestars has a development roadmap for the Tech-Air Off-Road, and future firmware updates will incorporate quality-of-life and/or feature updates. A firmware update that was released shortly before this article was published included a couple of changes based on feedback from TAOR users, and it’s always awesome to see a company revising their products based on user feedback.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

The Tech-Air Off-Road is very comfortable to wear with or without the removable shoulder and elbow pads installed. It’s worth experimenting with the other riding layers you’re going to use over the TAOR to figure you whether you want to use the pads in the TAOR, or any pads integrated into your riding jacket of choice. I spent one day using the TAOR with the pads in my jacket, and one day using the pads in the TAOR, and ended up preferring the pads in the TAOR, but your mileage may vary – so see what works best for your particular riding gear.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM
 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Another consideration for many riders is carrying a hydration bladder, and the TAOR delivers here as well. There are hanging provisions and a pocket for holding a 1.5 to 3 liter hydration bladder on the back of the system. For riders who prefer to wear some sort of riding pack, know that the TAOR fits well under a pack – I spent both days on the launch wearing my usual camera pack and had no issues with fit or pack stability. I did however, have to resize all of my straps and it’s important to be mindful where your pack’s straps are on your anatomy in case of a deployment. If the airbag can’t expand outward due to a sung fitting riding jacket or pack straps, it’s going to compress inward on the wearer. Like integrating any other piece of gear into your riding kit, adding the TAOR to your setup takes a little bit of adjustment but the benefits the system provides can’t be overstated enough.

 ALPINESTARS TECH-AIR OFF-ROAD AIRBAG SYSTEM

Alpinestars had three of their athletes riding with us in Death Valley, and Ricky Brabec, Skyler Howes, and Vanessa Ruck all had stories to share about how the Tech-Air Off-Road has saved their bacon. A couple of these crashes were caught on video, and watching these athletes go from flat out to full-send ragdoll in a split second makes for a pretty compelling argument as to the value of Tech-Air Off-Road. Alpinestars told us that that the airbag is capable of reducing impact forces by 95% in a crash, which explains how these athletes are able to get right back on the bike and keep charging even after having such gnarly crashes.

The Tech-Air Off-Road is truly a revolutionary product for off-road and adventure riders. The additional protection that it provides the wearer in the event of a crash can’t be replicated via any other means, which explains why airbags have become required kit at events like the Dakar Rally. No matter whether you’re riding high alpine single track and have fall in a no-fall zone, or you overcook a gravel corner on your adventure bike, or you’re just riding home on the highway and a distracted driver hits you, the Tech-Air Off-Road could literally be the piece of kit that saves your life should something go seriously wrong. When you factor in the potential costs of hospital visits, backcountry rescue, and the cost of other lost opportunities from being injured, the Tech-Air Off-Road is worth every penny.

This feature was originally produced by Upshift Online