I’ve never considered an item like this really necessary, and my opinion hasn’t changed so how I ended up trying one is a bit of a long story.
Before that if you have not seen this video from Fortnine then I suggest to watch it. Ryan explains in a very entertaining way the misconceptions, the benefits and why nobody wears them.
If you can’t the spare time then the short version is they are not just a Michelin Man cushion. They provide a neck brace that otherwise is very awkward to wear. That can reduce spinal injuries by 89% as well provide back protection up to 50 times better than your regular jacket.
Ryan alludes to nobody wearing them because of machismo. Bingo. I cannot imagine anyone in Australia ever trying one. But Japan is the land of unwritten rules about respect to others. The culture does not tolerate people being assholes but will never question your choice of riding attire be it a mankini, a airbag or dressing up as CHiPs on replica highway patrol Harleys (quite popular here).
Gifted 100,000 Yen Covid cash by the government I updated my riding outfit. Besides excellent quality I wanted better protection and went from crappy foam pads in Alpinestars gear to CE2 armor in Macna gear. This got me thinking there is all this better gear available why am I not using it?
So one night I saw this on sale below half price of a USA vest and decided why not try it for myself instead of making assumptions – cause I have done that far too many times in life and each time been wrong.
At first glance you might assume it is going to be like a workers safety vest to wear. I did but got that totally wrong. The material is strong so the vest weighs 1.5kg.
Ryan already explained how they attach and work so I won’t repeat all of it but there is a tether you mount under seat and clip to vest. If you are thrown off bike it inflates but withstands reasonable tension if you forget to disconnect while trying to dismount.
The design is quite ingenious, inflation sees flaps pop open and the neck and lower back protection pop out and everything inflates in an instant.
On the road
While not very big that weight of 1.5kg when added to my existing 2.5kg jacket is heavy. The combined total weight feels suffocating, like it is restricting my normal movement, but it isn’t. Conversely it does not flap about which is good.
Despite wearing heavy leather jackets in Australia for years I have forgotten the feeling and now prefer light textile – but with time I presume you would get used to it.
It restricts air flow more than I imagined. On top of my Macna jacket in Autumn it restricts air to the front intake panels and seems to limit the effectiveness of the rear venting of the jacket as well. When the weather was cold it did not matter but anytime it warmed up I wanted to remove the vest.
Summer I have doubts I could wear it but I will update that next year. My summer jacket might work better than my Macna. For a start it is light and the main intake vent is middle of front where the vest has gap.
The vest obstructs access to my jackets front cargo pockets. Not a big issue on existing bike while using a tank bag. But would be a hassle if I was riding something else.
I often set off forgetting to tether it or tried to get off with it still attached. Eventually both would become automatic. The process takes only a second but something to remind me is needed.
I think it would work far better built into a jacket and Hit-Air are doing exactly that however those are more expensive and you will need a summer and winter version. Cannot take those on a plane so I also need summer and winter non airbag jacket. Four jackets is too expensive.
On my 3 week Autumn tour I started using it every day then 1/2 day and by end it remained in my pannier. My opinion remains I perhaps don’t need it, especially with how good my latest gear is. However I appreciate Hit-Air seeking to elevate rider protection to a new level and bringing innovation to market affordably.
I will persist some more with it in 2022 and update this further. My issues are just the weight and reduction of venting. Otherwise I have no qualms wearing it.
But I know riders are concerned about machismo and what men might say. My biggest regrets in life are the things I did not try and one of the few good things of getting older is you stop caring what others think. Wear whatever you like, t-shirt, race suit or CHiPs uniform. Go your own way, you will rarely regret doing that.