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Hit Air Air-Bag Jacket Test by Terry Stevenson
Motorcycle riders now enjoy more choices over the traditional leather jacket for injury and weather protection. Some years ago DuPont developed a durable new cloth product designed for bike jackets, named Cordura. However their patents have expired and companies such as Air Guard have introduced material with the same quality and properties as Cordura.
Today, technology has evolved into good quality cloth-based jackets that include many built-in safety features as standard. In a top-of-the-line jacket you expect to get great styling and colours, complete waterproofing, back, shoulder and elbow padding, removable lining for warm weather outings, pockets that don't leak, a warm collar, reflective sections for night riding, and good length at the back. The new Japanese Hit-Air EU jacket, manufactured by Mugen Denko Co. Ltd , has all of these, plus it turns into a protective air bag if you come off your motorcycle. From the original manufacturers of the air bag jacket, this could be the biggest revolution to rider safety in years.
The air-bag safety process occurs within a split second if the rider parts company with the bike, and the thin bladder inside the jacket becomes fully inflated from a special gas bottle mounted high on the right chest. In moments the jacket is transformed into something that can offer you more protection when you hit the ground. Like everything, it won't keep you safe from all crashes, but in most cases it should reduce the chances of abrasions and bruising of the kind generally suffered while sliding along the road. Looking back over the two dozen road and race falls I've taken part in, an air-bag jacket would have helped reduce my injuries in nearly all of them. Not that I'd wear one while racing, but you get the picture.
Wearing it during inflation static tests, it feels like someone with a huge vice is crushing you, such is the air pressure inside the jacket you can feel its going to work for you. This feeling alone gives me great confidence in saying that it will help reduce injuries in most crashes. The head is supported at the back and sides under the helmet, by the now large air-bag. At the back, the jacket bulges out probably 100mm just below the shoulder blades, tapering to about 75mm thick down towards the bum protector, which unbuttons and flips down automatically upon inflation. The front gets a blast of protective air too, with the chest area well protected with around 75mm of air, including under the arms for extra rib protection. The jacket begins to slowly deflate about 30 seconds after activation.
A coiled wire is easily attached to the bike in a suitable place, fitting into a female clip that is attached to the jacket. You need to give a good, deliberate pull before the jacket inflates. It takes approx. 30kg of force from the clip to activate the gas cylinder, so if you try to walk off forgetting to press the large disconnect button, you will feel a reminder tug because the jacket has some “give” in it and the coiled wire straightens out. If you have a small bike, you could tip it over if you get off on the wrong side and you're not careful, but it's no problem on a say 250cc sized bike or bigger. To give you an idea, my nine year old son weighs 28kg, so he could swing on it, nearing the point of activation. Comprehensive literature with step by step photos are provided for fitting the coiled wire and cylinder replacement.
About the only downside to the air-bag safety feature is where to put the small gas cylinder. Hit-Air mounted it vertically on the right side of the chest. Based solely from experience, I think this is the least likely position to cause bodily damage in a crash. In a sliding crash on your front, the air-bag should keep a cushion between the chest and the cylinder that already has a large support backing anyway. But again, every crash is different and there are no guarantees in this world. In a heavy crash you are likely to break something anyway, but most bike crashes involve the back and sides.
Pillion or rider, if you are wearing the Hit Air jacket during an off, the point of impact with the ground or an object may not be your body, it will be the jacket. During impact the air pressure is evenly distributed around the whole bladder, which cushions the impact by distributing the load throughout the jacket. Pillions usually don't see a crash coming and are often under-protected, again the Hit Air would offer added protection to your loved one.
There has already been one accident in which the Hit Air deployed with the rider only sustaining injuries to his leg and knee. He commented that he wasn't even aware the jacket had inflated for his protection!
When I first put the jacket on, it felt comfortable right away, out on the bike I found the EU could not be faulted, at any speed. Even without the air-bag system, this jacket is well designed and in the top quality bracket. I know people who have bought Cordura style jackets, only to find they are not very waterproof, or blow up into a parachute as the wind gets inside the jacket while they're riding. Features I really like are the long back, keeping the lower back warm, the long arms that end up just the right length in the riding position (with adjustable Velcro wrists), and the outside pockets that don't have any leaking zips in them. While it's not littered with pockets, there are enough to go around. The usual chequebook sized inside pocket has a Velcro fastener, while inside the over-zip flap is a wallet sized, easy access pocket. Outside is a pair of large general purpose pockets, again, with Velcro fastening. Although handy on a hot day, I'm not a fan of outside zip breathers or pockets. When it rains, after a period of time even the best zips will leak water and I've had enough of coming home soaked through after a long ride.
As we've heard about Cordura cloth melting away in road crashes, the arm and shoulder areas have a special high-strength cloth designed for greater abrasion resistance. Positioned in front and back of the arms are small but highly reflective triangles, spaced far apart on the shoulders so that people can gauge your distance better. Hit-Air has also sewn in lower-reflective panels around the jacket, which make it look real cool in the streetlight. The high-neck air-bag is fully enclosed and folds inside a button-down flap to cover three-quarters of the neck, providing greater weather protection.
With the removable lining fitted, I found the Hit-Air jacket perfectly warm for winter riding and not an issue. The lining goes right along the arms and clips up inside the wrist, it is easy to remove and almost as easy to put back in.
Like most Cordura jackets these days you will find armour in the shoulders and elbows. Unlike some jackets, the elbow armour stretches most of the way along to the wrist; also standard is large 10mm thick foam padding that covers much of your back.
Six styles of jacket are available at Hit Air Australia , based at Grays Point , NSW. Ph/Fax (02) 9540-1500, or Email; firstname.lastname@example.org . The EU retails for $964, the UK $920 while the JP sells for $907. Spare gas cylinders are $20 (but you'll be glad to pay that if you end up crashing and the air-bag saves some skin).
Colours available vary depending on the jacket type, but the styling sets the striking EU jacket above the rest. I guess most Australians would opt for the touring and general-use EU type, which is the high-day-visibility red/black/silver test jacket I used.
Other jacket styles, colours and accessories are available, and can be viewed at www.hit-air.com , who also supplies air bladders to other jacket manufacturers. Overall, the quality of the product cannot be faulted; the Hit-Air EU jacket looks great, functions well and offers the additional air-bag safety feature to the motorcyclist.
Terry Stevenson is a Freelance journalist and photographer from Hamilton, New Zealand
Softening a motorcycle's crash landing An up-close glimpse of an accident inspired Kenji Takeuchi's $1.5 million line of airbag-equipped jackets.
Siri Schubert, Business 2.0 Magazine
The Seemingly Unsolvable Problem: Kenji Takeuchi used to drive his car every morning to Mugen Denko, the electrical services company he founded in Nagoya, Japan.
One day in 1994, he witnessed a motorcycle accident along the way: The rider flew into the air and landed hard on the ground. Questions flooded Takeuchi's brain: "What if he has a family? How will his wife or girlfriend feel?" And then the one that would preoccupy him for the next decade: "How can I protect someone in a motorcycle crash?"
The Great "Aha!": An airbag on the motorcycle wouldn't do. After all, riders usually fall far from their bikes in a crash. Takeuchi learned that upper-body impacts cause 90 percent of fatalities and serious injuries in traffic accidents, so he thought about sewing an airbag into a motorcycle jacket. But how to make it inflate before the rider hits the pavement?
While he was pondering that challenge, a friend invited him to go scuba diving. Takeuchi declined, but he noticed his friend's unusual vest. It had a key ring that, when pulled, would cause an emergency buoy to inflate and rise to the surface.
Takeuchi's company built its first prototype jacket in 1996. Like eventual production versions, it had an airbag inside that inflated automatically when a pin connecting the jacket to the bike was forcefully pulled from its socket. (A one-touch release button allows riders to get off their bikes without inflating the bags.)
But when Takeuchi took his invention to motorcycle shows in Tokyo and Osaka, bike manufacturers shunned him. "They thought the jacket would remind people that riding a motorcycle was dangerous," he says.
The Payoff: Undeterred, Takeuchi began selling the jackets in Japan in 1999 under the name Eggparka; in 2001 he relaunched the brand as Hit-Air. Today, Mugen Denko sells 16 styles of airbag-equipped motorcycle jackets and vests for about $270 apiece in Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America. (Product liability laws have been an obstacle in the United States.)
In 2003 the police department of Japan's Ibaragi Prefecture adopted Hit-Air vests for its motorcycle force, and Brazilian motorcyclist Jean De Azevedo, who finished seventh in the 2005 Paris-Dakar Rally, had a Hit-Air jacket custom-made for the race.
Total revenues from Hit-Air products reached about $1.5 million in 2005, and Takeuchi says his interest in safety products hasn't let up: He's currently working on extra protection for people on bicycles, skis, and skates, as well as for medical rescue personnel.
But he's proudest of the testimonials he's received from Hit-Air buyers. As one happy Japanese customer reports, "I should be dead."