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C-TECH: Airbag Suits

Now that AFT mandates airbag suits for SuperTwins class, new Sideburn correspondent, Cory Texter, talks us through airbag tech. Flat-track racing is enjoying a well-documented resurgence. From the standpoint of someone who has been attending and later contesting nationals since the day I was born, I doubted the sport would ever make it back to the Camel Pro days. When I turned professional in 2007, sponsorship was difficult to find, television packages were nonexistent, and most riders depended on purse money for a paycheck. Fast forward to 2019: More manufacturers were involved with American Flat Track than in MotoAmerica road racing, and every one of the 18 AFT races was broadcast on NBC Sports Network to a reported overall audience of more than 3 million viewers. The level of professionalism has elevated each year since the series was rebranded in 2017, which has attracted new sponsors and growing interest from fans around the world. Rider safety, however, has been heavily scrutinized the past few seasons, and for good reason. The single- and twin-cylinder motorcycles raced in the series are powerful and fast, and new technologies are available to help keep riders safer. I have witnessed the worst of the worst in this sport, and, as the only rider who has served on the AMA advisory board every year since its creation in 2016, I want to see safety improved. Several riders suffered serious injuries this past season, and lengthy rehabilitations expected. To its credit, AFT has implemented additional air fence and mandated leather suits, full-face helmets, and leather gloves. Walls and fences at various venues have been boarded up, and, in 2020, the series will require use of airbag-equipped suits in the newly configured SuperTwins class. 'We want to take the necessary steps to keep our riders safe,' said Joey Mancari, Chief Competition Officer of American Flat Track. 'The plan is to have all our riders equipped with airbag suits in the near future, so mandating this technology in the SuperTwins class for 2020 is a great way to put the plan into motion.'' Airbag suits have become more readily available during the past decade. First seen in MotoGP in 2009, they are now mandatory in all classes—MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3. Alpinestars and Dainese have headlined development of this technology and now either equip or have made their products available to a growing number of flat trackers. I began using the Alpinestars Tech-Air suit midway through the 2019 season.

When I first started wearing the Alpinestars suit, it took a little getting used to. For decades typical flat track suit comes as a two-piece whereas the Tech-Air suit comes as a one piece. As you can imagine, the fit is a bit different from a one-piece suit to a two-piece suit. The fit on a one-piece is best when you are sitting on the motorcycle rather than standing next to it. Makes sense. After a couple of races wearing the suit, I fell in love with the way it felt and the airbag technology gives me a little bit more confidence on the race track when I need to get dicey. These suits are designed for a very specific purpose and that is safety on the race track. As a Father of a two-year old boy, I want to take every necessary steps I can to best protect myself while on the motorcycle.

The Alpinestars Tech-Air system is a self-contained multi-sensor system designed to protect the wearer’s core. The airbag and all related components are housed within the suit and operate independently of the motorcycle or any other form of external control. Sensors constantly measure rate of acceleration and feed that data into a central electronic control unit (ECU). To offer the fastest-possible response and achieve full inflation before the rider suffers an impact, the sampling rate is remarkably quick.

In a typical lowside, time from loss-of-control detection to full inflation is said to be less than 50 milliseconds, meaning the rider is notionally protected throughout the duration of the event. In an impact with an obstacle the rider is defended against initial impact. The airbag remains active for five seconds before deflation begins. Alpinestars provides two deployments, so if a rider is able to get back on his or her bike and continue racing, the airbag is ready for a second hit, after which the suit must be serviced.

Flat track is a blue-collar sport, but the cost for this technology is affordable. The Alpinestars Missile Ignition Tech-Air Compatible Suit is priced at $1,099.95. The Tech-Air Race System is priced at $1,149.95. This is comparable in price to custom made two-piece leather flat track suits from US companies, however these do not contain the Tech-Air system which equipped with state of the art technology and aimed at keeping the rider safe as possible.

AFT Singles rider Brandon Singer was wearing a one-piece RS Taichi leather suit equipped with a Tech-Air vest (above and below) when he crashed earlier this year at the Atlanta Short Track. “I was struck by another bike,” he recalled. “I was sliding on my butt when I was hit in the middle of my back, which folded me over.” Singer believes the severity of his internal injuries would have been greater had he not been wearing an airbag.

A dozen or so riders wore airbag-equipped suits in AFT competition in the 2019 season. This season, whether they like it or not, more will be required by the series to use this technology.

When the crash-detection algorithm recognizes particular patterns in the data that indicate the the rider is losing control or has become unstable, the airbag triggers a signal that is sent to one of the two argon-gas canisters, which inflate the airbag.

Detection time, the period in which the ECU recognizes a crash and begins to react, varies with the circumstances.

For Alpinestars to get involved with American Flat Track is huge for the continued growth of the sport. For the riders to have similar suits as MotoGP champion Marc Marquez is a true testament to how far we have come in a few short years. I truly believe in the technology of an airbag-equipped suit. I will retire before I race at the professional level again without one.


Read about Cory's Racewear and his championship winning G&G Racing Yamaha MT-07 in Sideburn 39.

Read his new tech feature - on tyres - in Sideburn 40.


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