The idea is simple: air is a good insulator, and the BMW AirVantage vest has a network of internal chambers that can be filled with air to keep the rider warm.
This is a simple concept, but who wants to wear a flotation device whist riding?
The key was to develop the technology so the vest looks like, well, a normal vest. In this regard, I think Gore and BMW succeeded.
But don’t just think of it as a garment for use in cold weather.
The advantage of the AirVantage (sorry!) is that the volume of air can be adjusted via a tube attached to the inside of the vest. Blow into the tube to inflate it (photo left) and press the valve down to let the air escape.
The vest can be used as an accessory under a wide variety of motorcycle or street clothing.
As the temperature increases or decreases during the day, the volume of air in the vest can be adjusted to regulate the amount of desired insulation.
Does it work? The short answer is yes.
We definitely noticed a difference as the vest is inflated to different levels.
It’s not quite like wearing an electric blanket, but three different riders have worn the AirVantage vest over the course of several weeks in temperatures ranging from 40 to 55 degrees F (about as cold as it’s been in these parts lately) and everyone agrees that it works.
The BMW AirVantage vest has the look and feel of BMW quality, just like the rest of their clothing line. BMW offers an excellent line of purpose-built clothing for motorcycle riding and they’re serious about their products.
The AirVantage vest is no exception.
The cut of the fabric and the styling lend it a certain coolness factor, and the vest is not out of place as an item for casual wear.
It can also be used off the motorcycle for general winter comfort under a variety of clothes. It’s surprisingly thin and very lightweight at only 362 grams (0.8 lb.). It’s barely noticeable when un-inflated and can be worn under a snug motorcycle jacket or even a men’s sport jacket.
The inside of the neck area and the arm holes have a stretchy fabric and a soft mesh knit liner for added comfort.
The liner is 100% polyester, but it has a soft and smooth feel that helps make it comfortable and also gives it the ability to move around to fit the rider’s body when inflated.
The outer lining is a combination of synthetic fibers that are designed to act as a wind block.
The lower portion of the outside of the vest includes mesh covered pockets on either side. Each pocket is divided vertically into two sections, each 100 mm (3.9″) wide by 130 mm (5.1″) deep.
Their shape prevents their use as a handwarmer pocket, but they’re handy for keys, a small cell phone or other items.
There is a piece of semi-stretchy elastic sewn along the top of the pockets as a hem. The vest has no internal pockets.
There’s also a tiny metal BMW roundel logo sewn on to the outside of the left pocket, a nice feature.
The size large men’s AirVantage vest has a 76 cm (30″) long back, which is long enough to cover the rider’s back all the way down to the tailbone for added warmth.
The zipper that closes the vest is on the small side and it’s buried under a fabric cover. It can be fussy to close and it almost always catches the fabric in the zipper teeth as it’s unzipped, but it hasn’t failed so far.
The tube inside the left chest is made from what appears to be a type of soft silicone compound. There’s a special cap attached to the tube that can be removed to expose the valve.
The special internal valve keeps the air inside the chambers until it’s pressed in. Only three puffs are needed to completely fill the chambers in the size large vest.
It expands from about 3 mm (0.125″) thick to about 13 mm (0.5″) when fully inflated, which is thin enough to fit under just about every type of motorcycle jacket.
Filling the vest is an interesting sensation – you can feel the air chambers fill up, and the vest becomes snug.
To release the air, the cap is reversed the cap and when the valve is pressed, the air escapes. BMW also lists an available repair kit, which I guess can be used to repair a hole in one of the air bladders, but the vest feels like it’s robust enough that there shouldn’t be any problem with normal wear and tear.
Although BMW (and Gore) claim that the air volume can be adjusted to vary the insulating value, in practice it’s slightly hard to fine-tune the small volume of air to get more than about three levels of insulation.
With no air, the vest acts as a wind block but offers very little insulating value. With some practice, the vest can be inflated to half-full, and some insulating value is apparent. At full volume (3 puffs of air), full insulating value is definitely noticeable.
I wear the vest around the house at about half-full and can definitely feel the effect. I’d say that the vest insulates better than anything I’ve ever tried that doesn’t have to be plugged into an electrical outlet.
The BMW AirVantage vest works; the only problem is its price. $259.00 is a lot of money for this product, and it’s a shame that the high price is keeping it from being more readily accepted in the marketplace.
But we think that the AirVantage concept is a good one because it’s simple and it works. There’s something pretty neat about using your own air to keep yourself warm!
Gore is marketing the rights to the AirVantage technology to other clothing manufacturers and other AirVantage-based products are starting to become available.
It’s interesting to note that the AirVantage vest no longer has its own page on the BMW Rider’s Apparel website.
We’re not sure why the product doesn’t show up in the general page listings and can only be found via a search.
BMW may have given up because the price is keeping customers from buying.
Oakley, the manufacturer of high-end sunglasses, also makes (or made) an AirVantage equipped hiking jacket, but that has also disappeared from their website (at least as far as we can tell), although it can still be found in stock at some retailers.
Perhaps its $399.00 price is also more than the market will bear?
It may be possible to purchase a generic version of the AirVantage vest at sporting goods stores, snowboard shops or marine retailers.
Apparently, they haven’t been selling very well, because several of the stores that we’ve tried no longer carry the product.