The Helite Airnest airbag vest is designed to make it easy to wear and use, and we think that’s important, because if it’s too fussy, it won’t be worn and if it isn’t being worn, it can’t protect the rider.
The airbag jacket is not really a good solution, because if you don’t like the jacket, you’re stuck, where the Airnest vest can be worn over any motorcycle jacket.
It also satisfies multiple criteria, with its standard built-in back protector and in the high-visibility yellow color.
There isn’t anything difficult to remember to get the Helite airbag vest configured other than remembering to put it on on over your motorcycle jacket and then making sure the release cord is connected to the bike.
And once the cord is attached to the bike, the rider simply re-connects the vest with a quick-release snap.
The airbag vest is deployed if the rider is ejected from the motorcycle during an accident. The vest will inflate and protect the core body cavity.
The vest also adds a layer of abrasion protection and it has a built-in Knox back protector, which is an added benefit.
Actually, calling it a “CO2 vest” or “carbon dioxide inflatable vest” would probably be more accurate than “airbag”, as the vest is inflated from the pressure in a CO2 cartridge attached to the front.
The Helite Airnest vest is available in all-black or the high-visibility yellow version shown here, which includes a large amount of highly retro-reflective heat-sealed tape on the front and back (see photos below).
The Helite airbag vest is “reactive”; that is, it inflates during the accident, not in anticipation of the accident.
There are some highly complex (and very expensive) airbag inflation systems that include sensors on the motorcycle which will trigger the airbag milliseconds before the full force of the impact is felt by the rider.
But obviously, that is an extremely complex technology that is still in its infancy.
Helite Airnest Airbag Vest Details
The outer shell of the Helite Airnest vest is made from a nylon “Cordura-like” fabric typically found in motorcycle jacket shells.
The vest feels like it’s lightly padded but that’s actually the airbag inside, sandwiched between the outer shell and the heavy mesh polyester vest lining.
The size large vest we reviewed with the CO2 cartridge installed weighs about 1 kg (~2.4 lbs.).
The weight really isn’t noticeable when riding, other than the fact that the vest blocks the air flow from a mesh or perforated leather jacket.
It’s comfortable and fits with adequate room and feels more or less like wearing an inflatable “Mae West” type of inflatable vest used in boating or sailing.
CO2 Cartridge and Airbag Inflation Details
The CO2 engagement system designed by Helite appears to be very well made and nicely designed; it’s also simpler than the systems used on the other airbag jackets and vests we reviewed.
The threaded CO2 cartridge is held in a heavy plastic mount on the right-hand side of the chest.
The vest arrives with the CO2 cartridge installed (threaded) to the receiver. The receiver unit holds an engagement cord that has a metal ball attached to one end.
The cord is attached to the motorcycle and if the rider is ejected from the bike, the ball is pulled out of the receiver and a heavy spring pushes a sharp penetrator into the neck of the CO2 cartridge, which then inflates the vest.
Helite said the airbag vest protects effectively (230 mBar of pressure in the airbag ) after 0.1 second (with approximately (0.005 second error).
The timing, the rate of inflation, the amount of air (actually CO2) volume, the maximum pressure (it reaches 230 mBar) and the design of the bladder are all very important factors in an airbag vest.
Helite ran many tests and used motorcycle crash data from the University of Florence in Italy to develop the airbag vest.
The capacity of the CO2 cartridge used in the Helite vest and the design of the actual airbag is much different from the airbag jackets and vests we have reviewed in the past.
Those seem smaller and less robust in comparison (and which used smaller CO2 cartridges with less volume).
The Helite CO2 cartridge size is 50 cc (35 grams) for the Youth-sized vest (age 10-12).
For the vest sized for 14 year old youth and the size range of S to XL, the cartridge is 60 cc (45 grams) and for the LL and XL size vest, the cartridge is 100 cc with 60 grams of CO2.
Release Cord and Installation
The release cord for the Helite airbag vest system must be attached to the motorcycle.
It has a looped end with a nylon buckle and another nylon buckle that acts as a release from the bike when the rider is mounting or dismounting.
The cord can be attached in a central location and should have enough slack for the rider to move around.
It would be very difficult for the vest to inflate solely due to the rider walking away from the bike without first disconnecting the cord.
The force needed is significant (think 60-100 kg body being ejected from a motorcycle) and it must be delivered quickly.
It honestly doesn’t take long to remember that the cord is attached and it can be felt as soon as the leg starts to lift off the bike, so in effect, this really isn’t an issue.
Also, a tag or ribbon or such can be attached to the ignition key to act as a reminder to the rider.
The CO2 cartridge is easily replaced. A hex key is included with the vest and it can be used to unscrew a plug from the bottom of the CO2 cartridge receiver, which then releases the spring.
The metal ball end of the cord can then be replaced in its metal cavity, the plug is threaded in again and a new CO2 cartridge is threaded into the top of the receiver.
Of course, if the vest has been deployed during an accident and did its job, you’ll be sending it back to Helite for an inspection or replacement.
The Airnest vest is available in several sizes; this is the size large, which is the most common and it is designed to fit over a motorcycle jacket for riders with chest sizes of around 42″ to 45″ (U.S. sizing).
It has four 20 mm wide nylon webbed straps across the front with snap buckles to secure the vest.
The straps have a long section of hook-and-loop fabric for adjustment and the adjuster section is hidden under a flap on the left-hand side of the chest (see photos and video).
The Helite vest should be slightly loose over the jacket to allow room for expansion of the airbag, which expands quite a bit and very fast.
The vest becomes very tight when the airbag is deployed, to protect the rider.
wBW Video: Helite “Airnest” Airbag Vest
The Helite Airnest airbag vest is a nice addition to the arsenal of protective gear that can be worn by the motorcycle owner. It is very nicely designed and has high-quality construction.
The high-visibility version serves double-duty during the day and night, adding a lot of visibility to the rider.
The built-in back protector is also an added bonus; many/most riders do not wear back protectors on the street and any product that makes a back protector easier to wear or more of a habit is a good thing.
Riding habits have to be slightly modified, as the rider must remember to attach and detach the engagement cord from the bike.
But it’s easy to incorporate this procedure into your preparation drill, much like putting on a pair of gloves, ear plugs or a helmet.
And like a helmet, one hopes the Helite airbag vest will never need to be deployed…but you’ll sure to be very pleased that it’s there when or if the time comes.
The Helite Airnest airbag vest has a list price that is roughly equivalent to a good motorcycle helmet, but the bonus of the high-visibility color and built-in back protector somewhat mitigate the cost.
The excellent build quality and CE approval make this the airbag vest to own.
From “D.F.” (September 2014): “Fell off my bike while doing slow manoeuvres on a sloping surface. As I fell from the bike, the airbag activated and was inflated by the time I hit the Tarmac.
It felt like a jacket zipped up too tight for a few minutes. Protecting my internal organs like kidneys.
Most impressive was the helmet being held in the safe position, preventing my neck being bent abnormally forward or backward. The CO2 soon escaped and the airbag jacket was back to normal.
A spare cylinder from my little toolkit, fitted in about 10 minutes — no doubt guys would be quicker! Only injury was a cracked nail…
Only problem is my pink vest looked high viz, but in the dark my hubby riding behind me says it’s not reflective. Pink now discontinued but might be worth checking the yellow one for this problem.
Best money I will ever spend I think!”
From “L.R.” (August 2012): “Thanks for this article — airbag vests are great. I think Helite is one of the two major manufacturers, the other is Hit-Air, made in Japan. … Both also supply for equestrian as well.
After wearing an airbag vest for a few years, I feel naked without one.
And in every spill I’ve had (all minor, knock on wood), the vest inflated every time; I then just repack the bag and put in a new cartridge.
In addition to protecting the core body cavity, the vests also offer great tailbone protection.
But perhaps even more important is that the vests function as a neck brace to prevent the head from canting on impact. This can reduce or prevent neck injuries that would otherwise be from very bad to fatal.
If you have any doubts, (view the) videos of these vests in action — motorcycle racers wearing them get up from falls that would otherwise require a stretcher.
These should be an essential part of any safety-conscious biker’s gear.”