The Helite leather airbag jacket is a rugged-looking and good-looking piece of kit. We like it more than the Adventure jacket, because the leather looks cool and it adds a bit of extra protection. The leather version of the airbag jacket also seems easier and more comfortable to wear and it spans more motorcycle style categories, from cruisers to street bikes, where the Adventure jacket is just that. The leather does add a premium to what is an already expensive jacket, but what price safety?
In fact, the Turtle airbag vest is the core system component of the Helite jackets. Both the Turtle airbag system and the included (removable) SAS-Tec back protector are CE certified. The leather airbag jacket also includes CE certified Knox shoulder and elbow protectors.
But to briefly recap, the Helite airbag system inflates with a replaceable CO2 cartridge, which Helite says inflates the airbag in 100 milliseconds. With the leather airbag jacket, you also get the protection of heavy 1.3 mm cowhide plus the Knox shoulder and elbow protectors. So it’s probably safe to say that this has to be one of the most protective motorcycle jackets you can buy.
Also, the leather used in the Helite leather airbag jacket feels sturdier than the textile in the Helite Adventure jacket and this helps hold the CO2 cartridge and the airbag system in place more securely.
There are a couple of downsides and quirks, however. First, the leather airbag jacket in size XL weighs 4.2 kg (9.25 lbs.), although it fits correctly (XL = U.S. L). Also, other than the stretch fabric under the arms, there’s no ventilation due to the airbag vest built into the jacket. That wasn’t a problem in our current winter weather though.
It was -8 C (18 F) and bone-chilling damp during the photo and video shoot, so we missed a few details in our rush to get inside! Note also that the system has to be attached to the motorcycle and adjusted correctly for proper deployment.
Unlike an electronic system that inflates the airbag whether the rider leaves the bike or not, the Helite system only works if the rider and bike part ways.
Like the Helite Adventure airbag jacket, the Helite leather airbag jacket is pretty much indistinguishable from the classic leather motorcycle jacket. It’s available in black or weathered brown leather; we’re especially partial to the brown version in our photos.
The leather feels thick but it’s relatively soft, not like the “hard” thick leather found on some motorcycle jackets of the type that takes years to break in. The jacket is available in a size range from S to 4XL, but it seems to run about 1 size small. Helite suggested the XL for a 43″ to 44″ chest and that seems right. The jacket shown here is a size XL.
There’s some black elastic stretch material under the arms, along with a vertical row of accordion pleats on each side of the body of the jacket under the arms.
Some of the leather along the upper back and outer lower arms is perforated, but you have to look pretty closely to notice the perforations.
The jacket has a removable quilted insulating liner. It attaches with two zippers in front, one on either side and with dual leather snap loops in either sleeve cuff. The liner has its own collar with a fabric topping on the inside.
The leather jacket has a neoprene rolled edge along the top of the collar for comfort.
Zippers and Pockets
The sleeve cuffs are straightforward; each sleeve fastens at the cuff with a zipper and an unbranded metal snap. Both sides of the snap are press-riveted to the leather and have a antiqued dark bronze finish on the brown jacket.
The main entry is a nice, hefty YKK nylon zipper. There are two hand pockets, one on each side, both with smaller teeth YKK zippers and the pockets are lined. A horizontal chest pocket on the left also has the same YKK zipper as the pockets. This pocket is 16 cm deep (6.25″) and 13 cm wide (5″).
Inside the left placket is another pocket, also with a YKK zipper.
This one has leather sections covering the zipper, which make it a bit difficult to reach the zipper pull. This pocket is about 20 cm deep (8″) on the angle.
On the inside of the insulating liner is a cell phone pocket with a flap that secures with hook-and-loop. This pocket is repeated in the same location on the inside body of the jacket, under the liner when the liner is installed.
The jacket has a hook-and-loop leather belt along the bottom of the hem under the arms for adjustment of the waist. These are leather straps that feed through square plastic D rings for the adjustment and there’s plenty of adjustment room. There is no attachment belt on the inside of the jacket shell that could be used to attach the jacket to pants.
Neck and Collar
The collar has a simple hook-and-loop strap, with leather on top. It’s sewn on the left side but the stitching seems a bit weak here; there’s no extra cross stitching or “X” pattern stitching for reinforcement. The hook-and-loop offers a modest amount of adjustment at the neck, but the styling of the leather jacket is such that there isn’t a tall neck or collar anyway to worry about.
To repeat, we’ve covered the Helite airbag system in detail in previous reviews, so we won’t duplicate all of the details here. The airbag used in the leather jacket appears to be the same as the system found in the Helite Adventure jacket. It is the Helite “Turtle” airbag vest. Helite had a system called the Helite Airnest Vest we reviewed in 2012.
You could buy the vest to wear under a non-Helite motorcycle jacket, but you’d have to make sure the sizing was correct to fit the vest and to account for the inflation.
The Airnest vest has a removable SAS-Tec back protector on the inside of the airbag, to account for racing leathers with an external “hump” or back protector.
The Turtle airbag vest in the leather jacket has the SAS-Tec back protector on the outside of the airbag, to account for most motorcycle street jackets that don’t include a protector.
How It Works
OK, let’s repeat some of the details of the Helite airbag system. The airbag system used in the Helite products is a manual system, not electronic like some of the (very expensive) Dainese airbag products.
The Helite airbag inflates via a large CO2 cartridge that measures about 35 mm in diameter by 135 mm long. The CO2 cartridges are sized by the weight of the rider:
Airnest and Turtle Vest: 50 cc canister for children; 60 cc canister for small adult; 100 cc canister for adult size L and XL.
Adventure and City Jackets: Both jackets use the 60 cc canister for all jacket sizes.
The airbag is designed to protect the back of the head, the neck, chest, ribs, collarbone, lungs, abdomen, pancreas, pelvis, and vertebrae. Helite said that “approximately 40% of fatalities from motorcycle accidents in France in 2011 were due to a chest injury, so protecting the front parts of your body is as important as protecting your back.”
As with the Airnest vest that we reviewed, the airbag vest basically forms two large loops around the front and rear of the body. The upper rear portion of the airbag then forms a “hump” that helps prevent the helmet from moving too far backwards. This helps to delay a helmet impact and provides support around the bottom of the helmet, similar to a Leatt neck brace (review).
I borrowed a couple of graphics from the Helite Moto website to illustrate the system:
The Airbag Inflation System
On the Helite leather airbag jacket, the CO2 cartridge is hidden behind a large vertical zipper on the right side of the jacket in front. It’s more obvious than the semi-hidden CO2 inflator on the Adventure jacket, but not by much.
The CO2 cartridge screws into the top of the inflation system. The deployment works by using a heavy spring at one end and a ball between the spring and the sharp wedge that pierces the CO2 canister to inflate the vest.
The ball is on a metal cable that leads outside the jacket through a small opening on the left chest side of the jacket. That attaches to a cord that must be fixed to the bike.
The inflator cable and the cord are attached with a plastic spring clip, so you can leave the cord attached to the bike and then attach or detach it with the clip when you get on and off. For the Adventure jacket, the cord needs somewhere between 45 and 60 pounds of force to activate the airbag inflation system.
But for the leather jacket, the force required seems less, possibly because the leather in the jacket holds the CO2 cartridge more firmly in place. Since the Helite airbag uses a mechanical actuation system and not an electronic system, there are some variances to consider.
These include the amount of force required to deploy the airbag vs. the rider’s weight; how much length you should leave for the cord on the bike and what happens if the accident involves a slow get-off, like in a lowside.
We don’t know all of the answers and hope that some Helite airbag vest or Adventure jacket owners who have experienced an activation will write to let us know the details.
Fit and Sizing
Like the Adventure jacket, the leather version fits about like a slightly roomy size large. The model shown here has a 44″ chest and the Adventure jacket in size XL fits about like a standard size large. The Helite Adventure jacket in size XL weighed about 4.5 kg (10 lbs.); the Helite leather airbag jacket in size XL weighs 4.2 kg (9.25 lbs.).
However, you’ll notice it when you carry the jacket around (and be sure to have a hefty clothes hangar!) but once you’re wearing it on the bike, the weight doesn’t seem to bother.
Like the Adventure airbag jacket, there’s really no difference in feel when wearing the leather airbag jacket when riding a motorcycle. Hopefully, you’ll never have to depend on the airbag system deploying, but like any other piece of protective gear, it’s nice to know it’s there if and when the need does arise.
It’s important to find a good location to attach the airbag deployment strap on the motorcycle. Then, it’s then a matter of remembering to snap the connector to the cable deployment strap that sticks out of the jacket mid-chest on the right side.
This becomes a habit just like buckling the seatbelt in a car. When you get off the bike, unfasten the snap connector and you’re ready to go. If you don’t, you’ll feel a light tug as you get off the bike or start to move away and this certainly isn’t enough to deploy the airbag.
The Helite leather airbag jacket is a rugged-looking and good-looking piece of kit. We like it more than the Adventure jacket, because the leather looks cool and it adds a bit of extra protection.
The leather version of the airbag jacket also seems easier and more comfortable to wear and it spans more motorcycle style categories, from cruisers to street bikes, where the Adventure jacket is just that.
The leather does add a premium to what is an already expensive jacket, but what price safety?