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A revolution in bike safety? Helite launches airbag jackets in UK

The Helite airbag vest can be worn over your existing jacket
The Helite airbag vest can be worn over your existing jacket
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Tuesday, 04, Dec 2012 03:33

by Ben Wilby

Inflatable airbag clothing has been a buzzword in bike safety circles for years. However attempts to affordably bring the technology to market have failed, the machinery has simply not been advanced enough, the costs too high and the clothes too uncomfortable.

However, a new jacket that has been launched in the UK recently (24 November) promises to change bike safety forever.

Helite is offering a range of new safety clothing and the French company has lofty ambitions to succeed in the fiercely competitive UK market.

The clothing is a collection of vests and jackets that can be worn comfortably over normal gear, and which fill with air to protect the rider should they be involved in a crash.

It is attached to the bike via a pull cord that will deploy when 30kg of force or more is detected. This ensures that forgetful riders stepping off the bike will not have to worry about accidental inflation.

With a deployment time of 10ms (the same as a car airbag) and with 200milibars of pressure released, it certainly sounds powerful.

And, unlike car airbags, the products are easy to reuse. All it takes is a refill from a CO2 canister (which costs £16) and the jacket is ready to use again.

Many tests have been performed on the product, which was developed in collaboration with university researchers, independent laboratories and certification centers, ensuring that it has thorough scientific credentials.

These studies have shown that wearing this kind of jacket or vest can reduce neck and spinal injuries by 40% while also reducing helmet roll and hip damage.

In France the brand is doing extraordinarily well - selling around 50 per day, and they are hoping for a similar level of success in the UK.

Crossover gear

The company also produces jackets for other sports, so those with a wide-range of hobbies will be able to use it for a number of sports, such as skiing, snowboarding and horse-riding.

In fact 14 of the Olympic equestrian teams at London 2012 used Helite jackets to ensure safety - a sure sign that they are a valuable piece of equipment.

There are early signs that they could play a role in the world of motorsport as well, with the jackets receiving one of the largest endorsements they could hope for - professional speedway racing approval.

What's the cost?

The cheapest vest is the hi-vis model (pictured top right), which is available for £349, while the most popular jacket is £399 (around the same as a top-quality helmet).

The company has a large range, including full-blown jackets that do not require other clothing to be worn. These are invariably more expensive however, running to nearer £700.

This mix should help the company appeal to a wide range of bike enthusiasts and ensure that people who put safety second to looks are also catered for.

Stiff competition

Although not the first of their kind to appear in the UK, the Helite airbag jackets are the first to have received CE approval.

This is one of the many problems that has prevented other manufacturers from succeeding in the UK market. Other issues have been comfort, cost, and bikers' knowledge of the product, as the jackets have not been widely advertised.

One established company that has previously tried a similar product was Dainese, whose D-Air one-piece suit had limited success due to its eye-watering £2,410 price tag.

And whilst that was not a mass-market product, Dainese are soon releasing a similar product to Helite that offers excellent protection statistics.

This product, the D-Air Street, also benefits from a more established brand, and features advanced technology - working wirelessly to inflate quicker than the pull-cord version Helite offers.

However it has a variety of problems itself. For starters, it will cost a lot more, meaning that they will be less of a direct competitor than they could have been.

As well as this they have to be fitted by a professional and lack the easy start-up that Helite can offer.

Noentheless, this will provide riders with more than one company to choose from, and the competition should ensure that they keep competing to make their products better.

Helite has priced their jackets at a more affordable level and many reviews have been positive, praising the product's comfort and ease of use.

With many people struggling economically one key issue could simply be that people simply cannot afford the jackets. When funds are tight spending £400 on a jacket, however safe, may seem excessive to those less worried about safety.

Despite this, the pricing and popularity in France will help the product get a foothold in the UK, and that will give this innovative product a large chance of success.

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