Will Motorcycle Airbags Ever Capture the Imagination of Hardcore Riders?

We all know it. Motorcycles are a dangerous, and thrilling, way to get from here to there.

With that in mind, there is a virtual army of engineers and inventors working on ways to make them safer without destroying the essential character of the riding experience, and to that end, those designers and inventors have come up with some interesting ideas and concepts to improve the safety of motorcycles  involved in accidents and crashes.

Granted, some of the ideas will be dismissed out of hand by riders. Fixed leg shields? I think not. On the other hand, what if someone came up with a practical riding coat which included a pair of airbags but didn’t look like some kind of goofy down coat or parachute?

BMW are at the cutting edge of electronic countermeasures for motorcyclists in regard to safety, but many of their suggested innovations are aimed at preventing and avoiding accidents, not toward protecting the rider once a crash is underway.

We found three short videos of motorcycle crash testing from DEKRA, and watching them at least made me consider the possibilities, and that’s always the first step in the long road to the realization of a good idea.


Side Collision

Crash – Motorcycle and a VW

Side Impact Crash – Motorcycle vs. Mercedes A-Class

Car and Motorcycle On Collision Course

The trend towards higher car bodies brings with it a greater risk – both for motor bikers as well as car drivers – in a motorbike-car collision. Generally more care is called for on the part of car drivers: Motorbike riders are too often simply overlooked. Numerous accidents can also be prevented if all motorbikes were fitted with ABS. In addition, the introduction of the compulsory wearing of helmets for quad drivers is urgently needed. These are the main findings of the crash tests carried out by DEKRA and Winterthur insurance in Wildhaus/Switzerland in late June 2004.

Motorbikes are experiencing a boom: Since the nineties the number of motorbikes in Switzerland has almost doubled and currently number roughly 570,000 vehicles. A similar development has been recorded in Germany where 3.7 million motorbikes are currently on the road. At the same time the risk of accident for motorcyclists is about eight times greater than for car drivers. Are motorcyclists speed merchants and mostly responsible for the accidents? Different statistics show that this is not true. It is rather the case that two thirds of all motor bike accidents are caused by car drivers. Only a good 20% of all motor bike accidents are so-called self-caused or sole accidents. Turn offs or crossroad accidents are typical situations where the car driver overlooks the motor bike. Car drivers therefore bear a great responsibility. More partnership and consideration between car drivers and motor bike drivers is called for.

High Vehicles – High Risks
“The trend towards higher and higher automobiles such as vans and van-like trucks has a critical effect on motorcyclists,“ explained Jörg Ahlgrimm, Head of Analytical Reporting at DEKRA. When a motorcyclist hits a vehicle with a high, straight front, his head and upper torso immediately impact the vehicle structure. This means he cannot slide over the engine bonnet, as he would do against a flat front car. Steep, high vehicle fronts intercept the motorcyclist’s path of flight and therefore increase the risk of injury.

Side-on Collision: Risk Also for Car Occupants
Another crash test in which a crossroad collision between a car and a motor bike demonstrated that the car occupants were also exposed to a risk in this scenario that should not be underestimated. As the structures on the side of a car are not as strong as the rear or front and the crumple zones are largely lacking, an impacting motor bike can penetrate significantly into the vehicle. Head and upper torso of the car occupants are particularly at risk. Side air bags may not be able to develop their protective potential: The trigger mechanism is primarily configured for a car impact. The risk of a car occupant being injured in a side-on collision with a motorbike is particularly great in a high car with large window surfaces: The motorcyclist is not lifted over the vehicle and can easily penetrate through a side window.

Better Braking With ABS
“Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) reduce the motorcyclist’s risk of accident considerably, because: “Losing control of the motor bike braking is one of the main causes of accident”, said Anton Brunner, Head of Accident Research at Winterthur Insurance company. Even experienced motorcyclists are hopelessly overwhelmed in a shock situation without ABS, and are unable to apply the correct braking pressure. Unfortunately there are still too few motorbikes with ABS on the roads, and only a few manufacturers offer all models with ABS. The main reason for this is the lack of acceptance on the part of motorcyclists: Many bikers still believe that only inexperienced riders require ABS.

Airbags for Motorcycles?
Airbag technology – long since standard on the car – has so far not been fitted as standard on motorbikes. The few airbag prototypes so far developed admittedly have lower protective potential than is the case on the car. “However, those airbag models that allow the motorcyclists to be lifted upwards in a crash with a car are pointing the way ahead”, explained accident expert Ahlgrimm. They influence the path of the motorcyclist and lift him ideally over the danger zone or the car roof or the engine bonnet. This can considerably reduce the motorcyclist’s risk of injury in particular in a collision with a high vehicle.

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