Airbag technology has been available in mainstream bike gear for a decade now. While several companies have since tossed their hats in the game, Italian firm Dainese was the first one to make its MotoGP-developed airbag system available to the public in 2011. That's when we heard of D-air for the first time.
Dainese’s technology has come a long way since then, but it’s only recently that the OEM decided to tackle a new challenge. Since the D-air's inception, the airbags were installed inside riding jackets which meant that riders looking to up the safety ante had to buy an entirely new piece of equipment—an expensive upgrade at that.
Introducing the D-air Smart Jacket
In 2019, Dainese decided to make its technology more accessible and introduced the D-air Smart Jacket, a more affordable option that fits under or on top of any other garment, protective or not.
Granted, $700 still isn’t cheap, especially not when all you get is a mesh vest without any other form of protection than the airbag. No sleeves, no pads, no shells. Let’s put it this way: The D-air vest is accessible if you’re on the market for an airbag product. It’s affordable compared with the jackets and suits that set you back two and even three times that price.
When I visited the Dainese office in Vicenza, Italy, in 2019, I had the chance to discuss the D-air technology with Head of Marketing Massimiliano Marabella. He even gave me a sneak peek of the Smart Jacket then. When you put 25 years into developing this level of technology, there’s bound to be a hefty price tag attached to it.
Plus, consider this: aside from a helmet, this could be the single most important piece of gear you could end up buying and though it might sound tone-deaf, some things are worth paying for.
Up Close and Personal
The Smart Vest works pretty much the same way the other D-air products do. The battery and system are inserted inside the layers of the vest at the back. The airbag itself protects the back, around the neck, and down the chest.
The main difference is that instead of having a full leather jacket with aluminum shells and composite protectors, the vest is made of breathable mesh and is sleeveless. Like the other D-air products, the Smart Jacket’s system activates once you close the magnetic snap. Since the vest doesn’t have sleeves, the color LED haptic indicator is positioned on the chest instead.
It uses a USB-C charger and can be connected to a computer to update the software. Note that you need to register your product and download the D-air app the first time you connect it, but once that’s done, it’s all plug and play.
Materials are overall good quality. The stretch fabric ensures a comfortable fit and a good range of motion. Velcro straps at the waist, inside the garment, also help with the adjustment. I felt comfortable wearing it and even forgot it was even on when I did. Weighing at 4 pounds, which sounds heavy by jacket standards, it actually takes no time for the body to get used to the few extra pounds. Like with a weighted blanket, on the contrary, I even felt snug and safe wearing it.
On the outside, the overall finish looks high-end. Though the materials aren’t nearly as luxe as the ones used in the D-air jackets, the synthetic fabrics are premium-looking and well assembled. Though the vest is thick, it remains breathable thanks to the layers of mesh and perforated stretchy fabric. Even though mesh can sometimes be associated with flimsiness, the way Dainese used it is everything but.
Inside the jacket, however, the finishes aren't as pristine. The airbag is exposed and held in place with snaps at the waist and in the back, the access to the charger is hidden by a flap of Velcro and in my vest, the battery pack shifted inside the pocket which makes the port harder to reach.
Picture watching a big-budget movie and then watching the behind-the-scenes video with all the green screens. The inside of the vest is that green screen with the fancy CGI on top. It’s not offensive nor does it have any bearings on how well the airbag system works, it’s just a bit unsettling at first, considering the price point.
Is it enough of a deterrent for me to say it isn’t worth the price? I wouldn’t go that far. I meant this more as a warning so you guys are aware of this but ultimately, this jacket still provides you with one of the most advanced airbag technologies on the market.
The idea behind the vest is to make the airbag technology more versatile. Instead of being limited to a single, often heavy, and bulky jacket, the D-air Smart Vest can be worn over or under anything. Whether you’re just scooting about town for your daily commute and wear the vest over your work clothes or wear it under a full set of motorcycle gear, it can pretty much do it all. The vest is available in models for men and women and sizes range from XS to XXL and the fabrics are stretchy and therefore more forgivable than leather.
Since I’m the ATGATT type, I tested the vest under the non-airbag jackets I own.
How did that work out? Pretty well, actually. Most of my jackets have a looser fit (a personal preference) so fitting the vest underneath was pretty seamless. While it isn’t as bulky and heavy as a D-air leather jacket, you still need space to comfortably fit the vest under your garment, especially in the back where all the electronics are located. If you wear skin-tight leathers, you might have a harder time making it all work.
I had no issues wearing the vest on top of hoodies and liners either. I used it as an additional layer inside my touring jacket (on top of the warm liner, under the waterproof and outer layers) and it even felt like it helped keep my core warmer during my late fall rides.
Ultimately, the Dainese D-air Smart Jacket fulfills its mission of being more accessible and versatile than a D-air jacket. I find myself reaching out for it every time I head out for a ride, no matter how warm, hot, or cold it is outside. It’s just that easy to work with.
A $700 vest doesn’t fit everyone’s budget, I get that. The way I see it, it’s an upgrade you can buy further down the road. Instead of buying a slip-on exhaust or a new set of aluminum panniers for your bike, you upgrade your riding jacket by adding an airbag component to it—one that will fit most of your jackets, if you’re a gear hoarder like I am. Unlike a new exhaust, this is the kind of upgrade that could save your neck—literally.
Plus, if, God forbid, you end up crashing and triggering the airbag, if you’re wearing the vest under your riding jacket, the vest itself will likely be unscathed. All you’ll have to do at that point is have the airbag replaced for $250 and your vest will be ready for more adventures. Replacing a damaged set of leathers costs up to ten times that. To me, that’s a no-brainer.