It’s not so many years ago that world-class bike racers were stuffing bits of foam down their leathers to offer some kind of extra protection. Armour just wasn’t a thing back then. Now all motorcycle kit has to be CE approved and armour has been standard in most riding jackets and trousers for many years.
Technology has moved on quickly and airbag equipped race suits have been worn at WSBK, MotoGP and in domestic championships for a few years. With Alpinestars and Dainese being pioneers of this advanced crash technology. Price has put airbag tech out of the reach of most club racers and road riders though. An airbag suit from Alpinestars currently costs around £2393 and then you have to spend another £1000 on the actual airbag vest.
VIDEO | RST airbag demo on Adventure-X road jacket
RST make things affordable
In 2019 I was at the presentation (see video above) of an affordable airbag system for road and race use, made by leading UK based motorcycle clothing brand RST. In a joint collaboration with French airbag tech company, In&motion. Thanks to this Anglo-French tie-up and a yearly £99 subscription for the end-user, airbag tech was suddenly affordable to many more club racers. More importantly for Joe Bloggs on the road, a growing range of airbag-equipped textile and leather jackets means road riders can also be afforded the same level of protection as their race heroes for not a massive amount of money. The 2021 RST collection features loads of airbag road jackets, starting at just £279!
Not really scooter attire?
Leather race suits aren’t the usual road-attire for most scooter riders but we do have a thriving race scene, with BSSO circuit racing, endurance, sprinting and dirt track racing being quite popular in the UK and abroad. Regular readers of SLUK will know that we like to dabble at British Scooter Endurance Racing, Barrie (pictured above) gets a ride wherever he can and can often be found in the BSSO. We also like to do the odd bit of track riding, sprinting and anything else involving fast scooters.
An affordable but high-spec airbag suit seemed like the logical next step when replacing my old Richa leathers. RST are based in Derbyshire, not far from home and have more choice than anybody when it comes to airbag riding kit for road or race.
Podium airbag suit: £499
RST’s 2021 airbag race suits start at just £499 for the Podium suit, that really is a great price for a triple A-rated CE approved, airbag-equipped set of race/road leathers.
Pro Series airbag suit: £749.99
Sitting a little higher up the range than the Podium, the Pro Series Airbag suit has a higher spec and costs £749.99. It comes in various colour options, including cammo!
Top of the range Race Dept V4.1 airbag suit: £899.99
The standard, ‘off-the-peg’ RST V4.1 race suit comes in two options, non-airbag at £699.99 or airbag at £899.99. It’s the exact same suit you’ll find top-spec racers wearing. That’s the one we opted for, if you’re going for it you may as well spend a bit extra and go for top of the range. After all, scooter racing is a serious business!
RST ScooterLab custom V.4.1
The V4.1 comes in black as standard but we wanted to add a bit of bling so went for a custom set with ScooterLab branding and colours. I was measured up by RST’s Race Department and the standard-sized suit fitted me perfectly, although I asked for a bit of extra room around the calfs so the suit was manufactured with an extra inch of room down below.
The Race Dept came up with a design using our ScooterLab logos and it was all set to be ready for the first endurance event in spring. COVID kyboshed that deadline though (and the race meeting was cancelled) but my new leathers arrived in summer once #Lockdown1 was over – in plenty of time to get one meeting in at Teesside in September.
RST badging service
MotoDirect, the company behind RST also offer an in-house badging service for racers. They’ll badge any RST leathers for you on production of a current ACU race licence. You can find out more here.
RST V4.1 specs
- Main Outer Material: Drum dyed kangaroo leather
- Stretch Material: 4-way stretch with leather motion panels
- Inner Lining: Removable comfort mesh lining
- Collar & Cuffs: Neoprene Race
- Zips: Max Zips
- Thread: Bonded Nylon – triple stitched
- Ventilation: Perforated leather
- Reinforcement: Aramid in impact areas
- Superfabric reinforcement: Yes
- CE certification rating: AAA
- Back protector: In&motion CE back protector and airbag system
- CE level 2 armour: Shoulders, elbow, hip
- Knee Armour: CE Level 1
- Knee and elbow sliders: Race Dept reverse hook & loop
- Rubberised Aramid knee gripper: Yes
- Boot Gripper Tape: Yes
- Shoulder and knee cups: TPU
- Hump: Aerodynamic race hump
Not just for gimps
Unless you have some weird kangaroo or bovine-based fetish you’ll not want to wear full-on race leathers for any other reason than to actually race in them. With pre-curved arms and a tight fit, they’re designed to be at their comfiest when you’re sat in a race position. Walking around at the seaside will leave you looking rather strange, especially if you’ve just stepped off a modded up Royal Alloy or Modena. Save leathers for racing, not posing.
Having said that though, once I’d oiled myself up and fought my way into them, having righted myself from a turtle-like position stuck on the kitchen floor, half in, half out – rocking on my aerodynamic hump (it doesn’t help trying on a new set of leathers on one of the hottest days of summer) they were pretty comfortable. The actual back protector and airbag add a little bit of weight in comparison to an ordinary back protector but the added safety is worth it in my opinion.
The 60/40 split of kangaroo hide and grade 1 cowhide is chosen for two reasons. Kangaroo hide is cheaper and is more supple than cowhide, making for a comfier fit (in case you’re wondering, yes they do have a single pocket in the front). Cowhide is used in areas that don’t need to ‘give’ as much, leathers made from cows take a bit more breaking in and aren’t as easy to mooove in.
The V4.1 is reinforced with Aramid in impact areas for extra abrasion resistance plus it has Level 2 shoulder, elbow and hip armour, as well as Level 1 knee protection. There are also external shoulder and knee cups for extra protection and both knee and elbow sliders have reverse hook/loop high-strength, easy pull Velcro.
In&motion airbag tech
For the spec, the suit is fantastically well priced. Of course, it also has the added bonus of the In&motion airbag.
The airbag itself is built into the suit and has four inflatable panels to protect the back, neck and shoulders in a crash. It’s run using the In&motion ‘brains’ – a small rechargeable pack (about the same size as an iPhone 11) which contains the computer. This can be removed for charging, then turn it on (a recessed switch prevents accidentally switching it off) and slot it into the space in the back protector.
The brains links your suit to the dedicated In&box app. The app can be used to check battery life (you get around 20 hours riding time from a single charge), status of the suit, you can swap between road and race algorithms and update your airbag to the latest version of the software. The clever computer trickery uses data from road and race users (and their crashes) to help further improve the way the suit works using real-world riding and crash data.
Can it be used more than once?
Some airbags (Alpinestars for instance) need returning to the factory in Italy if the rider crashes in them, the inconvenience, time and money makes those almost unrealistic for most ‘ordinary’ riders. The In&motion system is much more user friendly though. In the event of a crash the airbag is deployed to do its job, it then deflates after a few seconds and you can ride on. Change the gas canister that propels it once you get back to the pits, or in-between races and you can carry on racing with full protection (providing the suit/airbag wasn’t damaged in the crash).
Bullied at race school
Right then, we’ve got the leathers and had a chance to give them their first airing at Teesside. I felt like the new kid at school when I emerged from the back of my Transit in the paddock, all dressed up like a power ranger, my name stitched proudly across my backside like a target to other racers. There were sniggers in the paddock as the big boys bullied me about my new ‘uniform’. The typical race banter about new leathers needing a few scuffs etc. Sticks and stones will break my bones but race tracks never hurt me…
VIDEO | Crash testing the RST suit
All the gear….
Anyway, I was happy to oblige those green-eyed racers by testing out that suit and its airbag in a little crash just 20 minutes or so before the end of a six-hour endurance race that we were leading (in our class). It was all my own fault of course, over-exuberance as I tried to dice with a Team Vespa rider on Norrie’s old KR1. Too much throttle saw my rear end let go, the bike span and spat me off into the middle of the track. Two or three riders just behind avoided me (thankfully) and I ended up sliding down the track on my arse.
Once I’d stopped safely in the kitty litter I jumped up, picked the scooter up and suddenly realised my top half felt a little restrictive. That’s when I remembered about the airbag. You can see on the image above and the slow-mo in the video that the suit had done its job and deployed in good time once parted with the Vespa 90ss. Before I’d even had a chance to straighten the handlebars between my knees the airbag had deflated and I was good to go. Everything still felt ok, nothing broken and just a bit of pain in my left shin where the kickstart had punctured the leather.
Walked away unscathed
I’m not saying this was a big crash at all but I still landed with a good thump on to hard tarmac. I then tumbled, and slid for probably around 20 feet. Usually, with any race crash situation, you’re left at least feeling like you’ve been a bit battered, even if on the surface of things you’re uninjured. In this particular incident, my only pain was a bruise on my left shin and a corresponding 2-inch rip in the leathers (you can see the fresh rip on the track crash image). The backside of my leathers was scuffed quite badly, the lettering of my name had been worn partially away. Both knee sliders had signs of wear and one of the elbow sliders had as well. I had a slight sensation across the shoulders from the airbag deploying, a bit like if you’ve climbed a mountain with a heavy rucksack and the straps have rubbed. Aside from that, I was unscathed and able to carry on racing.
As good as new
RST’s Race Department took my leathers back to check them over and repair the rip. The airbag was fine, they put a small patch over the rip in my leg and stitched on some new ‘Iggy’ lettering. Th single-use gas canister was also replaced. That costs £89.99. Everything was as good as new, other than some minor scars on the leather.
Racing is always going to be expensive, it’s also potentially very dangerous and anything you can do to minimise your risks is worth a try. RST, in conjunction with In&motion are doing a great job of making airbag technology become much more affordable, easy to use, reliable and effective. With this system, you do have to take out a yearly subscription costing £99 but even so, you can get an RST leather airbag suit from just £499. It’s cheaper than the first ‘off-the-peg’ leather suit I bought way back in 1993 (incidentally I bought that just after recovering from a smashed kneecap thanks to my leathers having no knee protection).
If you’re a scooter racer looking to get yourself some nice new leathers for the 2021 season I suggest you give the RST range a try. Either at your local bike shop where you can try them on, or via the SLUK Shop. we can get any RST product for you if you can’t see what you want just email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org we’re happy to help any fellow scooter racers out with a discount on their leathers.
Like most SLUK readers, we also spend most of our time riding on the road, rather than the track. We’re currently testing an airbag version of the excellent RST Adventure-X jacket.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some decent mileage using that in 2021 but will try not to crash test it if we can possibly help it.
Keep SLUKing during the holidays – catch up on stuff you’ve missed!