Interview by Adam Waheed; Story written by Byron Wilson
Back in April during the Red Bull Grand Prix of The Americas, we learned quite a bit about the development and implementation of Alpinestars’ Tech-Air race-suit airbag technology. We also had the chance to hear from a person that regularly depends on this safety technology, current defending MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez.
The Repsol Honda rider has been relying on the system since 2009, the year of the first iteration of Alpinestars’ airbag in the world’s top-level motorcycle racing series: MotoGP.
“I was one of the first riders [to use the technology], Alpinestars was one of the first manufacturers that started to think about the safety of the airbag system,” Marquez explains. “In the beginning, it was a little bit strange to wear because you could feel it. But then, the next year, they improved a lot.”
Marquez went on to tell how it feels to wear the system, eight years after its initial implementation.
“You have a little bit extra weight, but on the bike it’s impossible to feel,” he continues. “You feel really, really good. Really safe. Now, if you told me go out with another, I would say ‘no’. It’s something that gives you such great confidence, and with [potential of] high-sides it’s always much better. I have a lot of problems with my shoulders. I’ve dislocated [them] many, many times. The airbag protects me much more. This also saves many, many injuries.”
Marquez then reflected on a particularly frightening crash at Mugello in 2013, when he fell off the bike at over 200 mph while entering Turn 1.
When you have a really big crash you realize how Tech-Air works and what a gift it is.
“In Mugello when I crashed, when I lost the front, I felt like an explosion. With the airbag, all the stones and all these things, I couldn’t feel them. If I didn’t have the airbag, all the stones I would feel.”
For all the benefits when careening through the gravel trap, there’s still the chance of the airbag suit deploying when unnecessary. According to Alpinestars, when the system detects a “loss of control that leads potentially to a serious impact,” it initiates the airbag. It takes no more than 40 milliseconds for the system to calculate the conditions and execute airbag inflation. In the early days it was possible to fool the electronics though, and Marquez explained one time that he managed to do it:
“I saved many, many moments and it never went off, never. This is something that happened just one time. It was Assen last year in FP3, I think, that I lost the front and I jumped on the bike and then I was a little bit in the air, but then I landed on the bike again. So when I landed on the bike it was with the airbag on. When I got to the next corner the airbag was back in the natural position, in the normal position, and this was important because if you remember one of the first times I used the airbag there was a problem in Valencia in the race. We had a moment, the airbag came on, and then we finished the race with airbags [inflated].”
With technology advancing to the point that it has, and the clear safety benefits of an airbag system, Marquez also addressed the possibility of a mandate for the technology for all riders next year:
“For me, it is one of the most important points because we look for the safety of the circuits, of the runoff areas, all these things. But first of all we have to look at what we wear – helmets, the leather suits. It’s something that a lot of riders can make a difference with. Some manufacturers they don’t have it, but they must work, they must look at something because you have to continue your career.”
“I know that some riders, I don’t want to say names, but they are thinking that the weight, the cost,” reveals the five-time GP champ. “But the weight is nothing. In the end, I always use the airbag. Always. I don’t have any other leather suit, even when I go to supermoto, dirt track, I use the airbag. Especially in supermoto because it’s more similar to road racing.”
And finally, is there anything Marquez would suggest in terms of improvements to the technology?
“For me, no. Of course, when you crash you would like to be completely safe inside, but this would not be possible. Some riders might feel a little bit different inside the leather suit [with the airbag], but then also you need to work with the Alpinestars staff to make the leather suit bigger, maybe.”
The Tech-Air Street System is available for purchase this weekend at the Union Garage in Brooklyn, New York and is expected to be in stock nationwide toward the end of August, 2017.