MotoGP Airbag safety with EXCLUSIVE input from Aaron Clifford
In 2018 it was made compulsory for all permanent riders across the 3 MotoGP classes to wear a suit fitted with an airbag, with wildcards and replacement riders being the exception.
Airbags in MotoGP have gotten more and more popular over the years due to their increased safety, at first riders were apprehensive about them with Valentino Rossi saying “At the start, I didn’t fully understand because it seemed like something which could help a little but nothing major, Dainese improved the design a lot over the years and now you don’t even notice whether the suit has an airbag or not. It provides an incredible level of safety.”
Dainese’s D-Air and Alpinestars’ Tech-air were the first airbag systems with the D-Air system going over the suit and expanding over the riders leathers, however over time they were made to be integrated into the suit with the leather stretching around it when expanded.
An early version of D-Air
The 2018 rule was brought in to improve rider safety across the board and promote riders to pick higher-quality suits and for leather suit manufacturers to upgrade their existing suits if they did not have the airbag systems. D-Air and Tech-Air were made available to other brands such as Vircos, Rev-IT, Kushitani and Furygan to name a few to enable their riders to use these systems.
The rule originally did not include wildcard riders, this was until Michele Pirro crashed at Mugello as a wildcard and suffered a concussion and a dislocated shoulder when he was launched into the air in a crash approaching Mugello’s first corner after his Ducati’s front wheel locked. The rule was then changed to include wildcards, Aleix Espargaro expressed his disgust at wildcards not having the rule in the first place saying, “It’s the worst rule I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s unbelievable, a wildcard can’t race with less protection than the rest of the riders.” Continuing to say that he didn’t even know wildcards were exempt.
Just this year at Jerez, Marc Marquez had a huge crash, you can see from his airbag data that he suffered forces of 26G yet only walked away with a broken humerus and nothing more serious.
Marc Marquez’s crash data
We spoke to British Superstock 600 championship rider Aaron Clifford who suffered a crash in 2019 which left him with injuries which nearly cost him his life, at the time, the rider was not wearing a suit equipped with an airbag, he has confirmed his next suit will be.
In the instance of a crash such as a hi-side, how do you feel not having an airbag to cushion your fall?
I have never had an airbag suit but I definitely believe it would have a good impact on any type of crash as you are basically sliding/bouncing in a bubble and the air would take the impact. I have a few friends with airbag suits and they’ve had both big and small crashes, from all kinds of bikes and they have all came back with good words about them, so to me, it definitely seems to be something to try! (Not to test but when all goes wrong).
In your crash, you didn’t have an airbag, how do you feel you would’ve been better protected with one and what injuries did you suffer due to not having one”
An airbag suit would have definitely helped me a lot in my crash, you can see when somebodies airbag goes off that they literally blow up, but most noticeable on the upper half of the body, which is where I had my more serious injuries. An airbag would definitely help when getting run over by multiple other motorbikes. I’m not saying my crash wouldn’t have been bad if I had one on me, but it would have definitely saved me from multiple injuries, such as the injuries on my chest which were multiple broken ribs, a broken sternum and two collapsed lungs (my right one on impact and then my left one collapsed 3 days into hospital). I know the suits only go off if you get launched or get a bad tumble but I believe I was shot through the air, so the airbag would have gone off before I hit the ground which would have saved my chest as I’ve previously said and also the bad shoulder damage I got which was a badly broken collarbone and extreme nerve damage, which is thankfully gaining strength but still not quite the way it was. I will admit, I got a good offer on a set of an Alpinestars airbag suit a few months before my crash, but it was still out of our price range at the time, looking back on it now it’s a huge regret that we didn’t buy it!
The importance of the airbag is clear to see with riders across regional championships using them or changing to suppliers who do, notably in British Superbikes where many riders are using Frank Thomas suits equipped with D-Air bags. Undoubtedly the airbag had been a huge positive to the sport and a portion of the development for Dainese can be awarded to Marco Simoncelli who assisted Dainese in their early stages.
Big thanks to Aaron Clifford for his input.
Featured images – www.motogp.com