Review: Helite GP Track Airbag Vest

photo: otmpix.com

Riding a motorcycle on a racetrack at speeds exceeding 100mph is exciting and immensely satisfying. But, it can also threaten your well-being if things go wrong. Even the best racers and track day riders make mistakes or get caught up in unfortunate situations beyond their control.

That’s where personal protection comes in and riding at expert-level speeds, you need the best protection you can get. Enter the Helite GP Air Track Vest.

The GP Track Vest can be worn on the street, but the GP version is more robust and is designed to withstand the higher speed crash scenarios. For street riders, Helite makes the Helite Turtle Vest. You can read a review of the Turtle here.

Air Vest Technology

photo: Helite

Race leathers and armor have come a long way since I was racing in the mid-eighties when back protectors, knee and shoulder armor and chest protection didn’t exist. Instead, double layers of leather with some foam padding was the norm. Eventually, plastic back protectors and more substantial armor became available.

Nowadays, armor is required for track riding. But, even the best quality leather suits and armor have their limitations; it’s tough to cover the entire body with armor and still be free to move and have the comfort to sustain a race pace.

To help solve that problem, Dainese and AlpineStars (and now others) developed airbag suits that use GPS and IMU sensor deployment systems. But these suits are expensive and need to be recharged after one or two deployments that require shipping to the manufacturer, rendering the suit out of commission for up to a few weeks.

These manufacturers are now offering vest versions of their airbag suits and I’m hoping they will come up with a less cumbersome and pricey way to recharge the suits and vests.

While the all-in-one race suits are an attractive option, I like the versatility of the vest option. But, it’s not perfect.

photo: Helite

 Helite GP Track Air Pros

Here are the reasons why I prefer the Helite:

  • Low Tech – Unlike the A-Stars and Dainese units, the Helite has a mechanical system with an elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. The vest deploys when the rider falls off the bike, which then pulls a steel ball from the housing that holds the CO2 cartridge. And Bang!
  • Deflates Quickly – It takes a couple of minutes for the vest to lose its air once the vest deploys. This allows you to safely ride back to the paddock without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap -Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a few spares on hand.
  • photo: Helite

    Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put it over a street jacket and the cutout in the upper back fits around a race suit speed hump. The GP vest’s accordion side panels allow a snug fit.

  • Sturdy Armor – The GP Track Air Vest has rigid armor that surrounds the torso, eliminating the need for an additional back or chest protector.
  • Heavy Leather – The GP vest is made from 1.2mm cowhide with accordion expansion panels under the arms.
  • No Movement Restriction – I cannot tell that I have the vest on with no restrictions in movement. The only restriction comes when getting off the bike.
  • Neck, Back and Chest Protection – The vest inflates to cushion your torso from impact. And because it will also support my head from hyper movement, it negates the need for the Leatt STX-rr neck brace I used to wear.

Helite GP Track Air Cons

  • Hard to Put On (until you learn how) – When I first owned the GP vest, I had a devil of a time putting it on over my leathers without help. But, someone then showed me how. (See below)
  • Another piece of gear – It’s a pain having to put on all the gear necessary for protection, and the vest is one more piece. That’s the price for good protection.
  • No side air protection – The accordion panels are great for movement and comfort, but the airbags do not cover this area. This sucks, because I seem to always crack ribs and I’m afraid the vest won’t help prevent this injury.
  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull off the track after a lap because I forgot to clip the tether. That’s fine for a track day, but if you forget during a race, you’ll either have to ride unprotected, or  pull in and forfeit the race. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on my triple clamp. I also drape the tether across my seat.
  • Have to Remember to Disconnect – You have to disconnect the tether before walking away from the bike. A lot of people think they will deploy the vest by forgetting to disconnect before getting off the bike. But don’t worry. It takes a lot of force to deploy the vest. You’ll realize that you’re still connected well before you walk away. Watch the video below to see how hard the person has to pull to fire the vest.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented leather race suit defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • It’s Expensive – At $919.00, the GP Air Vest is not cheap. But, the argument about how much is your spine, neck, ribs, and guts worth comes into play. If you ride on the track a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.

How to Put the Helite GP Air Vest on Alone

photo: Helite

Putting on the vest like you would a jacket, one arm at a time is not easy. The vest is stiff and tight enough to not allow the second elbow to squeeze inside. You can get it on this way with help, but I don’t often have that luxury.

The way to put the vest on alone is to:

  • Hold the vest in front of you with the inside facing up and both wrists inside the arm holes.
  • Flip the vest up and over your head, letting vest hand on your shoulders.
  • Once on, pull the Velcro panel across your chest so the red Velcro is completely covered. Then secure the two leather “tabs”.
  • Connect the plastic clip on the vest tether to the lead on the bike and you’re done.

Now, just becasue you’re better protected from injury, doesn’t mean you can ride like an idiot. Be smart and get training.

 


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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

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