Review: Helite Turtle Airbag Vest

photo: Helite

I am a believer in managing risk. And one way to do that is to protect yourself in case you go down. Modern armor does a decent job of mitigating impact injury. But, as good as modern armor is, it can only do some much to minimize injury from a big impact. That’s where air bag protection can help.

I was given a black Helite Turtle Airbag Vest to use and test. The Turtle Vest I am reviewing here is the street rider’s version with a lighter nylon construction compared with the GP Track Air Vest. Read my review of the more robust GP Track Air Vest Here. FYI, I know many riders who use the Turtle version for both street and racetrack duty, and vice-versa.

After several street rides with the Turtle, I have a good idea of the pros and cons of the Turtle air vest. Here you go.

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Helite Turtle Air Vest – Pros

  • Low Tech – Unlike high-tech, electronic GPS/IMU units, the Helite has a mechanical system with a simple elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. When the rider falls off the bike, a steel ball is pulled away 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 home without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap Recharges -Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a spare on hand.
  • Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put it over a street jacket and the Velcro backed nylon straps allow a snug fit.
  • Sturdy Armor – The Turtle Air Vest has a quality, semi-rigid SAS-TEC back protector.
  • Heavy Nylon Construction – The Turtle vest is made from 600 Denier Textile with a mesh liner.
  • Free Movement – The large arm opening provide 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 the inflated neck roll supports the head from hyper movement.

photo: Helite

Helite Turtle Air Vest – Cons

  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull over a few times because I forgot to clip the tether. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on the end of the tether, near the buckle. 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.
  • Back Protector Interference – The top of the back protector sometimes bumps under the back part of my helmet, even on my upright Tiger 800 riding position. I may trim the protector a bit.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented jacket defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • Another piece of gear – This isn’t unique to the Helite vest. But, it’s a pain having to put on another piece of protection. You’ll get used to it.
  • It’s Expensive – At $659.00, the Turtle 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 a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.

Too many street riders fail to realize that even though the odds of your skin meeting pavement is not all that likely in normal situations, we can’t control everything, which is why you need to wear protection. Consider investing in an air vest…before you need it!

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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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