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Helite Adventure Jacket

Posted By Douglas Olin #183966, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

There I was in Baja, on a heavily loaded R 1200 GS Adventure with well-worn street tires, suddenly facing 20 kilometers of dirt, sand and gravel as the highway turned from solid pavement into a zona en construcción.

It probably would have been just fine, but about halfway through, the “two lanes” of traffic devolved into a Mad Max free-for-all with an oncoming 18-wheeler being passed by an SUV while another SUV was trying to pass me along with a quartet of dirt bikes at high speed somewhere in the middle. Forced out of my line and pushed to the outside edge of what now had become five “lanes” of traffic, I hit a patch of deep sand and went down. Hard. I don’t remember being thrown from the bike. What I do remember was lying on my back, in absolutely no discomfort while feeling a bit like the Michelin Man.

Then it struck me. I was wearing my Helite jacket!

Founded 17 years ago by Gérard Thevenot, a French pioneer in the light aircraft industry, Helite offers inflatable protective and wearable airbag systems for motorcyclists, horse-riders, skiers and pilots.

I was aware of Helite’s line of motorcycle airbag vests, having seen their booths at various motorcycle shows over the years. Despite being an ATGATT rider, I doubted the product and saw the vest as yet one more piece of gear to layer on top of an already heavily armored jacket.

However, when a fellow rider from southern California survived what should have been a fatal rear end collision on I-405 in Los Angeles (a highway I drive with some frequency) and credited his survival to the Helite vest he was wearing, I began to look into it more seriously. Over time, I discovered that Helite has quite a fan club, made up of a significant number of people who have survived collisions, crashes and deer strikes in large part due to Helite airbags.

About three years ago, I bought what was then known as the Helite Adventure Jacket V.1.0. The Helite Adventure Jacket reviewed here has been superseded by the Helite Touring Jacket, which is similar in design and features, but offers slightly larger vents, a different pocket configuration and slightly different color patterns. Both the older and the newer versions may be available through Helite.

I went with the jacket over the airbag vest for two reasons. First, I knew that I would never ride without a jacket, whereas I would consider a vest and too easily forgotten or ignored. Second, I liked the way it looked.

Helite airbags are designed to rapidly inflate if the rider is thrown from the bike. When inflated, the airbag holds the torso and neck in place, providing whiplash and spinal protection while simultaneously shielding the body from impact.

The system is totally mechanical. The jacket has a quick release connection to an elastic lanyard, which is attached to the bike. The airbag activates if enough force is exerted to trigger a CO2 cartridge in the chest pocket; upon release, the cartridge inflates the airbag in less than 0.1 second. It takes about 60 pounds of force to activate the system, which means you won’t set it off by accident, even if you are getting off the bike while still clipped in.

It takes a bit of time to get used to clipping yourself into the lanyard whenever you ride, but after a while it becomes second nature. Helite offers long and short lanyards, depending on your needs. I’ve talked to many riders who, like myself, detach the lanyard when deliberately heading off-road in order to avoid deploying the airbag on slow speed get-offs in sand, dirt and gravel and then reattach when heading back to pavement.

One advantage of the Helite design is that the airbag is made for repeat use. Once the airbag is deployed, it slowly deflates over a few minutes. It takes mere minutes to reset the system and replace the CO2 cartridge. The cartridges may be a bit difficult to source, particularly when abroad. As I learned in Mexico, you will want to carry a spare cartridge when traveling.

From the outside, the Helite Adventure Jacket looks similar to any number of modern, textile motorcycle jackets. Broad in the shoulders, narrow in the hips, the jacket comes in black or grey. The jacket is cut at three-quarter length, which makes it a bit longer than many motorcycle jackets. I think this looks better when off the bike, but the bottom of the jacket can bunch up when riding.

The airbag itself is built into the jacket, under the SAS-TEC CE Level 2 back protector, and is not visible even when deployed. There is CE Level 1 armor for the elbows and shoulders as well as retro-reflective panels on the front, back and arms for increased visibility at night.

The outer shell of the jacket is Cordura 600D, with Cordura 1000D reinforcing the elbows and shoulders. This makes the jacket waterproof, windproof and breathable. It comes with a removable polyester thermal liner and an adjustable slider for the neck. There are a variety of pockets on the interior and exterior of the jacket, as well as two-way waterproof zippers on the sleeve cuffs for ventilation and waterproof zippered side vents as well.

My jacket has two large chest pockets, one of which includes the mount for the CO2 cartridge, as well as six pockets (two large and four small) at the waist and ribcage, and two very small pockets on the shoulders. There is also large pocket across the rear of the jacket, a hidden zippered pocket in the chest, and an interior pocket. The newer version of the jacket has fewer pockets, but they are somewhat larger.

I ride with the jacket in all weather, wearing a Hypercool cooling vest in extreme temperatures (i.e., over 100 degrees F). I have found that well-ventilated jackets can generate a “convection oven effect” on my torso when temperatures get too high, so I tend to avoid them. In cold weather I don’t bother with the included Polyester liner, I use an electric jacket or vest underneath. The Helite jacket has somewhat less ventilation than many other textile jackets, since there’s no place for chest vents. This may see some riders to consider this a three-season jacket.

Helite has been offering an growing line of jackets and vests. My Adventure Jacket continues to serve me well after more than 50,000 miles of travel in all sorts of conditions. For safety and comfort, it has become my go-to jacket.

If you’re ever lying on the ground in Mexico wondering what just happened, you might just be really glad you were wearing one.

Pros

  • Airbags offer substantial additional protection in a crash.
  • No special tools or technical knowledge required to install or operate. No electronic sensors or batteries to change. It’s simple and elegant.
  • Even without the airbag, it is a first-rate motorcycle jacket with many of the features and protective qualities offered by today’s top manufacturers.
  • Excellent value proposition, particularly if purchased at a show or rally; Helite frequently offers discounts and deals at shows.
Cons
  • Additional CO2 cartridges can be difficult to source while on the road. Carry a spare.
  • The jackets tend to run small. Buy a size or two larger than you normally wear.
  • Check with the airline before traveling with a CO2 cartridge.
  • After three years of use, there is some fraying on the jacket where the clip rubs against it.

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