The idea that an airbag could significantly reduce the risk of injury or death from a motorcycle crash may seem ridiculous. Since a motorcyclist isn't in an enclosed space, he wouldn't necessarily even come into contact with an airbag, right? Well, not exactly.
Studies have shown that most motorcycle accidents involve frontal collisions -- riders smashing head-first into things -- and that in those instances, airbags can help. So far, Honda
has developed an airbag for its Goldwing bike, and a handful of companies have designed jackets that deploy into airbags (think airplane life vest on steroids).
But a Canadian designer has gone a step further with a concept called the Safety Sphere, whereby on impact, an orange, full-body motorcycle suit fills with air and transforms into a giant ball that envelopes the rider. The contraption, which resembles a massive Planter's Cheez Ball, then bounces down the road and away from the crash site.
The suit is composed of two layers. "The outer layer is made up of a highly resistant parachute-type material. The inner layer is made up of a thin, moderately elastic synthetic material," designer Réjean Néron of Quebec told Motorcycle News. When the biker is thrown in a collision, a cord that connects the suit to the motorcycle triggers a canister of a propellant called nitrocellulose to deploy. The suit inflates, protecting its wearer.
The concept may either sound improbable or kind of fun, but we don't yet know which is the case, because although Néron has registered for a patent, the suit hasn't been produced. Motorcycle News reports Néron is looking for funding for the project.
The Safety Sphere's efficacy is something we can only speculate about by pulling from some general research on airbags. A 1998 Japanese study presented at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's annual Enhanced Safety Vehicle conference concluded that "the airbag system is effective in reducing fatal and serious injuries to riders." Honda, which conducted numerous studies in developing its airbag, determined that absorbing the energy of an impact and reducing the rider's forward velocity -- both of which the Safety Sphere appears to do -- could help lessen the severity of motorcycle injuries.
But as the narrator of a Honda educational video about its airbag acknowledged, there are no guarantees: "Naturally, airbags are not the answer for all motorcycle accidents," he said.