Airbags coming to Piaggio MP3 and more

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At last November’s EICMA show in Milan Piaggio showed a prototype MP3 sporting ‘Airbag’ logos and now a patent application from the company shows how the planned system will operate – giving the three-wheeler another selling point to buyers who might not be comfortable making the leap to motorcycling.

For more than 15 years the MP3 has been something of a halfway house for customers who can see the advantage of motorcycling when it comes to cutting through traffic, avoiding congestion charges and using less fuel, but who might not feel entirely comfortable on just two wheels. Its tilting three-wheeled layout has proved a success, sparking rivals from several companies including Yamaha, Peugeot and Kymco, and in ‘LT’ form it even manages to skirt the requirement for a bike licence thanks to wider front wheel spacing. By adding an airbag to the mix, Piaggio intends to give the MP3 another layer of safety.


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Vast airbag fills the gap between the rider and the bars


The airbag system has been developed in association with Swedish safety specialists Autoliv, which signed a deal with Piaggio to create airbag-equipped bikes back in November 2021, 12 months before the prototype appeared at EICMA. At the time Mikael Bratt, CEO and President of Autoliv, said: “Autoliv is committed to our vision of Saving More Lives and to providing world class life-saving solutions for mobility and society. Therefore, we are developing products that specifically protect vulnerable road users. The development of these products is an integral part of our sustainability agenda and an important step towards our goal of saving 100,000 lives a year by 2030.”

The company has already developed prototypes and conducted crash tests on them, and through the partnership with Piaggio they’re expected to appear on future two-wheelers as well as the MP3.


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Airbag sits across the inner fairing. The circular bit in the middle is the inflator.


The MP3 is particularly well-suited to airbag technology as, like Honda’s Gold Wing – the only current production bike with an airbag – it has a relatively low centre of gravity and long wheelbase, making it less likely to flip forward in a frontal crash.

Airbags are expected to be of most use in the sort of SMIDSY accident that most of us are all too aware of, when a car driver fails to see an oncoming bike and pulls out of a side road into its path. On a bike with a higher centre of gravity the result could be the rider getting thrown over the car, hopefully suffering less harm than if they hit it. On bikes like the Gold Wing and MP3, the bike is more likely to stay on the ground, with the rider’s momentum carrying them straight forwards into the side of the car, and it’s in that situation that the airbag comes into its own.


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Autoliv’s illustration of a two-wheeled scooter with an airbag


The Autoliv/Piaggio design features a particularly large airbag. When folded, it runs across the width of the inner fairing ahead of the rider’s knees, just below the bars. Like a car’s airbag, it’s behind a cover that’s designed to split when the airbag inflates – something that’s achieved in milliseconds by using an electrically-actuated chemical gas generator. At that stage, the split in the airbag cover is made in such a way that it directs the bulk of the airbag upwards, towards the rider’s torso and head, filling the gap between the rider and the bike’s bars.

Autoliv has filed dozens of patent applications related to airbags on motorcycles and is the world’s largest automotive safety supplier. As such, its bike-related developments aren’t likely to be exclusive to Piaggio’s machines in the future. Autoliv is also developing helmets that incorporate airbags – in conjunction with Airoh – plus airbag vests for riders, so after a slow start it looks like car style airbag tech could yet become a mainstream reality on two wheels.