Date reviewed: July 2019 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £1,099.95 (jacket), £339.95 (pants) | www.dainese.com
Airbag technology has come a long way in the past few years, from lanyards that pull a pin out of a gas canister and inflate when you fall away from the bike, to sensors on the motorcycle that communicate with the system and deploy in an impact, they’ve all offered additional safety in a crash, but that physical or electrical connection has been a limitation.
Now, from the technology develop in racing, we have completely self-contained airbags that detect a crash and deploy completely autonomously. They’re mandatory in MotoGP, and just need charging up.
I recently reviewed the AlpineStars TechAir Big Sur jacket and trousers, and have now been testing this, the Dainese Carve Master 2 D-Air Gore-Tex jacket and pants, on a Yamaha MT-10, a Niken and a Kawasaki Versys 1000 for around 1,500 miles in all weathers…
Fit is of course extremely subjective, but the Dainese Carve Master 2 D-Air is sized exactly as you’d expect, and fits me well. Because the jacket is designed with the airbag integrally, it’s not bulky or tight, and at 3.32kg it’s slightly lighter than my laminated Rukka Navigatorr; it’s a lot easier to wear than the AlpineStars Big Sur and weighs more than 2kg less.
The collar’s a little bulky, and the Velcro patch rubbed on the underside of my chin until I trimmed the sharp corner off
The length of the arms is good, though the neck is a little bulky and pushes into my throat a bit. More annoying is the Velcro hook section that just catches on the bottom of my chin; snipping the sharp corner off this relatively-roughly fitted patch did help. The neck flap also has a tendency to snag on the bottom of my helmet when turning my head back after a right-hand shoulder check. You might not have an issue, so try it for yourself.
Getting the fitting right at Bike Stop in Stevenage
Getting the right fit is vital with any gear, so I can’t recommend strongly enough that you try it on properly and buy from a dealer that will help you make sure you buy the perfect kit; I went to Bike Stop in Stevenage, a leading Dainese stockist (which also has a great café).
The trousers fit me very well too – overall you don’t put this kit on and feel you’re in something unusual; the safety technology is almost transparent, which is as it should be.
The D-Air Street Smart Chest airbag is a small CE Level 2 back protector, with the airbag covering the area around the back of the neck and sides, and the chest
The most obvious safety feature of this jacket, and the reason it costs almost £1,100, is of course the Street Smart Chest airbag. In the event of a crash it will deploy within 45 milliseconds, inflating to cover the chest, as well as the tops of the shoulders and the back of the neck to limit head movement. This isn’t the much more encompassing coverage of the Street systems fitted to the company’s leathers, so there’s no real coverage from the airbag on the back or sides, but the system is encased in a CE Level 2 back protector.
The airbag has a unique filament design inside, which is claimed to ensure an even, firm fill throughout. Once deployed, it will stay inflated for around five seconds, then deflate over a period of about 30 seconds.
The advantage of self-contained systems like this over a tethered one – like the Helite vest or the Held Carese reviewed previously – is that you don’t need to have left the bike for the airbag to deploy. It’s possible that in a low-side for instance, you could be down and sliding next to the bike without it going off. Of course, those systems are cheaper and can be rebuilt at home and require no servicing.
CE Level 2 armour is fitted to the shoulders and elbows, with Level 1 at the knees
The Dainese jacket also comes with CE Level 2 elbow and shoulder armour, while the trousers have height-adjustable CE Level 1 knee armour (there’s nothing at the hips). This armour is all fairly large and well positioned (none of it is uncomfortable), but of particular note is the knee armour, which is really well positioned and offers excellent coverage all the way down.
For all the confidence the armour and air-bag gives, it’s a shame to find that neither the jacket nor trousers are currently approved as personal protective equipment under the legislation that came into force in 2018. Of the two, the jacket – with its tough panels on the shoulders and elbows – feels the toughest, the tops of the trousers in particular feeling quite lightweight. With no CE certification of the garments (just the armour), there’s no way to get a guide on the abrasion or burst resistance of the Carve jacket or trousers.
From April 21 2018, all new motorcycle clothing is deemed to be Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). To meet this legislation, it must be tested to a recognised standard. For more information on the law, click here.
The check section clips together with a magnetic popper to put the system into standby, shown by the blue LED in the sleeve
Before you can first use the D-Air system, you need to register it with Dainese. Fortunately this is very easy, requiring only the download of an application to your desktop or laptop computer. Mac and Windows versions are available, and once plugged in using the supplied USB cable, the update is quick to run and registration is easy. If you don’t have access to a computer, a good dealer will be happy to help.
Once set up, arming the system couldn’t be easier – just fasten the single magnetic clip on the chest panels and the airbag is in standby, then zip up as you would any other jacket and ride. As soon as the GPS sensors in the base of the back protector detect that you’re moving over 10kmh, the system will arm. If it can’t get a GPS lock, it’ll rely on ‘feeling’ the vibration of the motorcycle. In daily use, I’ve never had any problems with it arming (it’s confirmed by the well-positioned LED on the left forearm turning green), and it’s stayed armed while riding through the Hatfield tunnel. If it loses GPS, it will stay in the same state it was in when the signal went for as long as it detects vibration.
If a crash is detected by the sensors in the back protector, the airbag will deploy. That algorithm is based on everything Dainese has learned through its racing heritage, but it is important to understand that the system will disarm when you stop riding. That means that, if you’re sat at the traffic lights and a car ploughs into you, the airbag will not deploy, so while you still have the fixed back, shoulder elbow and knee armour, the chest and neck area has no advantage. It’s an unlikely scenario, but one to be considered when the AlpineStars stays live until it’s removed.
Dainese claims that the vibration of the engine will keep the airbag armed when idling, but on my MT-10 and Versys 1000 this is not the case. Pulling up, it goes to standby within eight seconds at most; if I hold the revs high it will sometimes wait a little longer but not by much.
The ‘brain’ of the Dainese D-Air is a circuit board in the base of the back protector
Yes – Dainese says that a rucksack is fine, as is a rain suit. It’s also designed for use in temperatures between zero and 40°C.
The airbag can be removed from the jacket easily and can be repaired by authorised dealers. Bike Stop for example has just gained the accreditation to do the work in store, so if a repair is needed, it’ll cost around £200-£250.
Unlike the AlpineStars suit, Dainese doesn’t demand any specific regular servicing besides a maintenance check every three years, which can be done by an authorised dealer.
The battery is a branded item that could be replaced if needed (though I wouldn’t suggest you take your own airbag apart)
The battery powering this D-Air is a quality Varta 3.7V 2,400mAh lithium cell. It’s claimed to offer up to 26 hours of use – I’ve only charged it every couple of weeks, and not because it was warning me to.
When turning on, the LED on the sleeve will flash green to indicate the battery has over 70% charge, yellow if it’s between 20 and 70%, and red if it’s under 20%. Charging takes just four hours if it’s completely flat.
Because the device goes into sleep mode when there’s no ‘significant’ movement for more than five minutes (it goes straight back into standby when it moves again), and is disconnected when you open the chest panels, the battery drain is very small.
If the battery did fail to hold a charge, replacing it would be very easy (though as it’s a safety item, I wouldn’t recommend you take it apart as I did – take it to your dealer).
The airbag won’t arm when it’s being charged through the USB-C port tucked in the side of the protector, so you can’t power it from an external battery pack while riding if you leave it too long between charges.
A 100-250V 5V 1A USB charger is supplied, along with five different worldwide socket adaptors; reaching the charging port is slightly fiddly, but nothing too annoying, and you can leave the jacket hung up and charging so it’s ready to go.
It’s a minor point, but it’s a shame the trousers don’t have long hanging loops inside the waist band like most other kit – it makes it easier to hang them with your jacket.
The USB-C charging port is accessed from the side of the back protector, through a slit in the inside of the jacket
Because the D-Air is only armed when you’re moving on the motorcycle, it’s very unlikely it’ll go off by accident. Almost as soon as you stop moving, the light turns blue indicating that the device is in standby – if you fall off the bike while filling with fuel for instance, your dignity may not be unscathed, but the airbag won’t deploy.
I also tried sprinting with the jacket on, and couldn’t get it to arm, so in any normal situation you can be confident that you won’t suddenly inflate.
No normal riding is likely to deploy this bag – I’ve made a point of hitting potholes and speed bumps with no issues. Equally, landing ham-fisted wheelies doesn’t upset the D-Air.
Dainese states that the D-Air Street Smart Chest airbag must not be used for motocross, super-moto, trials, off-road or any other sports. Based on my experience of pot-holes, a gravel fire track would be fine, but I wouldn’t suggest tackling heavily rutted green lanes.
The gas canister and trigger system built into the airbag means that, according to Dainese, you should check with your airline before flying. A quick look at common UK airlines shows that it shouldn’t be a problem, and certainly the riders I know who have flown with airbag-equipped kit have not had an issue.
The suit needs to be put into shipping mode before flying, which you can do either by connecting to the app on your computer, or by holding the small recessed button next to the charging port for three seconds.
The upper jacket pockets are waterproof, but the little ones on the bottom aren’t. The zip toggles are ridiculously small though
The jacket has a reasonably sized fold-over map pocket on the rear, and four zipped ones on the front – two are a reasonable size and waterproof, then each has a smaller, non-waterproof pocket on the front of it, but these are very shallow.
The two main pockets will each carry all I need, but I can only just get a Samsung Galaxy S10 in, as they’re not as deep as some others.
There are two open-topped mesh pouches in the removable thermal liner, which also has two small zipped pockets on the outside.
The main jacket pockets do keep their contents dry, but the tiny toggles on the pulls are very fiddly to use – with gloves on they’re incredibly hard, and with cold hands they can be really frustrating. I’ve resorted to putting zip ties through them in order to gain some purchase.
Surprisingly, there are no pockets at all on the trousers. Of course, there is a risk of hurting yourself if you fall off with something in there, but I often use trouser pockets when walking around off the bike. At a recent appointment I had to leave my jacket in a locker, so was forced to carry my keys, wallet and change around with me. If you’re spending time off the bike somewhere warm, you’ll not be able to transfer your valuable to your trousers.
Once the chest plate is clipped together, the jacket’s main zip is easy to use with a reasonably-sized puller. The front flap is then poppered down, which I find a little more time consuming than Velcro or magnetic catches. The neck is fastened with Velcro, though it’s not very strong, and you can’t adjust the fit.
The trousers have two buttons – the main one is a large, solid rivet that’s easy to use, but the second is just a normal, sewn button. The thread here frayed quickly, but most irritating is how fiddly it is. After a 100 mile cold ride, it took me well over a minute to get it open with ice cold hands – I almost had to go into the office and ask for help.
The jacket and trousers zip together, though the full-length zip is rather small and fiddly. The jacket cuffs are also quite awkward to zip up – the left tending to jam if I don’t hold it ‘just so’. I now just leave them done up and slide my hands through.
The bottoms of the trousers are easy to zip up over boots.
The cuffs aren’t easy to adjust, and the waist belt is pretty poorly designed (it hasn’t missed a loop – there’s a strap beneath it that is under that)
The trousers have lots of Velcro adjustment on the bottoms of the legs, but the jacket cuffs have just two poppers The first leaves the cuff at its normal position with the zip closed, while the second just tightens it up a bit; this makes it really hard to get the jacket to stay under long summer gloves as the cuff bunches up clumsily and pops out; you’re best putting the gloves under the jacket, but it’s still hard to get a good seal.
Equally, while most winter gloves will tuck under the cuffs (check yours), you can’t get a reliable seal so the water works its way up underneath. After using Rukka’s excellent double-cuff design and realising that jackets can completely seal you from water or wind ingress, this lack of adjustment is a real disappointment.
The trousers have a belt with Velcro fastening on either side – this helps get a good fit, but unfortunately the buckles are poorly designed and spin through 90°; they still work, but they look cheap.
The Dainese Carve Master 2 jacket and trousers are relatively light weight and quite cool to wear. Understandably, the airbag limits the performance of the chest vents, but the openings in the arms, back and legs do allow for a pretty comfortable textile jacket in hot weather, even when wearing a rucksack.
Because of the lighter design, this kit doesn’t keep the warmth in quite as well as some others – the tops of the legs in particular seem to cool off quickest.
With the thermal liner in and riding at about 15°C it’s comfortable but not hot. At 9°C with the liner out I was very cold by the end, but this was exaggerated by the loose-fitting neck and the wind and moisture getting up my arms through the cuffs.
The removable liner is comfortable, and adds warmth
The removable thermal liner can be worn on its own, though it’s not like some that are a great-looking garments in their own right. It’s comfortable and not too bulky, and the cuffs are long enough that they do help keep some of the air out when they’re tucked under your gloves.
There’s a mesh liner in the jacket when the thermal section is removed (3D mesh on the back to help the air move), and it’s comfortable on the skin. When the thermal liner’s removed from the trousers it leaves the waterproof drop-liner against your skin, which doesn’t feel bad, but is rather grabby and sticky feeling when you’re hot.
The very best waterproof protection comes from a quality laminate suit as you can shake the water off and be ready to go again very quickly. Other kit – like this – relies on a drop-liner, which sits behind the outer fabric. That outer shell will be treated with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating that makes the water bead on the surface, but it has a limit (and wears out over time); once the outer shell is soaked in water, the membrane inside (in this case quality Gore-Tex) has a harder time breathing, so you might start to feel wet due to your own body moisture.
I took advantage of the torrential rain we had in early June 2019 and rode 100 motorway miles to test the Dainese kit after I’d had it for a couple of months. Two patches, each about the size of my fist, were damp on my stomach where the water had blown up under the bottom of the jacket, and my forearms were damp where I couldn’t seal my gloves.
My legs felt wet, but when I got undressed they were dry – this was likely due to not having the thermal liner in, so with no mesh my skin was pressed against the waterproof membrane.
After a few hours, most of the outer shell was dry, but even after eight hours the insides of the cuffs remained wet after the water had blown up there.
The trousers feel quite thin, but the knee armour is well placed and large
Compared to the £1,899.98 AlpineStar Big Sur airbag jacket, the Dainese is a much easier piece of kit to live with. Whereas I found the Big Sur very cumbersome and difficult to wear, the Carve Master 2 is little different to many other ‘normal’ jackets. But the AlpineStars has what appears to be the more advanced deployment system, not least because it stays active while you’re stopped at traffic lights. It also covers much more of the body when inflated, and has a better build quality to the airbag parts, for instance using braided connecting cables, compared to Dainese’s exposed wires.
The price difference is significant, and both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the Dainese is only a chest and neck system, not full upper body. I suggest you try both on but personally, with both hanging in front of me, it’s the Dainese I choose thanks to the fact that it’s so much more comfortable and doesn’t interfere with my ride (but I’m conscious that it’s at a reduced level of protection). That protection comes at a cost, and remember that you’d need to pay to have the AlpineStars serviced every two years (six months if you’re using it very regularly), at a cost of £150 and losing the it for about ten days.
I prefer a laminated Gore-Tex for my all-year, all-weather riding, but that would have put the cost of this Dainese gear up a lot. The cuffs need work – as does the collar – and I’d like to see the PPE ratings for abrasion and burst protection, but otherwise the Dainese Carve Master 2 gives added reassurance over a jacket with no airbag.
At £1099.95 the Carve Master 2 is also cheaper than the top-of-the-range £1,249.99 Rukka Nirvala, which has D3O armour at the chest, but of course no support around the tops of the shoulders to reduce sideways movement of the head.
With Dainese releasing a new airbag vest that can be worn under any jacket, things have changed again – the Italian company appears to be spearheading the development of airbag tech, and while the Carve Master 2 is the easiest self-contained system I’ve worn, the future is even more exciting…