The world of motorcycle safety has come a long way in the last decade. So it seems funny that the use of airbags, while ubiquitous in the automotive world, are only beginning to make their way into motorcycling. Even I have been somewhat reluctant to add another piece of gear to my already lengthy list of ATGATT necessities. So when Helite sent their new Turtle 2 vest for me to try for a few months, it was the perfect opportunity to see if the obvious safety advantages were worth the extra hassle.
Let me skip to the end and answer that last question immediately—of course it’s worth it. The few extra moments it takes to throw on a vest and then snap into the lanyard are the smallest costs imaginable when it comes to safety. Having a full-coverage back protector, in addition to having your torso covered in a protective cushion of air in the event of a crash is AMAZING. Plus, the way the vest inflates protects your collarbone while simultaneously stabilizing your neck (if you’re wearing a full-face helmet). With the potential to save your life, this vest is obviously worth it.
Because you’re reading this review, I’m guessing you already know that. It’s probably safe to assume that I don’t need to go into further detail about the safety a Helite airbag provides. Instead, my hunch is that you want to know what wearing the vest in the real world is like, and how I got along with the Turtle 2 in my day-to-day riding (without any crashes).
First off, attaching the lanyard to a frame rail on my bike was super easy. Pull the seat off, loop the lanyard around a fixed point, and voila—you’re ready to go. The lanyard just dangles there when you’re not riding, so it’s not the cleanest look, but since it’s black it blends in with the rest of my bike and I didn’t think about again.
The next step was throwing on the vest. There’s a small amount of fit adjustment that’s possible with the left side velcro straps, and initially it had me worried. Even after I took out as much slack as I could, the XL vest felt way too big. When I pulled on the front of the vest I had about three inches of room between my chest and the vest. I immediately called up Helite to find out if this was expected. After going over my measurements again, 6’2” 190lbs, they said an XL should be perfect for me. I was skeptical, but decided to trust Helite’s expertise and, surprisingly enough, they were right. It turns out the extra room I was experiencing was completely normal, and I didn’t experience any billowing whatsoever. In fact, once I was cruising down the road I forgot I was wearing it.
With that said, there were a few times I was reminded that I was wearing an additional piece of kit. The first was when I stood up on my pegs while riding and felt the tug of the lanyard, reminding me that I was indeed tethered to my bike. The second was when the temperature started to rise and most my jacket’s vents were covered by the vest. This is probably my biggest complaint, because when it really starts to heat up there’s not a lot you can do to make the Turtle 2 more breathable. That said, it is a vest that fits loosely so getting some airflow isn’t impossible.
The Turtle 2 has improved over the original Turtle vest by concealing the CO2 canister and adding a chest pocket, but are these updates enough to make it the clear choice in airbag vest ownership? Prior to July I would have said yes. While other manufacturers make jackets with airbags in them, the cost makes them unattainable for the average biker. But then Dainese debuted their new Smart Jacket—an airbag vest meant to be worn under any jacket, regardless of the manufacturer, and is available for pre-order for $700.
The Smart Jacket uses the same tech that Dainese’s airbag jackets use, in terms of gyros and accelerometers that anticipate impacts, to inflate before you hit the ground or another vehicle—without the use of any lanyards. This is obviously a far more tech-laden approach to airbag safety than Helite’s Turtle 2, but on the flipside, the Turtle 2 will never run out of batteries. With no batteries to charge, airbag protection is as simple as making sure your lanyard is attached when you hop on your bike.
The Helite Turtle 2 is a no-fuss, battery-free airbag vest that uses its simplicity as its greatest differentiator. The additional layer of protection will have you feeling more confident on every ride, and at $660 it’s a tried-and true-option you don’t have to wait for.