Honda Introduces Production Airbag on 2006 Gold Wing Motorcycle

After decades of experimentation, the first production motorcycle system debuts on the 2006 Honda Gold Wing. It is intended to reduce injuries in frontal collisions. It will not prevent the rider from being thrown from the bike but is intended to reduce hi

Certain versions of the 2006 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing tourer come with the first airbag fitted as original equipment to a production motorcycle. Honda says that the airbag, which is stowed in the "fuel tank" area just behind the steering head will help protect the rider(s) by reducing injuries in frontal crashes—that is, impacts where the motorcycle strikes something directly ahead of it.

The airbag system independently analyzes input from four sensors on the fork legs to determine whether an impact shock is actually a collision and whether it occurs on an axis where the airbag might offer protection for the rider. Honda says that in a side collision with a stationary vehicle (a Honda Accord, to be exact) at 50km/h (31.1 mph) .06 second elapses "from the moment an impact is recognized as a collision to the moment of airbag inflation." We assume that means full inflation. Honda's announcement does not discuss how long the detection process—performed via a computer—takes, but we assume that, as in similar automobile systems, it requires just nanoseconds.

The airbag is not designed to stop the motorcyclist but rather to reduce the velocity at which the rider is ejected from the motorcycle. Honda says, "Inflating rapidly after the impact, the airbag can absorb some of the forward energy of the rider, reducing the velocity at which the rider may be thrown from the motorcycle and helping lessen the severity of injuries caused by the rider colliding with another vehicle or with the road." We wonder if the shape of the airbag might also direct the rider's trajectory upward, which could help him pass over the vehicle he collided with (though it could increase the force with which he hits the road on the other side). We wonder how the airbag's effectiveness will be, uh, impacted by the presence of a passenger and what benefits, if any, the passenger

Though experiments with motorcycle airbags have been conducted for more than three decades, Honda has probably conducted more research, including numerous staged collisions than any other entity. It developed a crash dummy for the testing, and also has its automotive airbag experience to draw from. Though motorcycle-mounted rider-protection systems such as airbags have shown some success in reducing injury severities in published research, the most effective rider protection has always been that which he wears. The problems with wearing an airbag come from the near-explosive inflation needed to fill a rider-worn airbag in the instant before impact. There is also the matter of unintended deployment, which is likely to be an issue in any rider-worn system that relies on a tether to trigger it.

Motorcyclist groups have worried that a successful airbag system could lead to mandates for airbags on all motorcycles, which would have repercussions for styling and cost. The airbag feature is available only the full-featured version of the 2006 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, which costs about $2500 more than the $19,000 base model (or an additional $1000 if you add anti-lock braking). It is possible that the study of motorcycle crashes recently funded by Congress can examine the effect of the Gold Wing airbag system on injuries in crashes in comparison to the similar bikes that don't have airbags.

The new Gold Wing is due to arrive in dealers next spring.

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Honda's airbag system, shown here with the airbag deployed as it would be in an impact, is not designed to prevent the rider from being ejected from the motorcycle. Rather it is intended to reduce his speed in a frontal impact. It may also change his trajectory.
Aside from the "airbag" inscription on its cover, there is little to show that this new 2006 Gold Wing is equipped with an airbag system.
Four sensors, two on each fork leg, monitor acceleration changes. Honda says no structural alterations are needed.
The airbag module contains the airbag and airbag inflator. Its ECU, positioned to the right, analyzes sensor info to determine when to deploy.
A signal from the airbag ECU triggers this inflator to release its pressurized nitrogen. Presumably Honda has ensured that it won't deploy unintentionally.
The (provocative?) shape of the airbag, the way it's tethered, and its deflation vents all help to cushion the rider and reduce his forward velocity in an impact.
The airbag, shown here in its stowed configuration, is stored in the airbag module with the inflator. We wonder how its cost will effect insurance rates.
On a bike like the Gold Wing, an airbag does no styling damage, but that probably would not be true on a Harley Sportster or a narrow S-model Suzuki cruiser.