Mention “technology” in motorcycling circles and electronic rider aids or variable valve timing in our machines are likely the first things to come to mind. While technological advancements in today's protective gear usually get less attention, they do just as much to increase our safety, comfort, and enjoyment as riders.
That's why every year we kick-start our Common Tread Year in Review articles with a look at the most significant gear advancements we've seen, as selected by our full-time in-house gear experts. In recent years, including 2022, wearable air bag systems have gotten a lot of attention, ranging from electronically advanced, almost full-body suits like the Alpinestars Tech-Air 10 Race System to simpler systems like the Helite Turtle 2 airbag vest. We've also kept up with improvements such as thinner, more comfortable armor, improved ventilation solutions, better ways to attach Bluetooth communicators to our helmets, and more.
For 2023, we saw some other sectors march ahead with improvements, so let's take a look at what our experts consider the most significant gear advancements of 2023.
Alpinestars Supertech R10 helmet
Alpinestars is no rookie in the helmet game — the dirt helmet game, that is. When it comes to road-oriented lids, however, the Italian gear maker is greener than the grasslands of the Italian Alps. You’d never know that by looking at the firm’s first-ever FIM-homologated helmet: the Supertech R10.
There’s already a wealth of MotoGP-developed helmets on the market. “What makes the R10 so special?” you may wonder. Though Astars doesn’t reinvent the recipe, it brings a few innovations to the table.
Many helmet manufacturers turn to lengthy rear spoilers for improved aerodynamics. The Supertech is no exception, but the model also manipulates the wind with two side winglets. Alpinestars claims the pass-through channels help stabilize the helmet, especially when the rider pops out from behind the fairing.
That inventive approach goes more than shell-deep, too. Alpinestars’ A-Head system allows users to adapt fitment to street or track riding, while the eight-piece EPS liner utilizes six different densities. Add to that an 11-port ventilation system and you have one of the most advanced helmets on the grid.
Still, we’re most interested to see the consumer response once the Supertech R10 (solid colors) officially hits retailers in February 2024.
Cardo extends a Bluetooth olive branch to Sena
If you’re a Bluetooth communicator user, you’re well aware of the ongoing turf war between Cardo and Sena. Without fail, both companies brag about features like one-button pairing. But, that’s the kicker. Neither Cardo nor Sena plays nice when it comes to syncing cross-brand comm units. In June, it looked like that might change when Cardo released its 3.2 firmware.
The update enabled Cardo models to connect to latest-generation Sena communicators (via standard Bluetooth intercom) with the press of a button. It effectively circumvented the multi-step process requiring riders to pair one comm unit to the other as a phone, sacrificing music-playing and call-receiving capabilities in the process. Cardo took the next step in September when the brand’s Live Connection update utilized Bluetooth to create a bridge between — not an integration of — Cardo and Sena’s proprietary Mesh networks. Happily ever after for comm unit users, right? Not really. Our testing still found problems and Sena still claims connecting the two Mesh networks isn't possible without issues. Plus, at EICMA 2023, Sena introduced its new 60 series. As for what interbrand connection issues that will bring, we’ll just have to wait and see.
The lasting impact of “forever chemicals”
Colorado, Maine, California, Massachusetts. What do these four states have in common? (No, we’re not referring to legal marijuana.) They all plan to ban per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the near future.
What the heck are PFAS, anyway? Well, the too-long-didn’t-read explanation is: chemicals used to produce water-resistant and sweat-wicking riding gear as well as certain motorcycle parts. And, why should you care? Because PFAS are “forever chemicals” that frequently make their way into the food and water supply. Still with us? Good.
While many moto gear manufacturers produce proprietary water-resistant materials (and will need to find PFAS alternatives in the years to come), one brand is practically synonymous with outdoor gear: GORE-TEX. Despite the company’s stranglehold on the market, it isn’t exempt from PFAS legislation.
Even before PFAS bills went into effect, many consumers called on GORE-TEX to abandon its signature polymer, expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). More than a decade later, GORE-TEX released its first products using expanded polyethylene (ePE) in 2023.
For now, only brands like Patagonia and Adidas feature GORE-TEX’s ePE membrane, but with E.U. and U.S. bans looming, it’s only a matter of time before PFAS-free materials make their way into motorcycle gear.
MIPS in MotoGP
Location: Portugal's Algarve International Circuit. It’s MotoGP’s final pre-season test of 2023. Manufacturers reveal the latest aero packages and new components. A very different debut belongs to Aprilia Factory rider Aleix Espargaró, who dons the first MIPS-equipped, FIM-homologated helmet during the test.
Short for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, MIPS is a safety system that integrates a low-friction liner between the helmet’s EPS and padded interior. The slip afforded by the MIPS layer increases safety by reducing rotational forces on the rider’s head during a crash. The technology is commomplace in cycling and motocross helmets, two sports favored by MotoGP racers during the off-season.
That affinity among riders, coupled with the system’s cross-brand compatibility, positions MIPS for mass adoption in the future. Especially with the FIM Racing Homologation Program raising safety standards in the coming years, innovative solutions like MIPS will continue evolving MotoGP gear.
And with that, our list of best gear advancements is complete. But, this is just the beginning. Look out for more Year in Review stories before the end of 2023.