Motorcycling isn’t exactly the safest way to spend your time, but modern technology has managed to make it far safer than ever before, with advancements like clothing with integrated airbags helping to make crashes much more survivable. Modern technology has also given motorcycling the soul-crushing reality of a motorcycle airbag vest that only works if your monthly don’t-die-in-a-wreck subscription is up-to-date.
Okay, they don’t call the subscription service that, exactly, but the Klim Ai-1 airbag vest uses Klim’s In&Motion Airbag system, which in turn uses an internet-connected component called the In&Box that does all of the complex sensing and math needed to know when you’re about to eat shit and thus need some airbags deployed.
The box is paired with the wearer’s phone via Bluetooth, and works with Klim’s app that manages the vest and connects your vest to your In&Motion account.
Why do you need an account and all of this for a wearable airbag? Because of how Klim is selling this: $399 for the basic vest, then if you want it to actually, you know, work, you have to pay a $12/month subscription fee, or you can pay $120 per year for the privilege of having the thing you bought do the thing you bought it for.
I’ll admit, I was a little confused by what I saw on the website—can you just pay the $399 and it just works and you don’t need the subscription, or does the $12/month mean you don’t pay up front, so I asked one of their online reps, who I believe was a human going by the name Shelby.
Here’s the transcript of that conversation:
Shelby Tue, 05/04/21 01:48:18 pm America/New_York: Hello Jason Torchinsky. How may I help you?
Jason Torchinsky 01:48:34 pm: Hello! Can you please explain how the subscription model works for the airbag vest?
Shelby 01:49:46 pm: 3a. Choose from $12/month or $120/year subscription options, which include unlimited In&Box warranty, anytime cancellations, VIP support services, and a new In&Box after 3 years.
3b. Or choose the $399 one-time purchasing option which includes 2-year warranty and classic support services.These are the 2 subscriptions options.
Jason Torchinsky 01:50:13 pm so $399 and it always works, as long as I have it?
Shelby 01:51:23 pm You will pay the $399.99 and then the subscription fee of your choosing
Jason Torchinsky 01:51:32 pm oh I see. So, for the vest to be active and work, it’s $12/mo or $120/yr. What happens if I like lose my credit card and a bill cycle comes and it doesn’t go through? I guess then when I ride my bike the vest won’t work until I fix the CC issue?
Shelby 01:55:30 pm correct, you will need to update it with In&Motion they should notify you if that occurs
Jason Torchinsky 01:55:39 pm okay, is there any point where it’s “paid off” and just works? or always subscription?
Shelby 01:56:05 pm it is subscription based at this point
Jason Torchinsky 01:56:27 pm okay. Thank you. This doesn’t feel kinda strange to you?
Shelby 01:59:08 pm You’re welcome. Can I help you with anything else? the subscription is easy to activate and set up as well
Ah, so I see why I was confused: after paying $400 for the vest, you can “unlock” it by either paying another $399 or you can do the $12/month thing. Either way you have to pay more to make it actually work.
The monthly subscription model leaves me feeling so very conflicted. On one hand, it’s a way to get an important piece of safety equipment for less money up front, which is good—there’s certainly cheaper airbag vests, but there’s more expensive ones, too.
But the idea of important safety equipment potentially not working because, say, you lost your credit card and had to cancel it or you had a one-time financial demand that pushed you into overdraft or a card expires or any of the number of other reasons why sometimes I’ve had auto-pay subscriptions lapse or fail is a hard reality for me to like.
Our pal Aaron Gordon over at Vice was looking into this as well, and he found that there’s a weeks’ grace period if a card is declined. I mean that helps, but all of this still makes me feel uneasy.
If you’re not paid up, the vest won’t work, period. I get that if you don’t buy a helmet, you don’t get your head protected in a wreck, but at least you just buy that helmet once and there’s no question when you’re wearing it that it will do something if you wreck.
Couldn’t they do a system where, if you’re lapsed and get in a wreck, it deploys but you get billed for the amount of time since your last payment? That’s not ideal either, but you’d think any plan where you’re not putting on equipment that you don’t realize won’t do anything to help save you is a better option.
Maybe I’m just a bitter old man, but I really don’t like the trend in the automotive world to make features subscription-based, like in-app purchases in some dumb phone game.
BMW is trying this with features like heated seats, Volkswagen is considering pay-on-demand extra range options, Tesla is using subscriptions for a number of features, which don’t even necessarily stick around for the lifetime of the car.
On some basic level, all of these types of things suck, because they’re all about blocking access to features already built into your car, which is just a reminder that we’re approaching a world where you don’t really own the things you own.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a good way to get expensive equipment onto bikers’ bodies cheaper? Is it better than a non-electronic cable-operated tethered airbag vest? I don’t really know, but I do know you don’t have to subscribe to a tether.
It all just feels a little too Black Mirror-ish, the idea that you could die because you didn’t update a credit card in your auto-pay.
UPDATE: Klim reached out to correct what I was told by their customer service rep; it’s not as bad as it seems, thankfully.
Here’s their clarification:
I am reaching out on behalf of the In&motion Executive Team to ask if we can correct what we feel are two misrepresentations of our subscription offering and to provide you with information about why we chose that model.
First, keep in mind that we do offer consumers the option of buying the vest outright for $800 with no subscription, which is in line with the cost of other legacy vests on the market.
However, our market research showed that many consumers don’t have the ability to make an $800+ purchase and forgo the protection of an airbag vest out of monetary concerns. We listened to consumers and created the first-of-its-kind subscription enhanced model to reduce the up-front entry point of an airbag vest by 50%, so more people could afford to protect themselves with the only SRA 5-star certified smart airbag vest (with pre-impact detection and inflation) on the market. Lowering the barrier to entry has been instrumental in getting more riders protected on the road.
We’d also like to point out that under NO circumstances is our system disabled or rider’s cut-off if they are mid-flight on a ride, as suggested. We provide a 30-day grace period from the time a payment is missed and also provide proactive outreach to our customers to let them know that their payment details need to be updated. With the ample notification and grace period we provide, along with visual indicators via the LEDs on the In&box Control Module during the startup sequence, we designed our platform to do no harm, and keep riders safe under ALL circumstances.
These caveats certainly make the system less dystopian, and I can see the value in providing a means to not have to drop $800.