By Jean Turner - Photography courtesy of Dainese
A look back at the history of Dainese is a look at a history of innovation in motorcycle protective wear. A history that began in 1968 when 20-year-old Lino Dainese traveled with some friends to London where he first saw “ton up bikes” (what we would call café racers) and caught the inspiration for what would become his life-long work.He returned to his home in Italy where he set to work creating purpose-built protective wear for motorcycle riders, and in 1972, came out with the first Dainese product – pair of motocross trousers.
Fast-forward four decades and Dainese has turned into a global brand, representing the pinnacle of safety, quality and style in motorcycling. The company has expanded into other areas such as mountain biking, skiing and equestrian sports, but remains ever focused on motorcycles, where it currently stands at the forefront of technological innovation. In 1972 – when the mere concept of purpose-built protective gear for motorcyclists was considered innovative – the idea of an airbag suit that could communicate wirelessly with the motorcycle was literally inconceivable. Little did young Dainese know that his journey toward this profound ingenuity would all start with a pair of pants.
The tireless pursuit of finding a better way has taken the Dainese brand to astonishing heights, but while the idea may have started with one man, the company’s progression can be attributed to many. The list of engineers, designers and riders who have contributed to the evolution of Dainese products is a veritable who’s who of motorcycling greats such as Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and renowned designer Marc Sadler. The Dainese legacy of race-winning innovation continues today with riders such as Max Biaggi, Dani Pedrosa, and of course, the great Valentino Rossi, all of whom have contributed to the evolution of Dainese products. But as Lino Dainese explains, it’s more than sheer speed that these riders bring to the table.
“The riders we support are chosen for their ability, for their quality of feedback and how open they are to innovation,” says Dainese. “Their attitude towards innovation is crucial. They are the best people to understand the small differences when we are developing things like the back protector or the DIair system. The rider who doesn’t embrace innovation and technology is not a good rider for us, even if they are a world champion.”
Fortunately, some of the greatest Dainese riders have been world champions, such as Kenny Roberts. As speeds ramped up and lean angles dipped down in the 1970s, racers began sliding their knees on the tarmac. Roberts began taping helmet visors to his knees for protection, but in 1980 tested the first-ever knee sliders with Dainese.
Before that came the first-ever back protector, developed in 1978 (the same year the concept of composite protection was born) in collaboration with World Champion Barry Sheene. Three years later Freddie Spencer became the first real world tester of the Dainese “Aragosta” back protector when he crashed at the Kyalami track in South Africa. Spencer hit sharp curbstones in the fall, but was successfully protected by the Aragosta.
Innovation was propelled during this time. In 1980s Dainese came out with its first motorcycling gloves, developed second- and third-generation knee sliders, and revolutionized the ergonomics of the racing suit by designing it around the rider’s stance on the bike, rather than standing up. The back protector gained popularity, and became available to the general public in 1983, and by 1988, Dainese had introduced yet another new concept to the racing suit – the aerodynamic hump.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s also inevitable when you’re leading the way for product innovation. Many of the revolutionary ideas from Dainese have found their way onto competitors’ products, a reality that has not discouraged, but rather fueled the company’s resolve to continue innovating.
“Dainese tries to be a moving target,” explains Roberto Sadowsky, Vice President of Operations for Dainese USA. “Our engineers and designers are always pushing the envelope, so hopefully, by the time one of our ideas is copied, we’re already working on something new.”
Another drawback in the challenging world of innovation is, of course, the potential for failure. Even the brightest minds have come across their share of dead ends, and Dainese is no exception. “The company has continuously researched new solutions and new applications of technology, often – but not always – with great success.” Sadowsky offered. “For sure there are projects that have never ‘seen the light,’ but nothing gets forgotten; old projects can inspire new ones.”
The road may not have always been smooth, but Dainese’s history of innovation is long and detailed, with countless safety and performance contributions to the sport that have since spilled over to other sports.
“It’s amazing how far it has come,” Sadowsky said. “We are pleased that a sport that was often perceived as reckless or nonconformist has contributed to safety for many people. Dainese products already protect motorcyclists, cyclists, skiers and even equestrians, and Mr. Dainese speaks of a second era for the company, during which he envisions the same thing happening for construction workers, soldiers and elderly.”
Among Dainese’s impressive list of motorcycling advancements, it’s hard to look away from their most recent innovation – DIair. The airbag technology once reserved only for automobiles, found its way onto motorcycles at the capable hands of Dainese. The “airbag for motorcyclists” concept, which had been in development since 2000, soon evolved into an incredibly sophisticated system. The DIair is now a state-of-the-art wireless system capable of determining what is, and is not, a crash, and then deploying its airbags to protect the rider all in a matter of microseconds.
In 2007 the Dainese DIair Racing airbag was first used in a race. Simone Grotzky fell during time trials at the Spanish Grand Prix in Valencia and the world watched as the DIair deployed in the wreck, allowing Grotzky to walk away. A year later Dainese began testing DIair Street – a new dual-airbag system designed to protect riders on the street.
While it might be a while before we see the street version, the track-focused DIair Racing is on its way to North America. As Dainese recently announced, DIair technology will be available in the U.S. and Canada in the Misano suit as early as September 2015. The DIair will be the first wireless airbag system available to motorcyclists in North America. (read more)
As promised, Dainese continues to be a moving target. With the DIair Racing and DIair Street technology well underway, and even a new Ducati Multistrada designed to wirelessly communicate with the DIair system, Dainese is already on to the next thing: DIair Armor.
“We just recently announced the DIair Armor during the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello,” Sadowsky explained. “This is an ‘open platform’ project that takes the airbag system from our DIair Racing suits and puts it in an undersuit that can be worn with suits made by other companies. Now, five additional top riders are protected by the DIair system.”
A look back at the history of this remarkable company naturally begs the question: What may lie another 40 years into the future for Dainese? If history is any indication, it is most likely something beyond our present understanding… if you can imagine that.
The Dainese company logo originated as a “red devil” – a symbol of dynamism and rebellion. Its current form still somewhat illustrates a demonic face, but don’t worry – there’s nothing satanic here. It’s merely a lighthearted depiction of the daring thrill-seeker that lives within every motorcyclist.
The first knee-sliders were called “porcupines.” Small cylinders would protrude through the outerwear from the knee area of the pants when the leg was bent. Kenny Roberts was the first to test them in 1980.
Before the advent of knee sliders, Kenny Roberts had been taping helmet visors to his knees.
Dainese was the first to introduce the aerodynamic hump to the racing suit. The first hump appeared on the back of a racing suit in 1988, and was much smaller than what they’ve become.
The Dainese T-Age suit was the first and only leather suit to win the Compasso d’Oro ADI (also known as the ADI Golden Compass Award) – one of the most coveted international prizes in design. Dainese received the honor in 1999.
Dainese has even developed protection for astronauts! Through collaboration with MIT in Boston, Dainese helped create the Biosuit – a skinsuit for mechanical pressurization to be worn inside a space suit. The suit helps combat the negative effects of long-term weightlessness experienced by astronauts.
The first-generation Dainese back protector can be found on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art as part of its permanent collection.
The knee slider reached its present shape in its third-generation from Dainese in 1985.
Lino Dainese has always looked to nature for design inspiration. The lobster was the inspiration behind the first back protector in 1978. Other critters that can take credit for Dainese designs are the tree frog, elephant seal and even Tyrannosaurus rex.
Dainese continues to build its presence in North America, and its expansive product line is now available on Motorcycle Superstore. Shop now!