Whether you’re new to mountain biking or have been around for a while, you’ll know that it’s a lot of fun. It’s addictive. Great for physical and mental health; BUT the ground is hard, rocks even harder and the frame of your bike is not your friend when your body connects with it at speed. Trees too have a habit of not getting out of the way when you have nowhere else to go.
You may have noticed people riding with knee pads, gloves and a decent helmet. For some, that’s protection enough but what about the riders who smile at extreme downhill, bike park jumps or, sending their bike where other riders fear to go? They need more protection than most but all of us benefit from some form of protection. It often saves us from nasty injuries and keeps us out on the trail as opposed to no protection and potentially long recovery times.
I choose out on the trails rather than standing with my nose pushed against a window wishing I could be out there.
Here are a few words from a research study
“It is each rider’s responsibility to ensure that the bicycle and all of its components are of good quality and undergo regular maintenance. Special attention should be paid to the tires, since they are the component whose failure is most commonly associated with injury. With the advent of tubeless tires and stronger rims, tire failures may be less common in the future. Riders who use traditional steel rims and tires with inner tubes should construct their wheels with tube protection devices that are placed between the inner tube and the tire. Handlebar grips should completely cover the ends of the bars so that the metal ends are not exposed. Bar-end attachments, if used, should be curved and padded, and should not point upward. Helmet use continues to be an extremely important aspect of injury prevention, and clinicians who work with cyclists should always encourage their regular use. Downhill cyclists are wise to wear helmets that incorporate facial protection, and helmets of this type should also be encouraged as standard equipment for cross-country racers and recreational riders. Impact resistant lenses or goggles are recommended as standard equipment for eye protection in all mountain cyclists. The use of other protective devices for the trunk and extremities should be encouraged in downhill racing and considered in some recreational riding situations as well”.
Robert L. Kronisch (1) and Ronald P. Pfeiffer (2)
- (1) Student Health Center, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA
- (2) Center for Physical Activity and Sport, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA
That’s only a summary of a much longer research project but the bottom four lines are of relevance here. Remember that what these guys are saying is based on mountain bike injuries presented in clinics and emergency rooms. So, let’s look at the protection that is available.
The natural elements, dust, flying grit and other debris can easily find a way into your eyes. My wife recently picked up a tiny piece of grit and had a red and uncomfortable eye for a couple of weeks. Not great considering she’s a midwife and needs perfect sight at work. On the day in question, her ride was severely impaired, and her usual pace decreased as a result. Even with one good eye, the other distracted her so much, she couldn’t see what was coming and we abandoned the ride early. She left her glasses at home that day – such is life.
Both of us wear TOREGE Polarized Sports Sunglasses with 3 Interchangeable Lenses. One is a typical sun lens, one clear and the third is yellow and superb for low-light on dull days or when riding shady forest trails. The yellow lens certainly helps me to pick out bumps and holes on the trail. All three lenses have 100% UVA and UVB blocking properties and crucially they are impact and scratch resistant. It’s extremely easy to change lenses too.
A secure fit is also essential and for me (average male adult head), that hasn’t been a problem. My wife is smaller, and we needed to adapt the one size fits all glasses by adding rubber sleeves to the arms where they connect with her ears. They sit perfectly in place.
Trail focus is so important and one of the things that pleases me about these glasses is that they do an excellent job of repelling dirt, water and sweat. Not perfect but enough that I don’t remember ever stopping to clean them.
If you wear prescription glasses, many mountain bike glasses have special Rx inserts that fit behind the lenses. You can interchange the lenses for various lighting conditions while only purchasing one prescription lens. You will need to ask your glasses supplier about these.
Body armor can help to decrease the level of injury risk and it can affect rider confidence positively. You could look at that another way too. Over confidence can lead to greater risks and higher chances of crashing out and what is important to know is that armor helps to minimize injury, but it can only do so much. There’s no such thing as 100% protection or, risk free.
Armour can be restrictive and cause overheating in hot conditions or following intense exertion such as a particularly challenging climb. It is great for people who ride on conditions that demand it, so the choice is yours. After considering the type of riding you enjoy, your skill level, riding style and mental approach. Do you need it or not?
There is no single ‘best’ suit of armor. Different riders will choose the protection they need, according to the demands of their riding and the price of course.
If you want something a little less restrictive than the POC, explore the Fox Racing Raceframe Impact SB. Fox claim to have designed chest and back protection that’s flexible and because it’s heat activated, it conforms to your body as you ride and comes with adjustable waist and shoulder straps. It’s certified at Level 1 back and chest protection and non-included extra foam pads can be added if you need more.
If you do decide you need body armor, look for comfort and balance between what the armor does and how it feels. Sizing often varies between manufacturers so it may be a case of trying out a few types until you find armor that fits you. We all come in different shapes and sizes and even two medium-sized riders may not be quite the same.
Knees and Shins
I have a preferred set of knee and shin guards that are comfortable and effective. Manufactured by Dainese, they’re extremely light, easy to adjust and fit perfectly. They have saved knees and shins too many times to count and that includes sudden knee whacks to the frame and flying gravel and rock.
Compared to other brands, they are well-priced and don’t come with comments such as, “the fitting is poor, the straps rub when I’m riding . . . One reviewer did comment that the calf Velcro was too short, but I can’t agree with that for me even though my calves are typical for somebody who rides a lot. Like with body armour, try before you buy or send them back and exchange.
They are light enough to hide if you care what other people think. I don’t care much for that but in winter they fit comfortably under clothing, even tight-fitting. Once I’m riding, I forget they are there and can focus on what matters.
It’s interesting how reviews of knee / shin and elbow pads from a variety of brands have similar points against them. I can’t answer why this is the case but here it is,
“. . . the 2 elastic bands in my opinion are not enough to keep the padding in position in case of a fall with side impacts”.
I’ve had plenty of falls with my Dainese elbow pads and find that if they do move, they go with the flow of the fall. In other words, the point of contact is always the pad and not my elbow. So yes, they do move on impact but, never during riding and they are comfortable and go unnoticed.
A couple of months ago, not wearing my pads, I took a fall on grass and was left with a nasty elbow graze for a few weeks. That would never have happened had I been wearing the pads.
I can’t imagine riding without gloves; finger-less most of the time or full gloves when it’s cold. They soak up some of the sweat, help keep positive grip on the bars and protect my hands from collecting embedded grit if I crash.
Choosing a new pair of finger-less gloves recently, I couldn’t work out why one pair cost a little under £5 and another £20. They looked pretty much the same on the outside and I didn’t see the difference until I turned them inside out and saw far superior stitching on the inner seams of the £20 pair. The Velcro fastening across the wrist was stronger too.
Similarly, I bought a pair of comfortable and nice looking Fox Racing full-finger gloves last winter and the seams on both index fingers split inside two months. There just wasn’t enough material or stitching to keep them together. A pity because they were warm, very comfortable and there was no loss of feeling on feathering the brakes.
If you have ever whacked a pedal into your ankle or been hit by a flying rock, you will remember how painful this can be. Also, if you are carrying an old injury, ankle supports can help you to make sure it’s not repeated.
The best I’ve found fit under the foot with a strap and they don’t interfere with shoe fitting. Some brands with over the foot fittings take too much space in the shoe and cause some discomfort. If you decide to go for this protection, take your shoes when you go and check them out. If you use mail order, exchange rather than put up with them if they don’t feel right.
At £19.99, 7 iDP Control Ankle Guards from Chain Reaction Cycles are highly recommended. Especially if you have had injuries or surgery in the past because they also offer warmth and some support. Here’s what another reviewer had to say.
Age group, 35 to 44, Male, Passionate and Obsessive, Canada
“Bought these to protect my once shattered ankle bone.
Not sure how these would hold up on a hard impact as its just soft padding.
But I’m sure it would be better than nothing.
Maybe a thin layer of hard plastic or D30 would help it protect better…
They fit really well, and I don’t notice they’re on when I’m riding.
I went riding one cold afternoon without these on and I did notice how cold my ankles were”.
Do You Need Protection or, Not?
Only you can answer this question and a great way to find the answers is to consider the following:
- How is your injury record looking?
- Is there an old injury that needs protection?
- What is your typical ride terrain?
A friend recently damaged three ribs in a crash, the same ribs that he injured less than one year earlier. Both incidents happened at bike parks. He has asked himself two questions:
- Shall I buy some body armor?
- Shall I quit bike parks?
What would you do?
Once you’ve decided on the level of protection you need, shop around. Chain Reaction Cycles is one of my favorites because they offer a 365 day returns policy so there is never a problem trying things for size and feel before you commit.
I am a CRC affiliate which means if you buy, I may receive a small commission but know too that I used CRC as my preferred online retailer before I became an affiliate. If you would like to know more about this, click on the ‘Affiliate’ link on the right of the top menu bar.
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