One of the most common questions I see in m mountain bike Facebook groups, is about what kind of body armour riders are wearing. There are so many variables out there, due to different standards of rider, types of riding, personal preferences and situations. But the common all riders have, is that we all need some form of protection. We never know when a crash is going to happen. A crash can happen on the biggest jump or even when your front wheel just washes out on a patch of wet grass. So how much body armour do we need?
No matter what kind of rider you are or what level, you should be wearing a helmet. There is no argument for this, it is fact. I know of people who’s lives have been saved by helmets.
Personally, I like to wear elbow and knee pads. These just give me some confidence when I’m riding more technical terrain. The knee pads I wear are full shin and knee guards. They are a bit of overkill, but I am used to them now. However, when I started riding in the alps, I had a few occasions when I ended up sliding on my knees down very gravelly trails. They saved my skin and knee caps on several occasions. Elbow pads are great when you actually land on them. On many occasion the impact with the ground has just missed the pad, which is quite frustrating to say the least. But what about full body armour?
Why wear mountain bike body armour?
There are actually a few different reasons that people wear body armour. It can create confidence, which can push you to do things that you would normally chicken out on. Lots of people can feel very vulnerable without it, taking the fun out of a ride, especially those who have a weak part of their body (maybe from an accident) that they really don’t want to fall on again.
It is quite common for riders to do everything they can to protect themselves after a bad fall. In most cases, it is a phycological thang rather than a skills or safety thing. Which is totally fine, as long as you are comfortable and you are not compromising your movement or comfort. However, It is also quite common for riders that go all out on protection to slowly start to ween themselves off it as they get their confidence back. This is when they start wearing protection suitable for the terrain and weather conditions, rather than over protecting themselves.
If you are sure that you want or need mountain bike body armour, you have some great choices. Mountain bike body Armour is pretty good these days. Compared to the bulky robocop style stuff we used to have, it is light and allows you to move reasonably freely. There are lots of options to protect your body when you part ways with your bike, but what do you buy? Here are some of my recommendations for different levels of protection you may want to consider.
Lightweight Mountain Bike Body Armour
If you want a light piece of mountain bike body armour, you are in luck, there are some great options out there. With the improvements in technology and manufacturing processes, lightweight does not mean you have limited protection. Here are a few of the best light weight mountain bike body armour options:
Race Face Flank Core D30 Back Guard
The D30 in the Race Face Flank Core D30’s name refers to the D30 foam of which its pads are made from. You can customise your level of protection, by removing the pads to suit yourself. It is ideal for riders that feel that full hard shell mountain bike body armour is a bit cumbersome.
The Flank Core is designed to be worn directly next to the skin under a jersey. It is made from Lycra and mesh, so you will find that it fits well and is and breathable.
Comfortable and lightweight, with good protection for back and shoulders
Protection of the top of the shoulder and collar bone would make it better.
Great comfortable lightweight armour, that doesn’t make you feel like an ice hockey player. The Race Face Flank gives you a little more protection, boosting your confidence.
The chest area has a foam pad that will provide a small amount protection from scraping yourself, when you take on the trail face first, without your bike. However, the main protection comes from those D30 pads. D30 is a soft rubbery foam that is effective in absorbing shock. The Core Flank has 3 D30 pads, one on each shoulder and one large back protector pad. The pads are perforated to allow air to flow through them, to aid cooling and comfort. The fact that you can remove the pads, makes this body armour easy to wash too.
I haven’t crashed wearing a Race Face Flank Core yet, but I am confident that the pads will stay in place and do their job during a fall. The pads will protect the shoulders and back just as well as hard shell mountain bike body armour from impacts on blunt objects. However, hard shell mountain bike body armour will protect you from sharper objects and abrasion much better.
I would prefer it if the shoulder pads provided a bit more coverage though. They don’t protect your collar bones or the very top part of your shoulders. They cover the outer part of your shoulder and arm. This is great for sideways falls, but not great for those horrible over the bars moments.
You must remember though, that the Flank Core is not a direct replacement for hard shell mountain bike body armour. It is a light weight alternative, that is designed for those who want a little more protection.
On the Bike
The Race Face Flank Core is very easy to put on before you hit the trails, despite being a tight fit. The back protector is large and provides good coverage, without interfering with a neck brace or backpack.
The mesh allows good ventilation to help you regulate your temperature. Which is very welcome, as the Lycra is not moisture wicking. Unfortunately, neither are the pads, which is to be expected really. When you start to sweat, the pads get a bit slippery, especially the back protector. You will get this with any mountain bike body armour though, so it is something you will have to get used to, especially on hot days. If you feel like it, you can leave the back protector at home and just use the shoulder pads.
A good addition to the Flank top is the Flank short liner. This will provide extra protection of the coccyx.
661 Evo Compression Jacket
Comfortable and good protection
Lower back area may feel a bit vulnerable compared to the rest of the jacket.
This jacket is ideal for cross-country rides and light downhill use. It fits well under your jersey and feels like a base layer, and you soon forget that you are wearing it. The best part of this, is the arm, elbow and shoulder protection. It feels tough enough to withstand a decent wipe out, but the back protector could be longer.
The back protector is wider at the top and tapers down to protect your spine. However, it would be better if it was a bit longer to provide coverage for your lower back. The elbow pads also cover your forearms, which is great for when you fall off at speed (I can’t be the only one that puts their arms out during a fall).
On the Bike
The 661 Evo Compression jacket is very comfortable, with no awkward pressure points from zips or seams etc. This is important, as these pressure points can chafe. It is a very snug fit, not unlike compression clothing and it is not too bulky. However, the pads are prominent enough to remind you that they are there, giving you confidence, but not so bulky to get in the way.
With all mountain bike body armour, you are going to feel a bit warmer. But, with the Evo, you don’t get overly hot. You put it on like a jacket with a full length zip. This means you can get in and out of it easily, even when you are sweaty. The pads are all removable, and the pocket for the back protector doubles as a hydration carrier. It even has routing for the pipe.
This jacket is ideal for cross-country rides and light downhill use. It fits well under your jersey and feels like a base layer, and you soon forget that you are wearing it. The best part of this, is the back and shoulder protection. It feels tough enough to withstand a decent wipe out, but the back protector could be longer.
You will feel comfortable in this jacket. It is thin and well ventilated to allow you to ride all day without overheating.
G-Form Pro-X Short Sleeve Compression Shirt
The G-Form Pro-X short sleeve compression shirt is light weight mountain bike body armour, designed to flex with your movement. It uses shock absorbing RPT pads to protect vulnerable parts of your body
So comfortable you forget you are wearing it. Protects your vulnerable areas in a very clever way.
Super comfortable light weight mountain bike body armour. You forget that you are wearing it and are protected. You may want to check out the rest of G-Form’s range of body protection here.
The protection comes from the compression shirt’s strategically placed RPT pads. RPT stands for reaction protection technology, and it is clever stuff. It feels soft and light weight, but harden up on impact to absorb shock. Once, the shock has been absorbed, the molecules of the pads return to their original state.
The protective pads are located on the ribs, sternum, shoulders and clavicle. They are EXACTLY where you want them, and due to how well the shirt fits, they stay there.
On the Bike
A very important aspect of buying mountain bike clothing, is freedom of movement. You really don’t want to feel restricted when on your bike. The G-Form Pro X compression shirt, may look like it will be restrictive, but it isn’t. It is a super comfortable and moves with your body. The big advantage of how well this compression shirt fits, is that you forget it is there. You just slip it on like a t-shirt and it sits close to your skin. But the sweat wicking material keeps you reasonably dry and very comfortable.
Mountain Bike Body Armour For when you are getting sendy
Sometimes lightweight mountain bike body armour just won’t cut it, and you need something a bit more substantial. There are some really great mountain bike body armour suits for downhill mountain biking. These offer a lot of protection in order to take care of you in serious situations. You may be hitting the black downhill trails in the french alps, or just want some extra protection for other reasons. However, these are overkill for enduro or cross-country rides, and you may find that they get tiresome if you are pedaling all day.
Dainese Rhyolite 2 Safety Jacket
This is very well thought out and ergonomically designed mountain bike body armour, for downhill riding. It offers protection from the back to the chest, while providing breathability and comfort.
- Light weight, comfortable with lots of protection
- Quite expensive, but all that research and decampment has to be paid for somehow
Dainese have made a fantastic protection jacket, that is ideal for downhill mountain biking. It provides unrivalled protection, while allowing you to move freely.
Dainese are renowned for making excellent protective gear for motor bike and mountain bike riders. They have used this experience in creating this jacket. Protection comes from their Pro Armor material, that you will also find on their trail shin and knee pads. The chest and rib area is protected with Crash Absorb memory foam and a Flexigon panel for the back. This is to ensure that the right part of the body is protected with the right kind of material.
On the Bike
The Rhyolite 2 isn’t as subtle as the other lightweight protection on this page, but it isn’t supposed to be. However, it is made to be comfortable as well as protective, with how it is shaped. The abdominal area is uncovered, allowing unrestricted freedom of movement. The design feel light and it conforms to your body, especially around the joint areas.The fit is quite tight, but that is to ensure all the pads stay in the correct places.
The sleeves zip off, so you can leave them in the car, if you are riding on a hot day. It is designed to be breathable and comfortable, with ventilated pads.
Troy Lee Designs UPL 7855 HW
The Troy Less Designs UPL 7855 HW is regarded as impact protective clothing. It is a pretty high end item, with an integrated neck protector.
- Great protection
- Some people find it slightly bulky
A very comfortable way of giving yourself some excellent protection. It fits the rider very well, but some people report that it is a little bulky. But, they don’t really mind too much after they have “used” it.
This piece of body armour is very well padded all over, including the spine. The padding on the arms and elbows is much harder and tougher than the others. This makes it a good option if you are sick of your elbow pads slipping down your arms.
On the bike
All body armour is hot, however, you wouldn’t think it from the picture, but the UPL 7855 is actually quite well ventilated. This is because it is constructed from hex mesh, to give you lots of airflow. Many customers recommend that you wear a thin sweat wicking layer underneath it though for optimal comfort. Also, it is designed to not restrict your movement, thanks to its open armpit design.
Which Mountain Bike Body Armour?
There is something for you, depending on your requirements, based on your style of riding, ability, previous injuries and confidence levels.
In fact, confidence is probably the main reason you are looking for body armour. Either as a mental safety belt to get you stay off the brakes that bit longer or to send it over that road gap you have been scoping.
My pick for the light weight mountain bike body armour, would be the G-Form Pro X. This is because it is so comfortable and the protection is excellent.
When it comes to the heavy-duty stuff, it all depends on how much protection you want. I could have listed lots of other downhill mountain bike body armour. But, in my opinion currently the Dainese Rhyolite 2 Protection Jacket is the best, as it offers excellent protection without compromising comfort and motion.
If you have any questions or feedback, please leave them in the comments below.