Mountain biking is not the same as road cycling, roads are smooth with a good field of view. Roadies head out knowing they may get hit by traffic but they do not expect to every trip. Road cyclists do not expect to fall off every time they are on a bike, if at all. Mountain biking is different as you will be weaving round trees at speed and jumping, the rider can often not see what's coming up and it is far more reactive. No matter how good you think you are, you WILL fall off, and the better you become the more you will fall off as you push your limits. A lot of this is more a mental state as it is accepted it will happen and like any skill once it has happened a few times you become better at handling it.
As a result there are a range of impact protection armour, depending on what you want to do with it from light, flexible with limited protection to far more rigid but greater protection. It is always a balance between agility, absorption and weight. Some more expensive items deal with body heat also, as you get warm in this stuff.
Legs/KneesLegs and knees are one of the most impact likely areas, instinctively when you come off your knees are amongst the first to brace. A lot of riders will wear knee pads just for this reasons. Depending on the seasons thorns, branches will also have a go at the lower part of the leg around the shin.
|NukeProof Knee Pads|
|661 Knee/Shin Protection|
I used 661 initially but found the TLD range far more practical and fitted my requirements better from a comfort and protection perspective.
A lot of riders tend to neglect the arms and elbows as most of the time when you come off the bike you will instinctively use your hands to brace first. Elbows are quite susceptible to impact damage from an unconventional dismount even more so than the knees due to the range of movement they have, they may just get clipped by a tree. I have found that most of the time the hands will brace the initial impact of a fall but it then transfers to the fore arm and elbows either from a slide or roll and I have found they are quite susceptible to damage.
The choices for elbow protection are very similar to the knee guards in that they can cover just the elbow or they can include fore arm protection also as they come in similar types as the knee. These items effectively put a hard plastic shield around the outward facing areas. they are well protected and secured by a sleeve and two Velcro straps. I have found while they offer great protection the do not easily stay in place meaning you will constantly be adjusting them but if you are aiming for the more downhill activity they may be a better option.
Troy Lee Designs have also released protection for this area that is mostly fabric with plastic inserts on the elbow and along the forearm to take impacts. This design does not use straps to hold it in place as it is more like a sleeve which is surprisingly comfortable and does not tend to move around while offering protection in areas you really need it. These can be worn in the summer while still maintaining a comfortable temperature.
TorsoNot many riders wear torso protection due to the weight and heat. Generally speaking it is not common for your chest to be hit unless involved in DH riding. The chest area only really gets hit when riding into things or being hit by branches etc, that said I have found it is common for shoulders to be quite exposed and often will take some form of impact with an unconventional dismount.
Recently 2010 onwards there has been an increase in products for this area. Previously there was only really DH items such as the Fox Titan Sports jacket.
This jacket is like a coat with a spine board to protect the back and is designed for DH being derived from moto cross products. The item has a series of hard plastic plates. It offers great protection over the top half of the rider and is relatively cheap compared to other products. That said even with such a good protection factor it is heavy to wear and restrictive, particularly around the arms. Again it is designed for jumps/DH where movement from peddling and leaning around berms is not a large part of the trail.
|661 Sub Gear|
There is also a meet in the middle version by Troy Lee Design that offers better protection that the sub gear but retains agility unlike the Titan. TLD have released a shirt option that has articulated foam pads in various locations to help with hitting the ground and rolling and also has pads in areas such as shoulders which are likely to get clipped by nature. There is also a vest version that does not have the arm protection. The shirt fits well and is comfortable to wear and will hold its position. It will not protect as well as the titan so its best not to hug any trees at speed but as for coming off the bike it protects areas that would normally be used to slow the body down.
At the same time TLD released a shorts version to protect the thighs and hips when sliding on the forest floor. They work well enough but as clothing manufacturers do not measure thigh circumference they can be restrictive on the thighs which tires the muscle out quicker.
Most Mountain bikers will use a full face helmet for better protection as yes you do hit your head but you tend to land on your jaw first and a traditional helmet does not protect that. In recent years FF helmets have become more common on the trails. They protect the head better than a conventional helmet but are often heavier and have less ventilation which is often why riders carry them when not riding. Out of all the protection available this is the must have item, even though some riders still do not wear one. I have seen riders come off wearing a conventional helmet and the helmet being split in two.
|TLD D3 Carbon|