Upper body armor for trail riding?

Hi Lee;
I went over the handlebars twice last season, landing once on each shoulder. After spending the winter with James Wilson’s DB Combo and The Ultimate programs, things are good.

Just wondering what your thoughts are on upper body/shoulder armor for TRAIL riding. Most of what I’ve seen seems geared to DH riders. IE not a lot of ventilation and bulky looking. I came across this product with looks like it might have some potential, given the ability to remove the shoulders and the two way front zipper. http://www.skeletools.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=1

Feedback is welcome from one and all.

Cheers Greg

DH bike and crazy rocks = full-on armor (I hiked up this hill; why not carry protection?).

Hey Greg,

Protective gear is a tricky area. I believe helmets and gloves are mandatory. Beyond that, you should wear whatever it takes to ride with full confidence.

For many riders that’s knee guards. Others add elbow guards. Others rock full body armor, and a few are starting to roll with Leatt neck braces. It’s a personal decision, and it’s a function of your skills, physical fitness, the riding conditions and your confidence.

Hmm. This is a complex question with no clear answer. Let’s hack at it:

What are you guarding against?

– Impact. Hard-shell armor dissipates impact force, and it protects you from “intrusions.” If you want to protect yourself from blunt force trauma (ground, rock, tree), armor is the way.

– Violent motion of the joint. Armor won’t do much for you there. Good news: If you’re following James’ programs, you’re already making your shoulders about as supple and stable ad they can be.

Realize it’s a tradeoff

From a protective standpoint, more armor is almost always a good idea. If you feel compelled to wear upper body armor on trail, by all means do it. But realize it has drawbacks:

– Weight.

– Restrictiveness.

– Heat.

– Uncool factor (the key consideration for too many riders).

– It scares other trail users. I don’t care whether you’re carrying your IMBA card; armor and full-face helmets freak out hikers and XC riders.

Every time you get dressed to ride, you are weighing the benefits and drawbacks of more protection. I typically wear light knee guards when I pin XC downhills. They’re easy to carry (low drawback), and they save me significant pain when I screw up (high benefits). And I almost always coach in knee guards. Why? I’m usually riding, talking and paying attention to someone else — and I fall often. In that situation, knee guards are high possible benefit, low drawback. So I rock ’em.

Loamy Santa Cruz love = light neoprene knee guards (when it’s cold out they double as knee warmers).

Don’t skimp!

If you decide to wear upper armor for trail riding, it MUST fit you perfectly. I can’t comment directly on that Skeletools jacket, but I’ll say this:

I’ve experimented with various armor over the years, and I keep coming back to Dainese — at full retail price. My first DH suit lasted over 10 years. I now have a full suit for DH, and a jacket for moto. Dainese is almost 3X the cost of other armor, but, in my experience, it’s the most comfortable and wearable.

If you do this, do it right. The only useful armor is the kind you actually wear.

What are you afraid of?

I wear full armor only for full-speed race-style downhill runs (and moto). For me, those are the only times the benefit/drawback equation works in armor’s favor.

I propose that your regular trail rides shouldn’t be that risky.

1) If you pin it full-on every day to the point where you need (and use) armor, you should ask yourself if that’s a good idea. Especially if you’re older and/or have been hurt.

2) If the terrain, speed and your inabilities are that threatening to your safety … well, you know what I’ll say next: Ride somewhere else. Slow down. Work on your skills.

For a lot of riders, especially the older, been-hurt-before kind, wearing armor actually holds them back. It makes them too self conscious and aware of the risk of falling. That’s no fun.

To sum it up:

1. Wear whatever you need to feel safe and confident. Don’t go cheap.

2. Do what it takes to make your riding intrinsically safer.

First skills and fitness, then confidence, then braaap!

— Lee

Know more. Have more fun!

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11 replies
  1. Lou says:

    I had the same problem last fall. I ride mostly AM and some XC terrain. Went over the bars on a slick rooty downhill at full speed and separated my shoulder. After the pain subsided I also went back to James Wilson’s DB combo drills and worked on strength and stability. I used a 661 suit of armor in the snow all winter which did help (mostly with confidence more than actual protection). The realization that I had, however, is along the lines of Lee’s # 2 above. I’m 39, work full time with kids, etc., and I can have 100% of the fun and excitement of the ride going down the steep rough stuff at 75% of max speed with absolute confidence and forget about the upper body armor. Unless racing is a priority, take it a little easier on the downhills, stay healthy and do it again tomorrow.

  2. Greg says:

    Thanks for the feedback folks! I went over the bars due to pilot error. The first time I missed a slick rock in the middle of the trail, the front tire didn’t, out it went and over I went. I went down so fast that I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I definitely landed on my shoulder.

    The next time my buddy clipped a fallen tree top, which whipped off the trail and back onto the trail just as I was passing. I ran into it with my shoulder which caused me to turn the handle bars. I over corrected and went off the other side of the trail into some small shrubbery. No problem until I hit a slimy, angled, old fallen tree trunk buried in the brush. Down I went a second time.

    So neither time was I doing anything particularly gnarly, but this 50 year old body can’t take too many more of those kinds of crashes. Hence the quest for some protection.

    Any one else with some suggestions?


  3. Lou says:

    Go somewhere where you can try before you buy if possible. My 661 upper body armor is constructed well but did not fit me well. I had to make some custom alterations (with my wife’s help) to get the shoulder pads to fit right.

  4. adam says:

    if you are going for body armor go for the new poc stuff its super sweet its also super expensive but i trust my knees to their new shin guards also their ski helmets are super sweet get the synapsys xp my choice rite now

  5. jimmy says:

    I’ve been rocking the last couple years with the Dainese Commander armor. It’s actually boby armor for a street motocycle. It’s lighter than your standard DH armor. I wouldn’t use it as a full on DH armor if you’re racing. It’s great for low speed over the bar impact. The shoulder area has excellent articulated armor.

    On hot days I just put it over a coolmax t-shirt. Kinda of cool looking when worn over a black t-shirt. You look like batman.

    You put it on like a women would put on a bra so I call it my man bra.


  6. Josh says:

    I ride with a Full Face Helmet. I no longer ride with anything else. I also wear knee pads and not shin and knee since I dont feel fully moveable with it on. I dont wear any body armor since you feel like a robot but I do now wear a Leatt brace… It is by far the smartest investment I have ever made. I dont feel it ever when I ride. It also is probably the safest thing for your neck on the market. Would you rather 400 dollars or 225 for the chaeap one or would u rather life savings in medical bills.

  7. Greg says:

    Thanks again folks for the input. I do believe I need to head to the big city to try on some different products.

    That Dainese Commander Armor looks the most like what I had in mind, so thanks for that suggestion Jimmy.

    It seems that there is a niche that isn’t being well addressed with armour. Well ventilated, upper body armour for XC and AM riders. Maybe if I just keep looking or stop going over the handle bars 😉 Cheers

  8. hugo aguiar says:

    for me i don´t like to wear body armor but i tell you this dont´t be afraid to wear´it because some times i think to my self why did i not bring this and that it´s like i´m feeling naked,and at that time i´am not pushing my self to the limit to real injoing the run and that´s bad, so ride the way you feel good don´t be afraid off what the others riders say to you because they might feel strong just because they are bether but hey o gives a fu** for what they think,cause maybe and just maybe they are not that goood or cool,it´s like the bmx guy´s they are starting to see that the ground it´s hard.don´t be cooool be safe.ryan gutler one off the best push the sport got very scary thats life but one off the best exept you no u

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