Safety first! The truth of this claim is obvious to anyone who has ever had a mountain bike crash. Of course, you should never ride the ever-increasing number of bike park and flow trails without protective gear. After suffering a serious fall in Belgium at the beginning of this year, I took a particularly close look at the range of upper body protectors and tested the combination of the new LEATT Airflex protector jacket and the LEATT Neck Brace 5.5 neck protector over the past few weeks.
More bike park safety – with the LEATT Airflex Body protector jacket
Finding the right protector jacket is not easy, especially for women. With my “old” jacket, I even had to opt for a child’s version, as there were simply no fitting protectors for women with a size of 1.68 m and 53 kg. Fortunately, this has now changed and just like other manufacturers, LEATT has also launched a women-only protector shirt. It’s called Airflex, and it is of course also available with similar features as a men’s version. But us ladies simply have different anatomies and need our own cuts. I tested an XS size jacket and a S/M size neck brace.
The first impression is very good, as you would expect from LEATT products. The items are impeccably manufactured and come in high-quality packaging with additional info material for basic adjustment. The protector jacket consists of two parts, the first being a full-zip jacket made of lightweight, top-ventilated mesh material with integrated shoulder and elbow protectors. These are removable, making the jacket very easy to wash. It fits snugly around the body and doesn‘t slip, only the elbow protectors could be somewhat narrower for my thin arms.
The second part of the protector jacket consists of a chest and back protector that you can wear underneath the jersey together with the jacket or on top of it if you prefer. The Airflex protector jacket is designed to work in both ways. The back protector is slightly longer at the bottom and thus offers optimal protection with integrated ventilation. The chest protector is also cleverly ventilated and made to suit different female body shapes. At the sides, it can be individually adjusted directly with hook fasteners under the arm and with Velcro fasteners under the chest. I am still somewhat restricted in my movements after my last crash and therefore have problems closing the hooks under the arm myself, so I have to ask my bike buddy to assist me. The part on the shoulder might just have been a little narrower in my opinion. Initially, you could be afraid that the wide strap might disturb you on the descent, but fortunately it’s not the case.
More protection for neck and spine – with the LEATT Neck Brace 5.5
The LEATT Neck Brace 5.5 is the perfect addition and makes for optimal protection. The LEATT neck brace concept has been the same for many years and it has been developed to perfection. In the event of a severe fall on the head, the full-face helmet hits the brace and is slowed down in its movement, thus preventing overstretching. The forces of the crash will be distributed over as large an area of the upper body as possible, instead of acting on the smaller bones of the neck. Thus, not just injuries to the cervical spine can be reduced, but also the collarbone injuries that are a familiar occurrence among mountain bikers.
It can be fitted straight to the protector jacket by means of small loops (on the shoulders of the chest/back protector) and therefore does not slip at all. The fin at the back fits perfectly on the back protector, as a small hollow forms when you remove the specific Velcro cover provided for this purpose. The neck brace is very easy to adjust at the front and back with Sure-Fit slide adjusters, so it adapts perfectly to your upper body.
Well, the use of neck braces is still a topic of discussion, which is certainly due to the rumours/statements about the actual benefits. However, I always use one in the bike park! For many reasons. After various shoulder and back injuries, I simply want to minimise the risk of damaging my collarbone and cervical spine. Nevertheless, and quite honestly, you need to get used to the new and different ‘riding feeling’ with a neck brace first. The neck protector from LEATT is perfect in this respect. It is lightweight, optimally ventilated, easy to adjust and in fact only minimally impairs your freedom of movement. Included in the delivery are also the transparent chest straps which allow you to adjust and fix the Neck Brace as required, even without the loops of the protector jacket. The user manual that comes with the neckbrace gives a step-by-step description of how to adapt the neckbrace and tells you how much room you need for head movement.
My verdict on the LEATT protectors
Wearing this combination and a full-face helmet, you can ride lots of laps with a feeling of safety. Well, that’s exactly what I did! Of course it’s hot in summer and you sweat more with this protector jacket than you would without … but I’m happy to accept that. The two parts go together perfectly, nothing pinches or scratches. I had already forgotten about the neck brace after the third descent, it’s so light. I can only repeat my recommendation to every MTB gravity rider to make sure they have enough protectors. The combination of LEATT Airflex protector jacket and LEATT Neck Brace 5.5 are perfect for this purpose. They are easy to fit and wear, light and not uncomfortable. You will see me wearing them in many bike parks and flow trails 😉 Ride on!