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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
An acquaintance on another forum lost a friend yesterday. The victim had an unspecified medical problem and simply fell off his bike onto the road - breaking his neck. His helmeted skull was fine.

This got me thinking about levels of armor and what we use on a daily basis and whether it's appropriate. You can find anti-helmet advocates (in the city cycling context, anyhow) arguing that helmets are useless and sometimes they'll jokingly say collarbone armor would be more useful. What if they are right? Maybe we should be protecting ourselves based on incidence of problems and not just severity of outcome. What really is the most common bike injury that PPE could prevent? In a MTB context, now, and acute injuries requiring a doctor. Should we be going around with Leatt braces, or Dianese airbag jackets like the MotoGP guys? Stiffer boots? Is that maybe more important than knee and elbow armor?

I don't think I have a position, it's just been something my mind has been chewing on today.
 

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I want a neck brace to fit my Alpinestars chest protector for park days.

I think knee and elbow pads probably prevent the most injuries. I know they have saved me many times. One time pads saved my knee cap from being shattered on a rock. Wear them every ride.

I wear a full face 95% of the time. Either carrying the chin bar while climbing or just climbing in full on FF mode. Coming from motos I feel naked without it.

Park days or legit shuttling I wear all the gear.
 

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I try to dress for the occasion. For a mellow trail ride I'll wear light knee pads and a half lid helmet. For more rocky, jumpy, fast rides I'll wear medium thickness knee pads and a lightweight full face. For the DH park I wear bigger knee pads, hardshell chest/back protector, DH helmet, elbow and shoulder pads.

My most common injury over the past few decades has been knee and elbow abrasions.
 

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I wear knee pads every ride these days. They have helped so much this year I can’t even count.

I bought a Troy Lee Stage this year after picking one up in a store. So light! I ride heavy bikes so I try to save weight everywhere else. I use it any time I ride our rowdy trails, since they are mostly fire road climbs and I just hang it on the handlebars. I also feel better wearing the fullface for its better grizzly bear protection, which is a legit concern where I ride.

I really don’t get along with elbow pads. I’ve never owned a pair that didn’t slide down and distract me while riding— which arguably makes crashing more likely.

I don’t ride lift-served parks anymore nor do I shuttle, so it’s always a compromise. I used to use a full Dainese upper suit which offered amazing protection but was like wearing a parka on hot days. I used to joke with my buddies that I was safe from the rocks and trees but I would die from heat stroke instead.

At some point you just have to be willing to accept some of the risks and dress to ride, not to crash. I really don’t take a lot of extreme risks with speed or dangerous features. If conditions are sketchy, I don’t go full speed. I go fast when the dirt is grippy, for sure. I have nothing to prove by riding at race pace all the time, regardless of conditions.

Regarding dangerous features, the same. If I feel there’s a 95% chance of success, I’ll go for it. A week or so ago, I chose to walk away from a large rock roll feature that I’d been wanting to hit for a long time. The roll itself was comparable to many others I’ve done before, but the lead-in to it was very technical; another janky roll into it, basically, followed by a 90 degree corner and then only two bike lengths to prepare for the big one. I almost did it, but finally decided the chances of going over the bars were pretty high, or missing the corner beforehand and going off a cliff was a real possibility. Maybe if I saw someone else do it first…

Anyway, just being calm, calculated, and having an attitude of “nothing to prove” has helped me stay out of the ER for the majority of my riding career.
 

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Anyway, just being calm, calculated, and having an attitude of “nothing to prove” has helped me stay out of the ER for the majority of my riding career.
This.

Many moons ago someone put a name to how I spent my life riding. It was called the 80% Rule. Ride at 80% of your max with the intention being that you make it home with little/no issues. This was the intro to a performance street-based motorcycle riding clinic that lasted a weekend.

Recently I started dirt biking. Neck braces became a discussion both in my mind and with others. I don't have one, but I have the rest of the gear.

I know that no one can predict the future, but I also know that positive thinking can help. And no, positive thinking doesn't start with "here, hold my beer".


Sorry to hear of the loss of a fellow rider.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for the responses. This is all familiar stuff but it wasn't really what I was poking at. I'm wondering if anyone is keeping or making available statistics on injuries that would inform better choices on what armor is most beneficial to wear. The division between helmet and not-helmet outcomes is so dramatic that it might drown this stuff out. Can we call the opening anecdote a fluke? I can't really foresee a world where guys riding bikes around on city streets are wearing ff helmets and Leatt braces. And yet... once you have the helmet, what's the very next most likely thing to break, what's the next obvious armor? Can you find that under the noise?

I'm old enough to remember when seemingly every single front end car crash resulted in a spiderweb windshield where the driver's skull impacted. During my lifetime cars have grown shoulder belts, head rests for whiplash because the insurance industry got tired of paying lawyers for that, and since willful idiots resisted the shoulder belts we got airbags every which way, and crumple zones and reinforced passenger compartments and ABS and traction control. Most of this except for "click it or ticket" was driven by regulation on the people who make the cars, and it worked. Rates of injuries and death in auto accidents have gone way down. But which one of these was the most effective?
 

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I added knee pads a few years ago, upgraded to a full face last year, this year I got some mid height shoes with ankle protection, and I wear a water bag with an integrated back protector. The next thing I’ll add is a mouth guard.

I’ve broken many bones and had hundreds of stitches over the years, but I’ve never had a head injury, nor a serious joint injury.

I’d like to think I’m being proactive in “dressing for the occasion”, started wearing knee pads all the time after a couple hard falls on my knees, added the back protector and full face after some crashes that had me landing in boulder piles.

My neck is pretty messed up, I’m not sure anything would prevent a neck injury other than complete isolation like a neck brace, though a full moto set up with chest protector and harness could help; but who’s want to wear that on a hot summer day?

Almost all my major injuries were on mellow trails, so to say you dress for the occasion just ain’t gonna work; I found this out the hard way. So I wear all my gear, all the time, the only time I take a break is when I’m on a long climb and it’s hot; I’ll put on a boony cap and strap the helmet to my pack.

I’m almost sixty, but I still shred like I’m thirty, I’ve been fortunate to not have have injuries that keep me from riding. My younger self was smart enough to see the future, so other than being stoopid about wearing hearing protection, I’m still all here and planning to rip into my eighties 👍

We should all be wearing full face helmets, knee pads, and a back protector as basic body protection. I’ve never worn nor needed elbow protection, though I have worn wrist braces when I rode muni.

The goal of wearing protection is to keep you riding longer and better. You won’t appreciate it until you are old, so think ahead about your health and be smart.

FYI: Don’t smoke and wear your damn hearing protection!
 

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Thanks for the responses. This is all familiar stuff but it wasn't really what I was poking at. I'm wondering if anyone is keeping or making available statistics on injuries that would inform better choices on what armor is most beneficial to wear. The division between helmet and not-helmet outcomes is so dramatic that it might drown this stuff out. Can we call the opening anecdote a fluke? I can't really foresee a world where guys riding bikes around on city streets are wearing ff helmets and Leatt braces. And yet... once you have the helmet, what's the very next most likely thing to break, what's the next obvious armor? Can you find that under the noise?

I'm old enough to remember when seemingly every single front end car crash resulted in a spiderweb windshield where the driver's skull impacted. During my lifetime cars have grown shoulder belts, head rests for whiplash because the insurance industry got tired of paying lawyers for that, and since willful idiots resisted the shoulder belts we got airbags every which way, and crumple zones and reinforced passenger compartments and ABS and traction control. Most of this except for "click it or ticket" was driven by regulation on the people who make the cars, and it worked. Rates of injuries and death in auto accidents have gone way down. But which one of these was the most effective?



Unfortunately, shoulders are impossible to protect and are your #1 chance of injury if you're wearing knee pads.

IMO, it's nuts not to wear knees. Elbows are next and the options here are so much better than they used to be. I find something like the Fox Enduro D30 or Launch D30 pads to work well and stay in place. Hips are next and there are many options there too.

It's also not too hard to wear back protection with a protector backpack or a shirt w/ D30 pads. I don't hit my back or head much but I think it's worth wearing helmets and back protectors. I have a Bell Super DH convertible helmet so it's FF 90% of the time too.

Also agree with the 80% rule, it's better to work on technique to get faster rather than push too hard and increase your chances of crashing. That said certain things require speed and 100% commitment so choose what you're willing to ride wisely. Both too conservative or too foolish are issues. Being too conservative is generally based on past trauma and affects your mind in really negative ways such as anxiety, catastrophizing and not remembering how fun mt biking really is, too gung-ho and you're visiting the ER too often.
 

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None of the loose elbow pads that I’ve tried stayed in place. They always slid down to my wrists. I now use this shirt but I remove the chest and back plates since they’re kind of heavy and swing around. I use a Leatt hard shell chest/back protector for those areas. No way I’d wear all of this setup for a trail ride though. Just park.


At Deer Valley last September I went without the elbow pads for one hour after we took a lunch break and sure enough, that’s when I crashed on my elbow. D’oh.
 

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I just ordered a couple neck protectors to try out, they’re soft collars from EWS, it’s not a full rigid unit like you’d use with a chest protector, but it may be worthwhile for reducing head movement inducing whiplash.
 

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None of the loose elbow pads that I’ve tried stayed in place. They always slid down to my wrists. I now use this shirt but I remove the chest and back plates since they’re kind of heavy and swing around. I use a Leatt hard shell chest/back protector for those areas. No way I’d wear all of this setup for a trail ride though. Just park.


At Deer Valley last September I went without the elbow pads for one hour after we took a lunch break and sure enough, that’s when I crashed on my elbow. D’oh.

So far Fox Enduro D30 Elbows have been the best for me as far as staying in place and a few others I ride with got them and they work for them too. Elbow pads suck but they have saved me from injury.
 

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I know a guy here who always goes 110%. I’ve witnessed him crash in spectacular fashion four times enough to cause bodily injury or bike breakage. I told him to go 80% so he doesn’t jeopardize the day or the trip for everyone but I’m not sure if he got the message. I’m nervous about riding with him actually because I don’t want to have to pick up the pieces.
 

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I'm wondering if anyone is keeping or making available statistics on injuries that would inform better choices on what armor is most beneficial to wear.
Wearing protection for severity seems like a better idea to me than dressing for frequency. For example, a slow slide out might scrape your elbow a little bit but it just stings and it heals well quickly. A traumatic brain injury doesn’t happen as frequently (hopefully) but can be a lifelong problem. Therefore, helmet > elbow pads.

I’m not sure how there’d be accurate data on minor injuries (such as elbow or knuckle scrapes) since most of them don’t get reported. How many people go to Urgent Care or the ER for a minor abrasion or contusion?
 

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I feel back protection is more important on the trails than neck protection, that's the main reason I still use a hydration pack even though they're not very comfortable on super-long climbs.
Of course there are always special cases, like your friend (RIP), but if someone were to dress for every possible outcome they'd look like a linebacker and have full-leathers as a base layer.
 
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I find MTB’ers suit up for the more minor accidents with the idea that the really big hit is unlikely to happen, so why carry the weight and heat of the gear.

I also think cyclists think you can avoid accidents if you have enough talent. People think “they” don't need the gear, but perhaps others do

I used to do 21 track days a year in my race car. I would drive with a 3 layer fire suit, with fire proof socks, leggings, turtleneck, balaclava, Hans Device (neck brace) and a Stilo helmet ($2000+), not too mention the car would have an FIA roll cage, fire suppression and a very tight 6 point harness.

A couple of things I’ve noticed:
  • Ive never been heat stroked on a trail but I have on the racetrack. But not suiting up is not an option.
  • Cyclists love to moan about helmet prices, but its the same head you’re protecting. You could buy a bike for the price of a top end carbon helmet.
  • Yearly maintenance on the car costs more than a whole bike, and you need to keep it up all season (my schedule was every 3-4 track sessions new tires, brakes etc). But you do it because that’s the cost of safety. I think there are a lot of MTB’ers that dont really put the money and time into maintenance as a safety feature.

In cars the cost of an accident is really high so you protect for the worst case scenario even though it is unlikely to happen. Bikes are different, even though you will eventually crash :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·

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Thanks, that’s a good article! Exactly what I was asking about.

Motorcycle, football, and hockey armor has shoulder protection.
Lots of mtb gear has shoulder protection too, it'll help for impacts but the main issue is not the impact but the blunt trauma causes excessive movement where things break and tear. It's typical to have a major shoulder injury without impact trauma, even if you're not wearing shoulder protection. For mtb bulky shoulder pads are likely to do more harm than good imo, the pad will just result in more movement and a worse injury. Shoulders are a tough one, you really can't protect them effectively.
 
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