Downhill Mountain Bike Neck Brace/Body Armor Compatibility: Testing for fit and integration
Downhill mountain bikers, dirt jumpers, BMX competitors, and other riders wanting to wear upper body armor and neck protection have a problem: What's the best pairing of neck brace and body armor? There are dozens of great choices in body armor out there as well as a growing number of good quality DH neck braces. That's a lot of potential combinations. To help you chose the best DH neck brace/body armor combination, we conducted a bench test with a Leatt neck brace and a bunch of different mountain bike body armor.
For Reference: What Neck Brace and Full Face Helmet Did We Use in the Test?
Leatt neck braces are the benchmark for MTB/BMX neck braces, so we used the Leatt Comp as the reference brace for this fit session. The photos below show the body armor with a Leatt DBX Comp Neck Brace. It happens to be a Leatt Comp 3, but the Comp 4 offers a similar fit.
We also donned a full face helmet to see how the setup works with (or not) with a "typical" DH helmet. We were primarily evaluating neck brace/body armor interactions, so we used the basic SixSixOne Comp Shifted Full Face Helmet.
How Did We Evaluate Neck-Brace-to-Armor Compatibility?
There isn't a lot of standard language out there for determining exactly what "neck brace compatibility" means, or "neck brace integration", or "neck brace ready." We decided to break out the combinations into three different categories:
The first category is "Neck Brace Designed." This means the body armor is specifically designed to be worn with a neck brace. The MTB/BMX body armor has a design that is specifically intended to work in conjunction with a neck brace. For example, the armor may have a pocket along the top of your spine to accept the neck brace strut.
The second category is "Neck Brace Compatible." These models of body armor work well together and are compatible with a neck brace, but not necessarily by design. The armor simply interacts with the brace without a problem.
The third category is "Not Recommended." Body armor in this category means it is not specifically designed to work together with a neck brace, AND the design is such that wearing a brace with the armor just doesn't work very well.
OK, OK, so What Did We Find Out About Armor/Brace Compatibility?
To state what should be obvious.... Every rider's body is shaped a little differently, a longer torso here, broader shoulders there. Some really good combinations of mountain bike neck brace / body armor were with body armor that wasn't necessarily "designed" for neck brace integration. A very important lessons learned is that you should expect to spend some considerable time fiddling with both your neck brace and your body armor setup to make the two pieces "play nice" together. There are adjustments that are not readily apparent but can give you a great fit. For example, some body armor have parts of the spine protector that snap off. Expect to experiment to find the right configuration for you. After trying out all of these combinations, it's clear that having the neck brace tucked under the body armor offers the most comfortable and snug fit.
How Does a Neck Brace Interact with the Following DH / BMX Body Armor Models?Here are pictures and comments on the different combinations of neck brace and body armor. You can see how the two interact, as well as notes regarding peculiarities of each brace/armor setup.
Mountain Bike Body Armor that is "Neck Brace Designed"
The EVS Comp Suit
The EVS Comp Suit is specifically designed for neck brace integration. The top spine protectors snap off in order to accommodate the neck brace. We slipped the chest side portion of the neck brace under the body armor in the front. In the back, there was a gap between the strut and the armor that wasn't present with the other body armor. We'd need to readjust the neck brace to be totally happy with this pairing, but that wouldn't be a problem to accomplish.
The SixSixOne Core Saver
The SixSixOne Core Saver is vest-style body armor that primarily uses hard-shell protection. The top 3 spine plates on the back protector are removable, so you can customize the fit. This was definitely a "low-profile set-up" - light weight, slim, and the most unobtrusive. We played around with the neck brace back strut under the armor with all of the back plates installed, and then again on top of the armor with the top three back plates removed. When the brace was under the armor with all back spines intact, the armor's spine guard was sticking up off our back and we felt like the strut would be jammed into our back in a crash. When we removed the top 3 back plates and placed the strut on top of the Core Saver, the setup felt a lot more secure and we'd recommend this configuration.
The Troy Lee 7850 Body Armor
The Troy Lee 7850 upper body armor is also specifically designed for neck brace integration. The chest and upper back protectors have six removable pads that allow the neck brace to rest comfortably against your body. You can remove some or all of these pads. We like that the configuration is really flexible. THe TLD is "super light" and the integration of body armor and neck brace felt "snug and secure." This was a nice setup!
Mountain Bike Body Armor that is "Neck Brace Compatible"
The Fox Titan Sport Jacket
The Fox Titan Sport Jacket is one of our best-selling mtb body armor models, so we were eager to see how this setup felt when compared with the others. The first thing we noticed is that we could not wear the neck brace with the chest protector on the inside of the body armor. With the Leatt underneath, we couldn't zip the center zipper on the Titan jacket. Instead, we had to put the brace on top of the body armor, which felt bulky. In the back, the neck brace thoracic strut fits in between the spine guard and the body armor fabric. The Fox Titan jacket is pretty robust, so we donned the Comp Shifted to see how the full gear set-up works. The setup of the Leatt on top of the front side of the Titan made the neck brace sit high up. This limited your range of motion with the helmet on, and although it isn't a show stopper by any stretch, the combination of the Leatt and the Fox Titan isn't the most ideal setup if you are buying both items as part of a new outfit.
The SixSixOne Comp Pressure Suit
The SixSixOne Comp Pressure Suit combines hard- and soft-shell protection. The front of the neck brace rested comfortably on the armor chest piece. There was no slot in the back of the armor for the neck brace strut, but it fit underneath the body armor. Comfort-wise it felt "Okay." There are no removable spines on the back protector so you can't really customize the fit or neck brace integration.
The SixSixOne EVO Pressure Suit
The SixSixOne EVO Pressure Suit has a slot on the upper spine for the neck brace strut but no removable spine guards. We were able to tuck the neck brace under the body armor with no problem. The Leatt brace fit comfortably against our body (and better under the armor than on top of it) and we had good range of motion. We donned the COmp Shifted to test the helmet piece, and the EVO / Leatt configuration worked great and provided excellent range of motion for our helmet. If you're looking for "soft-shell" (actually, d3o padding vs more traditional soft pads) body armor to go with your Leatt brace, this gets our vote.
The POC Spine VPD Tee
The POC Spine VPD Tee itself has a snug fit, but we were able to tuck the neck brace under the body armor in both the front and back and zip up the VPD Tee without a problem. The POC Vpd spine guard offers great protection, however, it has a tendency to move around a bit in its mesh fabric pocket. While it looked like the VPD spine guard was floating up a bit, this POC/Leatt configuration felt good. In comparison to the Fox Titan, the POC VPD Tee seemed to work better with the neck brace.
The POC VPD 2.0 Jacket
The POC VPD 2.0 Jacket worked really well with the neck brace. We fit the neck brace chest and back struts under the armor with no problem and we found the POC DH Jacket / Leatt setup "comfy" and "a good set-up." The VPD spine protector moves around less than the POC VPD Tee, making for a more comfortable fit and better integration with the neck brace. With the Comp Shifted helmet on, this particular combination again worked really well. We had excellent range of motion with the helmet on. The POC VPD 2.0 jacket matched up with the Leatt neck brace is a terrific combination. It's a pricey setup, for sure, but we think it's worth the money. If you like the protection of POC's VPD and want to match it with a Leatt, this is a great way to go.
So What's the Best Bicycle Neck Brace-Body Armor Combination?It's hard to say which bicycle neck brace - body armor combination will be best for you. But.. we found the most comfortable fit in these scenarios:
- If you want a super light weight, low profile setup, then we recommend the Leatt neck brace with the Troy Lee Designs 7850 Body Armor
- If you want hard shell protection in your armor, the Fox Titan Sport Jacket is the one
- If you can afford the advanced protection of d3o or VPD, then we recommend the SixSixOne EVO Pressure Suit or POC DH VPD 2.0 Jacket Body Armor.
One thing that surprised us is that none of the combinations we looked at would fall into the "Not Recommended" category. In every situation, we found a way to "make it work". Although I'm sure some of the setups may have compromised some of the protective aspects of the brace or spine guard, we found that the setups could be made to work. But, for sure, if you're looking for the best configurations, then we stand by our recommendations listed above! We hope this info helps you make a more informed decisioon. We're curious about what neck brace / body armor combination you have found that works best for you. Share your experience by sending us an email and describing your best neck brace-body armor combination.
When you're ready to shop for a bicycle neck brace, mountain bike body armor, or BMX body armor, we've got the gear you're looking for. Questions? Email us or give us a call at 800-930-4084.