Saturday, December 13, 2008

Avoiding Gravity Gear Faux Pas: Upper Body Armor

Body armor is body armor right? Just put it on and go ride your bike. If only it were that easy. Upper body armor comes in several forms: full jackets, elbow pads, back protection, and chest protection. It is important to choose proper protection for the occasion, and then wear it correctly in order to take full advantage of the armor's benefits.

We'll begin by re-stating that Spandex and body armor are not meant to be mixed. For more on this topic, revisit our 48Straight interview.

Elbow pads, like our Fox Launch pads, are versatile pieces of protection. They're great for dirt jumping, riding downhill, racing dual slalom, and racing BMX. Obviously, elbow pads only protect your arms, so it's best to wear them (as opposed to a full jacket) only if you feel confident in the terrain, but want to avoid road rash should you suddenly make contact with the ground.

Elbow pads and t-shirts or short-sleeve jerseys are great combinations. Should you choose to wear a long sleeve jersey or jacket with your elbow pads, the jersey or jacket sleeve should always cover the pads. This keeps your jersey from pushing the pads down toward your wrists, and also ensures proper bloodflow to your arms and hands.

Full body armor jackets are ideal downhill riding and racing. A full jacket integrates padded shoulders and elbows, chest, and back protection. The full jacket ensures a snug fit, and helps to keep all of the padding in its proper place. The best back protection can usually be found in full jackets. Full jackets are deal for downhill because they offer they impact and abrasion resistance from crashes that occur at speed. That's not to say you won't get hurt, but your chances of severe injury are greatly reduced. These jackets are overkill for cross country riding, most Super D races, BMX, and dirt jumping, where speeds are slower and menacing inanimate objects are fewer.

Jackets can be really hot in the summer, and they can be really cold in the winter. You should never choose not to wear your jacket based on temperature. Following these guidelines will make wearing your armor more pleasant:
  • First, if you need to wear a base layer underneath the jacket, be sure it is made of lightweight, technical moisture-wicking fabric. In the summer, we really only need to wear our sports bras underneath. However, if this is uncomfortable, try to find a lightweight, sleeveless base layer. Moisture wicking properties are important because built-up moisture can cause chaffing, prevents cooling when it's hot out, and prevents warming when it's cold out.
  • Never combine a cotton shirt with body armor--as a base layer or as a jersey. Even if you wear your t-shirt over your body armor, the cotton will trap moisture and create misery.
  • Always wear a jersey. And always wear the jersey over your body armor. Jerseys are designed to be worn over armor. Wearing your jersey under your armor will only cause wrinkly pressure points, chaffing, and moisture buildup.
  • Wear only long- or short- sleeve jerseys with a full jacket. Sleeveless jerseys and full body armor are simply unsightly. You're wearing armor, so you can't show off your guns, and armor isn't that pretty to look at. Save the sleeveless for your cross country training rides.
  • If you often ride in inclimate climates, it's smart to get a waterproof jacket that's big enough to fit over your jersey and armor. If it's cold enough that you need an extra layer, your cotton hoody will still let cold air in and will trap moisture. A waterproof jacket will resist wind and protect you from the elements. Pitzips are handy features too.
We're not fans of wearing back or chest protection without the rest of the package. You can buy vests that have only back protection. However, if you feel that you need back protection, we're assuming that you'll be going fast enough to need front protection too.

Moto-style roost protectors cover the chest and back, and usually the shoulders. However, these products are made to withstand flying dirt and debris on the track. They're not made to withstand rag-dolling through a forest. Roost protectors normally attach with straps by the ribs. It's easy for the plates to shift as you tumble, reducing your protection. That said, wearing a roost protector is much better than wearing nothing if you're planning on pinning it through some tech. Roost protectors are traditionally worn over jerseys, as are the new Leatt neck braces.

To catch up on our previous installments of Avoiding the Gravity Gear Faux Pas, click here. Our next edition will cover lower body armor dos and don'ts.

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