How to Buy Downhill Mountain Bike Armor – Tips & Tricks


Mountain biking generally involves riding over rough terrain, and downhill mountain biking carries a higher level of risk. This doesn't have to be a problem once you have proper armor. Body armor, also known as protective clothing, lowers the risk of getting injured and can boost the rider's confidence. So read on to find out what downhill mountain bike armor you should buy.

When choosing downhill mountain bike armor, buy armor made of a breathable, lightweight, and quality fabric. Mountain bike armor should protect critical or vulnerable areas while allowing free movement with flexibility and comfort without compromising protection. 

Sizing varies between manufacturers, so it is a good idea to try out a few brands before finding armor that works.  

Downhill Mountain bike armor should be tough and durable enough to protect the rider if they have a fall or crash into something while riding downhill.
Mountain biking downhill requires protective wear that can minimize injury in case of a fall or collision. Image Source: Unsplash.

Most Common Downhill Mountain Bike Injuries

Downhill mountain biking is fun and exhilarating. And the potential adrenaline rush may tempt some riders into pushing themselves and engaging in the sport without any protective gear. When downhill mountain biking, body armor is essential in preventing injuries both for amateurs and professionals. 

Common downhill mountain biking injuries include abrasions, lacerations, contusions, fractures, ligament damage, concussions, and head injuries. Mountain bike armor can help to minimize and prevent such injuries.

With the rising popularity of downhill mountain biking, there has been a corresponding increase in injuries. Check out this article from the Journal of Sports Medicine which explains more about acute injuries from mountain biking. 

To avoid serious injuries you need to make sure that your armor can go the mile so have a look at our study on mountain bike armor durability to make sure that the armor you choose will be protective enough. This video tutorial by Global Mountain Bike Network gives handy tips for riding downhill.

Abrasions

Skin abrasions are one of the most common types of mountain biking injuries. They occur when the body rubs against a surface, and the uppermost layer of the skin is sheered away, leaving a superficial wound. These injuries are often sustained when a rider falls off a mountain bike, and the severity varies depending on whether the rider has body armor.

Abrasions should be treated carefully, with the wound being washed twice a day with warm, soapy water. The affected area should be coated with petroleum-based ointment and covered with a non-stick bandage. You can easily protect yourself against skin abrasion by using knee and elbow pads and torso body armor. 

Lacerations 

Lacerations are skin wounds, but the topmost skin isn't sheered away, unlike abrasions. They are mostly called 'cuts' and are common among mountain bike riders. The sizes, shapes, and depths of lacerations vary, but all are at risk of becoming infected if not properly cared for. Using body armor such as torso body armor will protect against lacerations.

Contusions 

A contusion or bruise is an injury that results from blunt force applied to your body. Falling off your mountain bike at high speed will often give you a contusion if you're not wearing body armor. The force of the impact with the ground can damage tissues and rupture small blood vessels beneath the skin, causing a bruise. Bruises can be cared for by applying ice to the area for twenty minutes and elevating the injured part. Adequate rest is also required. Of course, you can avoid getting bruised by using knee and elbow pads and wearing torso body armor or compression suits.

Fractures 

Bone fractures are commonly known as broken bones, and they account for about 20% of mountain biking injuries. Bones can be broken in different patterns, depending on the force of impact and the direction of the force. Clavicle fractures are common mountain biking injuries and often occur when you go over the bars and land on your shoulder. Other fractures common to mountain bikers include wrist and ankle fractures.

Treatment of fractures largely depends on the pattern of the fracture, the location of the bone, and the degree of damage to overlying soft tissues. Casts, splints, and slings are often used in treating fractures. Mountain bikers can protect themselves against fractures by using knee and elbow pads.

Ligament Damage

Ligaments are bands of elastic connective tissues that surround a joint, providing support, limiting the joint's movement, and connecting one bone to another. In mountain biking, ligamentous injuries mostly involve the acromioclavicular (AC) ligament and the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).

The acromioclavicular ligament connects the shoulder blade to the clavicle. Falling from your mountain bike can cause a direct blow to the shoulder and tear the ligament. This ligament injury can be treated with a sling and adequate rest. Thumb ulnar collateral ligament injury is commonly called a sprained thumb. 

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) connects the thumb's metacarpals to the proximal phalanx. Basically, this ligament gets injured when the thumb gets bent too far backward. Treatment involves splints and enough time to heal, but sometimes, surgery may be necessary. Mountain bikers can prevent all ligamentous injuries by using torso body armor, knee pads, and elbow pads.

Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries  

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that affect the brain's functioning. They are a mild form of TBI, and the effects are usually temporary. Concussions are caused by a blow to the head, with some making you lose consciousness. Symptoms of concussions include headaches, nausea, blurry vision, fatigue, confusion, and amnesia.

Although the effects of concussions are temporary, other traumatic brain injuries may have long-term effects on the brain and may even lead to death. Downhill mountain bikers have a higher risk of being involved in traumatic brain injuries. To protect yourself, always wear a helmet.

For additional information, check out this article on injuries in mountain biking from the journal of Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, and Arthroscopy. Also, you might find interest in learning how to adjust mountain bike fender offset, so be sure to take a look at that article too. 

An Overview Of Downhill Mountain Bike Body Armor 

Now that you know how to choose suitable body armor let's briefly look at some pieces of body armor that are considered to be crucial when biking downhill. 

Mountain bike body armor includes helmets, torso body armor, elbow pads, and knee pads.

Downhill mountain biking involves riding on rough and steep terrain, and some body parts need protection more than others. To protect these body parts, buying armor that covers them is important. Check out our detailed guide on mountain bike armor pieces for more information. Also, our related guide to mountain bike armor design tips and tricks can provide you with some extra information too.

Helmets 

A helmet is considered the most important piece of body armor. There are three types of helmets: half-lid like this, full-face like this, and breakaway. When downhill mountain biking, you want to go with a full-faced helmet. They offer maximum protection and are engineered to protect your head from all angles while also protecting the front side of your face. While shopping for a helmet, look for one with a comfortable shape for your head that is safe to use. You also want to choose a helmet with D-ring chin straps and a washable liner. A helmet will protect you against serious injuries like concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

In addition to your helmet, you should also get goggles. While you may use cycling glasses, single-lens goggles are safer for downhill mountain biking as the speeds are high and there are more chances of loose earth, mud, and rocks hitting you in the face.

A helmet like this will provide sufficient protection for cycling downhill at high speeds.
This helmet is suitable for mountain biking downhill because it protects your head, chin, and eyes. Downhill mountain biking is among the most dangerous classes of mountain biking. Image source: Amazon.

Torso Body Armor 

Torso body armor, sometimes called chest protectors, is a great way to protect the body against injuries like ligament damage and fractures. The downside to this type of protection is that it may restrict your body movements on the bike. Torso protection has different levels and comes in various styles. It includes back and spine armor, chest and torso armor, torso with short sleeves, and full upper body armor suits.

Back and spine armor 

Downhill mountain bike back and spine armor like this is usually worn with shoulder straps and has a rigid plate of strong yet lightweight plastic. This armor offers protection to the spine against impacts. However, some riders consider them restrictive.

Chest and torso armor 

Chest and torso armor like this is usually a variation of a spine protector. It is padded in the chest and torso area and offers additional protection. It may also be restrictive but is more protective in the event of a crash.

Torso armor with short sleeves

Torso armor with short sleeves like this is a short-sleeve tee with protective inserts. It is usually worn underneath biking jerseys and has protective padding in important areas like the chest, back, and shoulder area.

Full upper body armor suit 

A full upper body armor suit like this is usually an upper bodysuit with long sleeves and offers more protection to the upper body area. Full upper body armor suits offer protection and add an element of confidence that is very important.

This type of armor has straps that help to secure it to your body properly for optimal protection when mountain biking downhill.
This is a full upper body armor suit with straps. Besides protection, full upper body armor also provides rider confidence so he/she doesn't make mistakes. Image source: Amazon.

Elbow Pads

Elbow pads like these protect a rider against injuries like abrasions, lacerations, and fractures. They protect the elbow and forearm and absorb heavy impacts while allowing free range of movement.

Protective wear for mountain biking downhill includes elbow guards like this.
An elbow guard like this protects your arm from abrasions. Image source: Amazon.

Knee Pads

Knee pads like these protect against lacerations, abrasions, and fractures. They may have a hard plastic shell or soft foam padding. For maximum protection, go for a knee pad that covers the shin. It may be heavy and more restrictive, but worth it if you crash. 

Knee pads like these that have padding rather than a hard shell do not offer as much protection, but they may be more comfortable to wear.
Knee pads that cover the shin and have multiple layers of padding. Image source: Amazon.

Summary of Downhill Mountain Bike Armor

Armor Type What injuries it could prevent during downhill mountain biking Example from Amazon Features of this armor that make it better for downhill mountain biking
Helmet Concussions
Brain trauma injuries
Coron Air Spin, Helmet for Downhill Mountain Biking  Superior vent design
Internal padding that can be removed for washing 
Ear chambers designed to support improved balance and hearing
Elbow Pads Abrasions
Lacerations
Fractures
Contusions
Fox Racing Launch D3O Mountain Bike Elbow Guard Moisture-wicking, open mesh design that improves airflow
Foam for impact absorption Slip-on fit with hook and loop adjuster
Knee Pads Abrasions
Lacerations
Fractures
Contusions
Shinypro Knee Guard Low-temperature shock-absorbing material
Hook and loop adjuster for easy donning
Multiple layers of protective pads
Moisture-wicking, open mesh design that improves airflow
Chest Protectors Fractures
Ligament injuries
Contusions
Leatt 4.5 chest protector  Foam for impact absorption High-Density Polyethylene hard-shell outer protective shield
Ventilation slots for maximum airflow
BraceOn neck brace fitting system 

Additional Protection For Downhill Mountain Biking 

We've looked at the basic pieces of mountain bike body armor, but that is not all there is. Some riders may opt for additional protection.

Additional body armor for downhill mountain biking may include a neck brace and a compression suit. 

Just like additional mountain bike armor can provide extra protection, different types of pedals can also help to keep you riding steadily and safely, as discussed in our guide on how to choose mountain bike pedals for grip maximization. 

Neck Brace

Neck braces like these are quite important for downhill mountain bike riders. They prevent extreme forward, backward or sideways movements of the head or neck and protect riders from whiplash and a broken neck. If a crash occurs, the padded neck brace will limit the head's movement and prevent any injury to the neck.

Compression Suits

A compression suit like this is great armor to have on in the event of a spill. It can prevent injuries such as fractures and ligament damage by absorbing a considerable amount of impact of a fall. A rider may decide to wear an extra layer of protection for peace of mind, especially when participating in a race. If you are not quite at that level yet but you are thinking about preparing for racing, you may be ready to upgrade your bike. If this is the case check out our article that explains what mountain bike you should buy

Tips For Choosing The Best Downhill Mountain Bike Armor

Before choosing mountain bike armor, you need to identify your needs. You should determine how comfortable you want to be by choosing a lightweight and nonrestrictive armor or going for something else. You should also know what level of safety you'd like to have. Downhill mountain bike riding has special requirements due to the rough terrain involved.

To choose the best downhill mountain bike armor, look for armor made from lightweight materials, that has impact padding strong enough to bear the impact of a fall, and it should have a strap system that keeps the armor secure.

Leatt 4.5 chest protector Wearing the same gear you wear when biking cross country would be inadequate for downhill biking. Downhill mountain bike riding involves racing down a mountain at high speed. And being adequately protected should be the priority of any downhill mountain biker. Downhill biking is more dangerous than riding cross country, and so it requires wearing armor like this that is sure to protect crucial parts of your body. 

Here are some tips you may use when choosing downhill biking armor:

1. Choose Lightweight Body Armor

Lightweight body armor is more comfortable and less restricting. Some mountain bike armor is lightweight but not durable enough and will not hold well in the event of a crash. An example of comfortable yet lightweight armor is this O'Neal 1285-004 Holeshot Chest Protector.

For comfort and ease of use buy this type of lightweight mountain bike armor.
A lightweight chest protector. Image Source: Amazon.

2. Look For Materials That Maximize Impact Protection 

Different materials are used for body armor. When choosing downhill mountain bike armor, it must be made with protective material to protect you if you crash.  

Buying kneepads like these means that you have mountain bike armor for optimal protection.
A knee pad with impact-absorbing protection. Image Source: Amazon.

3. Choose Body Armor With Adjustable Straps

Most downhill body armor is built to fit most body types. However, some models feature adjustable straps like this and other features that hold the armor comfortably onto your body and will keep it from slipping off. 

Our step-by-step guide on how to choose your mountain bike armor could be a handy resource if you are trying to device what armor to use.

4. Ensure it Fits

You may have chosen great armor with all the necessary qualities and features like this, but it would not be the best armor for you if it doesn't fit properly.

5.  Choose the Less Restrictive Body Armor

Your body armor shouldn't restrict your range of movement. Armor that restricts your movement will slow you down and cause you to react slowly to whatever is coming at you.

And speaking of safety, you might be interested in knowing what type of mountain bike insurance providers and coverages are out there. If so, you'll definitely want to take a look at our quick guide for more information.

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