How to Choose Your Mountain Bike Armor Kit – Step by Step

Bikers put their lives at risk when riding their bikes at Enduro, DH, or BMX races and rallies. It is thus necessary to protect yourself against potential crashes and falls. A mountain bike armor kit is safety apparel for cycling, that is designed to protect you if you are in an accident. Mountain bike armor kits can be bought online or at a cycling or sporting goods store. The most important thing is to choose your mountain bike armor kit according to your needs. 

To choose the appropriate mountain bike armor kit opt for a helmet, vest, back protector, knee pads, and elbow pads to protect all areas of the body from injury. Mountain bike armor needs to fit the body of the intended rider properly in order to provide the best protection. 

For extreme downhill mountain biking, you will need a chest protector like this one which is designed to be worn under your jersey. It consists of a dorsal and front hard VPD perforated shell. It is made of smart technology materials, as well as breathable and pliable fabric, yet it protects from impact. The type of body armor you choose depends on the type of terrain you ride most often. This article will offer you some guidelines on selecting the right type of armor for your riding needs.

Choose a mountain bike armor kit which includes body armor that can be worn under your normal clothing.
A protective basic T-Shirt with a flexible protective construction can  be  worn as a base layer under other protective gear. Image source: Amazon.

Popular Types of Mountain Bike Body Armor

There is a wide variety of body armor available on the market and many of these items protect different parts of your body.

Popular types of mountain bike body armor include vests, shirts, padded armor, helmets, knee pads, elbow pads, and gloves.  

What Do You Need And When?

You can wear various types of protective gear, from a lightweight vest to a full body protector. Whether you actually need to wear biking body armor or not, is a personal choice, but our article about mountain bike body armor durability explains the most common mountain bike injuries and how high-quality armor can protect you from serious harm.

In general, we can categorize body armor according to the terrain, the level of protection it offers, and the part of the body that it covers.

At Enduro racing tracks, wearing padding is considered a prerequisite and Enduro organizers specify that the use of body armor is mandatory before you take your place at the starting line, with kneepads, elbow pads, and back protection, as a minimum requirement for participation.

Body armor has rapidly evolved since the emergence of Enduro racing, with a special focus on reducing the armor weight so that you can ride all day without getting unreasonably hot and worn out. Our article about mountain bike armor heating and cooling tips has handy suggestions to help you maintain a comfortable temperature in all weather conditions. 

Technologies, such as the smart D30, a rubber-like material that looks and feels soft and supple during normal use, as explained in this article from CemMatters magazine, but instantly hardens under shock, have paved the way for producing a highly protective yet comfortable armor.

It is important to get padding that fits perfectly to ensure that it does what it is supposed to do. The last thing you want is loose gear sliding around while you are riding at maximum speed.

To ride in enduro races it is mandatory to wear certain mountain biking armor.
Many race rules stipulate that elbow pads and knee pads are the minimum protective requirement for all riders. Image Source:

Types of MTB Vests

You could consider a bike vest as body armor, even without shoulder and limb protection. It will still shield your chest and back while allowing for freedom of movement. The question is when exactly would you need a vest?

The two main types of mountain bike vests are padded vests and hard-shell vests. Padded vests have foam padding in the torso area that offers protection against impacts but is not restrictive. Hard-shell vests have foam padding on the inside and a hard polyurethane outer layer to offer more protection. 

Padded Vests

A padded vest like this is a type of vest designed to provide protection and padding for the chest, ribs, and lower back. They are often designed with EVA pads built into the chest, rib, and back areas to provide cushioning and support. Padded vests are recommended for trail riding and cross country. These types of riding require light and non-restrictive body protection for extra comfort and protection at the same time which padded vests can offer. 

Hard-Shelled Vests

A hard-shelled vest like this is also another type of body armor that offers more protection than the padded vest. It is designed with a hard outer shell, usually made of durable polyethylene that is shock- and wear-resistant as well as strong enough to withstand collisions. The vest contains soft EVA foam padding on the inside that provides cushioning and protects the body while remaining comfortable. Hard-shelled vests are recommended for downhill gravity riding, and mountain riding because riders require stronger protection when they ride on steep rocky terrain.  

Who Should Wear Them and When

Not all types of riding require an armored vest. If, for example, you are doing simple street riding, you'll probably need a regular riding shirt like this one. However, you'll need an armored vest like this one for more strenuous riding. This is because mountain riding involves riding steep and rocky terrain where the chances of falls and crashes are high. A hard-shell armored vest will offer the necessary protection for your chest and back. An armored vest is crucial for downhill gravity riding as this involves high-velocity speeds that can be risky if the cyclist is not wearing adequate protection.

When selecting mountain bike body armor choose a vest like this that won’t restrict movement.
A compression vest will provide protection for your back and chest if you fall. Image Source: Amazon.

Types of Body Armor Shirts

When riding your mountain bike, particularly on rough terrain, it is not advisable to wear a regular cotton T-shirt or baggy shorts. Cotton t-shirts stay wet in hot weather and become uncomfortable. The ideal shirt to wear when mountain biking is one made from wicking fabric that draws moisture away from the skin and that has good ventilation. 

Mountain bikers prefer wearing long- or short-sleeved body armor vests made of moisture-wicking fabric with ventilation holes to maintain their optimum temperature when riding. Wear sports shirts like these to draw sweat away from the skin and ensure comfort in hot climates. 

This article from the Journal of Applied Ergonomics explains how the thermoregulatory responses in riders are affected by wicking fabric to reduce their core temperatures when involved in strenuous exercise.

Long Sleeve Padded Shirt 

A long-sleeved shirt like this is an elastic, nylon T-shirt with padding in the shoulders, chest, lower back, and ribs to provide good protection for these areas of the cyclist's body. The shirt is designed to absorb shocks and secure the armored jersey in place to increase protection. The fabric moves sweat away from the rider’s skin and is a good first layer that other armor pieces can be layered over so that the armored vest doesn’t chafe the skin. 

Short Sleeve Padded Shirt 

Short-sleeve shirts like these with protective pads are a great choice for riders who seek extra protection. They are designed to be worn under riding jerseys to protect areas like the shoulders, ribs, back, and collarbones. They are made of highly breathable fabric which allows for ample airflow while remaining light enough to be worn underneath a riding jersey. The shirt helps to keep the contoured armor in place for better protection.

Who Should Wear Them and When

It is necessary to wear biking shirts and shorts as a bare minimum because they are highly flexible and made of moisture-wicking synthetic materials like Polyester and Nylon. Synthetic materials can resist the penetration of water in wet conditions and dry quickly. These shirts are great for a comfortable ride during hot weather because of their breathable material. Biking shirts like this one can be used by every cyclist for all types of rides, not just riding on rough terrains. 

Apparel like this that is designed for cycling is made from soft flexible fabric for easy movement and ventilation.
A well-ventilated shirt will ensure the rider remains cool in all weather conditions. Image Source: TriUK.

Types of Padded Body Armor

Body armor provides almost full protection for the upper body, shoulders, and arms and is required for high-speed riding at the bike park or the DH track, in many countries. It features pliable padding that covers the torso, chest, back, shoulders, and elbows. 

The types of body armor that mountain bikers can wear include full upper-body armor suits, back, and spine armor, as well as chest and torso armor vests. Their Impact-resistant properties mean they are made from a special polymer that is supple in normal circumstances but that hardens when placed under pressure or from a hard impact, like a fall.  

The upper body is more vulnerable to injuries during cycling compared to the lower body. This study by BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine shows that the upper limbs are more vulnerable to injuries during cycling than the lower limbs. These protective pieces are often made of impact-resistant materials like the D30 which is one of the best materials for body armor because of the protection and flexibility it offers.

Choose body armor that will provide the best protection for your type of mountain biking.
Padded body armor protects the torso, chest, and spine from severe impact. Image Source: Amazon.  

Full Upper-Body Armor Suits

A full upper body suit like this one is designed to offer extensive upper body protection for downhill runs and gravity riding. It is a long sleeve upper body suit that offers maximum protection for the upper body. It is often slightly heavier than regular riding suits but the inner padding offers added comfort against the skin. 

Back and Spine Armor

Unlike a full upper body suit, the back and spine armor is a lightweight piece that offers protection for the back and spine. It has a rigid PE shell plate that protects the spine to prevent serious injuries. Back armor like this is usually worn with shoulder straps and can be a great choice for riders who prefer lightweight items and seek enough protection at the same time. 

Chest and Torso Armor Vests

Chest and torso armor vests are considered variants of spine protectors. They are padded in the chest and torso areas for extra protection. Some cyclists prefer this piece over the full-body armored suit because it can be more comfortable on long rides. This type of vest offers protection only for the chest and the torso, leaving the arms and elbows exposed to injury. 

Who Should Wear Them and When

According to this article from The Physician and Sportsmedicine Journal, upper body injuries are the most common types of mountain bike related-injuries that are easily preventable with proper protective gear. You have the option to choose between the types of upper body protection that suit your riding style and type of terrain. All cyclists should wear body armor to protect their vital organs, but various levels of protection are required for different situations and skill levels. If you want a protective piece of upper body armor that is suitable for riding over rough terrain, downhill riding, and gravity biking, a full upper body suit will be a great choice. For trail riding purposes, the chest and torso vest can offer sufficient protection. 

Choose body armor like this that includes different padding for various areas of the body for mountain biking.
A long sleeve body protector is a good layering piece when combined with multiple body armor items. Image Source: CompetitiveCyclist.

Summary of Body Armor Types and Needs

What Kind of Riding Are You Doing? What Body Armor Do You Need and Why? Example Approximate Price
Extreme Downhill Mountain Bike Riding Long sleeve body protector Leatt Body Protector ~$380
Daily Commutes Up and Down Hills on the Road Long sleeve body protector, with removable pads. Troy Lee Designs Heavyweight Long-Sleeve Protection ~$180
Cross Country in Sunny Weather Short sleeve body protector. Leatt 3DF AirFit Lite Shoulder Tee ~$260
Cold Weather Cross Country Biking Short sleeve jersey. Evoc Protector Shirt  ~$80
Rain & mud. Rain jacket protector. Leatt Brace Men's Standard Race Cover Rain Jacket ~$50

Other Armor Items Including Shoulder Armor and Helmets

Chest and back protection are vital for rough terrain. There are also many pieces to have optimum safety. 

Other types of mountain bike armor and protective gear include helmets, gloves, goggles, knee guards, elbow guards, protective shorts, and shoes.

Our article about mountain bike armor designs has important tips to help you choose the right type of armor for your skill level and the type of trails you’ll encounter.

What Do You Need and When?

Wearing a helmet when cycling is essential to ensure your safety. Whether you’re a beginner or expert, a fall can happen quickly and you must be vigilant. The head is an extremely fragile part of the body that should not be neglected. Our article that explains how to buy downhill mountain bike armor takes an in-depth look at the various types of armor with a handy section that explains the type of helmet coverage available. 

Your shoes must adapt and match perfectly with the pedals of your bike to ensure good handling and control. Depending on your skill level, you might want to invest in a pair of clipless pedals and shoes with cleats to maximize pedal grip. Our article about the benefits of clipless pedals on a mountain bike explains how they improve pedaling efficiency and how to choose the right ones for you. 

If you are cycling in direct sunlight, consider wearing glasses like these to protect you from UV rays. You could also buy a pair of UV goggles like these to help you see better when riding into the sunlight—they will also protect your eyes from debris that might fling up from the tires. 

Protective shorts like these are also a great choice for when it comes to Enduro races with long pedaling trails because they are more flexible and make pedaling much easier compared to full protective  pants. It is still recommended that you wear a pair of knee guards to offer a layer of protection to your knees because they can easily scrape against tree trunks or rocks. 

Protective gloves protect your hands and cushion the shock if you fall. Gloves are required for rough terrain riding like mountain riding and downhill riding because the possibility of falls and crashes is high. Gloves also improve your grip and handling. Our article that discusses how to choose mountain bike gloves with grip looks at the various materials that gloves are made of and how to choose the right pair for your needs. 

Below is a more detailed analysis of the type of protection needed and when to use it. 

Choose mountain bike armor that can offer optimal protection for your whole body when riding on rough mountainous terrain.
MTB armor should protect the torso, head, back, knees, and elbows to ensure a safer ride. Image Source: Pinterest.

Types of Helmets

The Helmet is the number 1 piece of safety gear for mountain bikers, especially for Enduro. You have three main designs to choose from—full face, open face, and a hybrid helmet with a removable chin bow. Usually, expert and confident bikers who desire more comfort, less weight, and better air circulation as well as those who don’t mind giving up the extra security of a full-face helmet prefer open-face helmets.

Many biking races will not allow you to compete with one. Carefully review the regulations of each race, like this helmet policy document from USA Cycling, before you register.

It is very important to keep in mind the CPSC testing to make sure that the helmet you choose meets the required standards. Helmets are tested through various methods and different qualifications such as vision, head form, and drop tests. Our article about mountain bike armor qualification methods explains the type of testing that armor pieces undergo, as well as what to look out for when purchasing armor so that you get the best protection.

Helmet types according to the amount of protection they provide for the head include Avenir Avenue, Bontrager Solstice, and Giro Atmos. This Avenir Avenue is a good choice for beginners, regular rides, and everyday commuting. A Bontrager Solstice is great for long rides because of the ventilation it offers which makes it comfortable for people who tend to sweat a lot. The Giro  Atmos is a more luxurious option with a click wheel system on the back of the helmet that allows you to adjust it to your own specifications and comfort. 

 Mountain bike helmets are designed to suit any requirements and any personal preferences.
The various styles, shape, and coverage of MTB helmets mean you’ll find one that suits your needs. Image Source: Amazon.

Half-Shell Helmet 

Half-shell helmets like this one are designed for comfortable and light rides. If you are looking for an elegant and lightweight helmet, a half-shell helmet is the one for you. Half shell helmets are made of durable materials that can withstand impact and heat. They’re not easily damaged because of their shock-resistant materials and construction. The outer shell is generally made of thermoplastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber, and the inner shell is made of expanded polystyrene cushioning for extra comfort and an adjustable strap to ensure a secure fit. 

Full Face Helmet 

A full-face helmet like this one covers and protects the entire face. A full-face helmet provides  the greatest protection by absorbing impact in the event of a collision compared to a half-lid one. The helmet's liner and padding are fully removable and washable, ensuring that it stays clean and fresh. The air vents in the full-face helmet reduce wind resistance and keep riders cool while riding off-road. Despite the excellent protection it provides, some cyclists who are used to wearing lightweight helmets may find this design to be somewhat weighty and cumbersome.

Convertible Helmet

Convertible helmets like this one are cycling helmets that can be worn as half-shell or full-face helmets. This is a great option for cyclists who prefer to change between the two designs according to the type of terrain. This helmet's design includes a chin guard that can be removed, allowing cyclists to convert the helmet according to their preference. 

If you are riding on easier terrain you may choose to remove the chin guard from your helmet as you will need less armor protection.
A convertible helmet gives you the freedom of choosing whether you would like to ride with a half-shell helmet. Image Source: BikeRadar.
Choose to attach the chin protector of your hybrid mountain bike helmet for extra armor protection when riding on rough terrain.
A helmet with a removable chin protector offers great protection for rough terrain. Image Source: BikeRadar.

Who Should Wear Them and When

According to this article in The Guardian, a study at the University of New South Wales, revealed that bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 70%. Obviously, the head and skull are vital parts of the body. If you are a level-one cyclist or one that does regular cycling and everyday commuting, a half-shell helmet can be a great choice for you. It is lightweight and offers enough protection to suit your needs. For gravity riding, downhill trails, general mountain biking, or riding on rough terrain, a full-face helmet or a convertible one is a must to protect your face against shocks and impact.

Types of Cycling Gloves

Gloves are another important MTB armor item that can protect cyclists from hand and wrist injuries. 

The two main types of biking gloves are road bike gloves and mountain biking gloves. Road cycling gloves are typically fingerless to ensure the rider’s hands stay cool when riding. Mountain bike gloves are usually full gloves that cover the entire hand and fingers and offer support to the wrist and palm. 

A study published in the HAND Journal shows that acute hand and wrist injuries among recreational mountain bikers amount to 114 hand and 103 wrist injuries, out of the reported 765 unique emergency visits and a total of 1,079 general injuries.

Gloves like these will guard your hands in an accident and save you from grazing off layers of skin. They can also protect you against scrapes and brushes with trees and plants. Additionally, they offer a firmer grip when your hands are sweaty or wet and muddy. Gloves protect the palm from becoming clammy during rides while also offering protection to the top of the hands against sunburn and scratches from debris. 

Some of the common materials for gloves include polyester—which is wear-resistant, leather (real or synthetic)—which adds durability and grip to the palm, polyurethane—a breathable material that keeps the fabric soft, gel/foam—that offers shock absorbance, rubber—that offers moisture-wicking properties, and nylon—that is water resistant. Gloves are often a blend of these materials.

Hand protection is very important so choose mountain bike armor like gloves to protect them.
Mountain bike gloves offer full protection to the hand with breathable material and padding in the palm area. Image Source: Amazon.

Road Bike Gloves 

Road bike gloves are a type of biking gloves, often known as half-finger or fingerless gloves. This type of gloves is made of breathable fabric to offer better ventilation and maximize air circulation while wicking away moisture. It is thick in the palm area to offer a good grip on the handlebars and features inner padding to reduce pressure on the ulnar nerve. 

Mountain Bike Gloves 

Another type of biking armor is mountain bike gloves. This type of glove covers the whole hand and fingers and is designed to protect the hand and wrist from possible injuries. They are often made of heavier-gauge material to be more resistant to shocks which suit the type of rides they are designed for. According to this study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, high-quality gloves that support the palms and wrists during strenuous rides can protect the Ulnar and Median nerves and reduce numbness and injury.

Who Should Wear Them and When

You should wear half-finger gloves like these for road riding in hot weather to maintain a good grip on the handlebars. Although the full-finger gloves are more suitable for mountain biking, you can still opt for the half-finger gloves in warmer months. Full-finger gloves offer maximum protection for the hand and wrist and are a great choice for riding on rough terrain. They feature thicker and more padding toward the outside of the palm and on the top which provides more protection. They are also a good option in cold weather. If you want to learn more about keeping your hands warm in cool climates, then read our article about choosing mountain bike grip heaters

Enduro mountain bike gloves offer optimal protection and temperature regulation.
Endura MTB Gloves offer warmth and protection for enduro trails. Image Source:  Hummvee Plus 2 Black.

Types of Cycling Glasses 

Adequate eye protection is often overlooked but is perhaps the most important factor to consider to shield your eyes against debris and UV light. You have a bundle of designs to choose from, many lens types and sizes, from the transparent lens for cloudy days, to the colored lenses if you are biking in direct sunlight. You will need darker lenses for bright sunny days. It is recommended to choose glasses with tinted lenses for different weather conditions. 

Cycling glasses come in single or double lens variations and are designed to fit around or under the helmet. They are more durable than regular sunglasses and offer better eye protection. They are also designed with more robust lenses and arms so that they don't fall off during bumpy rides. 

The most common material for cycling glasses is polycarbonate plastic because it can be easily molded to wrap around the helmet. However, this material makes the frames less durable compared to metal frames. Cycling glasses are different from regular sunglasses because the frame is designed to sit closer to the face. You'll find that the lenses and arms are more curved so that they fit snuggly. 

Cycling glasses like these would be best used with full-face helmets, although many open-face helmets can accommodate goggles like these so that they will not move when the cyclist is going downhill. The best way to wear the sunglasses correctly with your helmet is to strap the helmet on first, and then put the glasses over the outside of the straps. 

Choose mountain bike armor to protect your eyes.
Mountain bike glasses are a stylish way to protect your eyes on the trail. Image Source: Oakley.

Single and Double Lense Glasses 

Single lens glasses like these will offer more coverage and better peripheral vision. However, this often offers you only one lens that is tinted. On the contrary, dual lens glasses often offer interchangeable lenses to suit different riding conditions which makes a better choice for cyclists who ride in different weather conditions, on different terrains, and at various times of the day. 

Interchangeable Lenses

Interchangeable lenses feature a variety of lens selection options which makes these riding glasses a great choice for those who ride in different weather conditions and times. You have the option to choose between different lenses according to your needs. Interchangeable lenses can be more expensive than single and double lens glasses.  

Who Needs Them and When?

Full-coverage goggles are a good idea for downhill riding because they provide the best eye protection over harsh terrain so that you can keep your eyes on the trail without being blasted with dust, and debris.

In hot weather, sunglasses are useful to keep sunlight out of your eyes and provide better visibility. The most important benefit is they provide protection for the eyes against dust and bugs, especially for off-road riding and mountain biking. In winter, glasses are also essential to keep snow, wind, mud, and rain out of the rider's eyes. 

For ordinary commuting, you can opt for standard sunglasses with UV protection. Close-fitting glasses with vents suit fast riding and performance cycling. You can also choose interchangeable lenses for better contrast and shielding options. Mountain biking requires more casual style glasses and photochromic lenses like these can be a great choice for variable light conditions.

Your mountain bike armor kit should include proper eye protection so choose goggles like these for proper protection.
Mountain bike goggles offer full protection because they have a snug fit. Image Source: Amazon.

Types of Knee Guards

Knee guards are a form of padding that cyclists wear to protect their knee joints and the upper shin. 

Choose between two types of knee guards - hard shell and softshell knee guards that are made of viscoelastic foam or other plastic-like materials.

Research from the University of Rochester Medicine has revealed that knee injuries are the  most common and easily avoidable mountain bike injuries, and that simply wearing knee pads could prevent most of these types of injuries.

Many common mountain bike injuries could be avoided by choosing to use mountain bike armor such as knee pads.
Knee pads are made from soft neoprene fabric and have a hard plastic cap to protect the rider’s knees in a fall. Image Source: Amazon.

Soft-Shell Knee Sleeve 

Soft-shell knee sleeves like these are a good option for knee protection despite the fact they don’t feature a hard shell. This mountain bike armor design is made to absorb shocks and provide essential knee joint protection. One good thing about the soft shell knee sleeve is that it is far lighter and more breathable than a hard shell knee guard, allowing the biker to ride with maximum comfort while reducing sweating and heat. Although the level of protection provided by this design isn't the highest, it is adequate for everyday rides as it can reduce impact. 

Hard Shell Knee Guards

Hard shell knee guards like these are the best choice for maximum protection. They feature an abrasion-resistant, shock-absorbent, and robust Polypropylene shell. From the inside, the guards are padded with EVA foam for extra comfort and shock absorption. This safety gear will not shift, effectively reducing the risk of injury from accidents and falls. Although they have a hard shell, they are flexible and comfortable enough to allow the joints to move freely. 

Who Should Use Them and Why?

Use hard-shell knee guards for off-road mountain biking activities like enduro trailing and downhill riding because of the high protection they offer. With downhill mountain biking, it is more common to have iliotibial band friction syndrome and lower back pain according to this article by Dr. Jeffrey Halbrecht at the Institute for Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine in San Francisco. That's why protection is necessary. Soft knee pads are more suitable for casual rides like everyday commuting. They are lightweight but still offer enough protection against falls and shocks. 

Even soft knee sleeves like these offer enough protection and help you to avoid serious knee injuries.
Knee guards protect the knees from bumps and scrapes. Image Source: Amazon.

Types of Elbow Guards

Elbow guards are recommended  for elbow protection because even the slightest accident can slice open an uncovered elbow and ruin your ride. They are designed to protect the elbow from injury and soreness. 

Elbow guards come in a soft-shell elbow sleeve and a hard-shell elbow guard version. Soft sleeve elbow guards have some padding on the elbow joint, while hard-shell elbow pads have a thick plastic cap on the elbow that can absorb hard blows from falls. 

Most elbow guards are now made with a layer of D3O viscoelastic foam that hardens on impact to help absorb shock, ward off gravel rash, and deflect lighter knocks. To be able to choose the right guard for you, make sure to choose a good fit. Some guards have a bulky plastic outer shell which offers good protection but can be quite uncomfortable to ride with compared to the D3O materials. Some guards use foam for the outer shell combined with other materials. 

Choose a guard that is made of a suitable material for your needs and keep in mind that the material adds a lot to the comfort factor. Also, choose a suitable size elbow guard by selecting a pair that has adjustable fastenings like this one.  

Adjustable elbow guards like these can fit very well and protect your elbows effectively.
Mountain bike knee and elbow guards offer protection to the joints. Image Source: Amazon.

Soft-Shell Elbow Sleeve 

A soft-shell elbow sleeve like this is a lightweight sleeve with a little pad on the elbow area that isn't particularly hard but still provides some shock protection. This design offers better breathablity and is lightweight compared to the hard shell elbow sleeve, which allows the cyclist to ride in complete comfort. Although this design offers less protection compared to the hard shell one, it is still adequate for everyday and shorter rides.

Hard-Shell Elbow Guard

The hard shell elbow guard like this features a hard outer shell for extra protection. This design of elbow guards provides impact protection and a shield against scrapes and bumps to the elbow and forearm. They're made with a tough, durable cap that goes over the elbow. Although they are great in terms of protection, they can be quite uncomfortable on long rides because of their bulky design. Still, they are flexible enough to allow natural movement of the joint, with an inside grip to keep them in place while riding. 

Who Should Use Them and When? 

If you do downhill riding, a hard shell elbow guard is what you need. In this case, maximum protection comes ahead of breathability and other comfort factors. The bulky design will function perfectly well against shocks and falls when cycling on rough terrain and during gravity riding. 

Use the soft shell design for casual rides, everyday commuting, and cross-country rides. These types of rides do not involve riding on rough terrain, do not involve tackling steep roads, and riding at a high speed. That's why soft guards will provide more than enough protection for these instances.  

Types of Protective Shorts

Protective shorts are another important part of the protective gear every cyclist needs. You might think that they are not as important as other armor pieces, but in fact, they can boast both your safety and comfort as they can offer great protection when used as a base layer under your pants or shorts. 

Mountain biking shorts come in road versions, bib versions, and baggy versions. Some mountain bike shorts include padding that can improve comfort on longer rides. Shorts need to wick moisture away from the skin and have good ventilation to ensure the rider stays comfortable. 

Padded shorts like these can help reduce pressure points. They are designed with a crotch seam that sits directly on top of your bike saddle and absorbs all the pressure from your body to keep you more comfortable. They can be great for reducing road vibration or road shock when riding on uneven surfaces. 

Some of the most common materials for protective shorts are microfiber fabric, gel, and foam. These materials are also great for moisture wicking, with gel being the most recommended material for protective biking shorts. Make sure to choose the right pair of shorts for you. They need to fit well and have a comfortable waistband and leg grippers that should not be too tight or too loose. 

Mountain bike armor includes padded shorts that can actually help to keep you comfortable so choose to ride with a pair like this.
A pair of padded mountain bike shorts can be layered underneath regular shorts to provide extra cushioning on long rides. Image Source: Amazon.

Road Shorts /Bib Shorts 

This type of protective shorts is lightweight and very comfortable. It hugs the legs and makes a great choice for long, intensive rides. These types of biking shorts reduce chafing and allow excellent movement.  Road shorts are usually made of moisture-wicking breathable materials which ensure better comfort, especially in hot weather. They are designed with more individual panels to provide better contouring to the body and to fit more comfortably. Additionally, the soft padding allows for more protection and comfort as well as better movement. 

Mountain Bike Baggy Shorts

This shorts design is lightweight but tough at the same time and is suitable for mountain biking. They are made of tough nylon fabric that offers much better protection compared to lycra. Baggy shorts offer a protective layer against brambles and other debris. Another great thing about mountain bike baggies is the adjustable waistband that is flexible enough to offer comfort to the cyclist. 

Who Needs This and Why?

Some shorts will feature thicker padding for comfort which is ideal for longer riding and racing. Padded shorts can be layered under baggy shorts so that you can use them while cycling on rough terrain to offer you comfort and safety. Similarly, road shorts are great for road riding, recreational riding, racing, or commuting. They are protective and comfortable and make a great choice for all types of excursions. 

No matter what your favorite outdoor activity is, baggy mountain bike shorts will be comfortable for any of them.
Mountain biking shorts are versatile enough for all types of outdoor activities. Image Source: Amazon.

If you're interested in learning more about how to fit a mountain bike saddle or how to improve mountain bike saddle comfort, be sure to check out our related articles.

Types of MTB Shoes

Biking shoes are designed to provide higher protection for your feet and more efficiency as well. Crashing your toes into a rock at high speed will definitely be painful. Whether you choose clipless or flat pedals, there are shoes that provide additional protective material, particularly for the toe area, to save you from connecting with boulders and roots.

Mountain bike shoes need to provide protection to the toes and sole. Typically mountain bike shoes come in three main types, shoes that are compatible with toe clips, shoes for clipless pedals, and shoes for flat pedals. Flat pedal shoes have a more flexible sole while clipless pedal shoes are more rigid. 

Sneakers won’t offer you the same protection as shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals.
Lightweight sneakers don’t offer the best support for mountain biking but are a suitable type of shoe for regular cycling with toe clips. Image Source: Amazon.

Shoes for Toe Clips

For toe clips, any type of sports shoe can be a good choice. However, there are important features that make certain shoes more compatible with toe clips. Our article that outlines how to choose mountain bike toe clip compatible shoes explains what to look for in a toe clip and what shoes won’t work with toe clips. 

First, make sure to go for lightweight shoes with a narrow or low vamp. Bulkier designs won't be comfortable and might not even fit into the clips. A narrow shoe that tapers into a slim point or tip will be easier to slide in and out of a toe clip. Keep in mind that it is also important to select shoes with flat soles. Shoes that feature chunky treads are not a good choice for pedaling with a toe clip. This is because treads tend to get caught in the pedals. A pair of shoes with flat soles will make it easier to get your feet in and out of the toe clip and ensure a smooth ride. 

Shoes for Clipless Pedals

Clipless shoes like these are designed to work with clipless pedals. They are designed to work with two-bolt SPD-style cleats. Clipless shoes offer maximum control of the pedals and increase the cyclist's efficiency. They make it easy for cyclists to get their feet out quickly in an emergency which makes them a great choice for riding on rough terrain. 

Additionally, shoes designed for clipless pedals feature proper tread on the soles with recessed cleats to offer a better grip on the pedals. Our article comparing clipless pedals to toe clips explains how clipless pedals work and will guide you in deciding which foot retention method suits you. 

Shoes for Flat Pedals

Flat pedal shoes are one type of shoes that are compatible with flat pedals. They often feature sticky rubber soles which offer better grip in muddy conditions and wet weather. Flat shoes make a good choice for beginners and are often preferred by some experienced mountain bikers. 

Who Should Wear Them and When

For trekking, touring, and commuting, toe clip-compatible shoes are a great choice. They are comfortable and offer good grip on the pedals. However, they are not the best choice when it comes to mountain biking and riding on rough terrain. Cleat or clipless pedal shoes are the best choices for off-road riding because they offer better control and pedaling efficiency. They are also great for riding downhill and for pushing the bike up slippery slopes.

Shoes that are compatible with clipless pedals have a section under the shoe that clip onto the pedal..
Clipless pedal shoes have a recessed area where the cleats can be installed. Image Source: Amazon.


Summary of All Other Protective Pieces Types and Needs

What Kind of Riding Are You Doing? What Other Armor Piece Do You Need And Why? Example Approximate Price
Extreme Downhill Mountain Bike Riding Full face helmet, elbow and knee pads, with protective shorts. Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro Helmet Chilli ~$300
Daily Commutes Up and Down Hills on Road Hybrid helmet, knee and elbow guards. Bell Super DH MIPS Helmet ~$320-$350
Cross Country in Sunny Weather Regular helmet, knee and elbow guards (optional). Fox helmet ~$60
Cold Weather Cross Country Biking Additional long-sleeve jersey, with the above mentioned. Wuzfully Men's Mountain Bike Jersey ~$30
Rain and mud. Rain jacket protector, with the above mentioned. Little Donkey Andy, waterproof jacket. ~$40

A Final Word

It doesn’t matter how harsh or mild the biking track is—no one should underestimate the value of protective gear. As in most cases, prevention is better than cure, and if you have kitted yourself out properly before heading out on a ride, you’ll be extremely thankful when you do take a tumble. 

Riders should wear what they are comfortable with. If you want to wear full armor and a full-face helmet to ride DH and carry the weight around with heat, you should go for it, as long as it makes you feel safe and more confident. 

If someone wants to ride a downhill park in shorts and a T-shirt, good for them. You should not feel that you are over clothed and over protected. After all, it is your flesh and bones that will take the impact and will need to heal later—and someone's opinion of you will not help you then.

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