How to Choose The Best Mountain Bike Body Armor Upgrades – Step by Step
Riding a mountain bike over rough terrain and steep slopes makes your extreme cycling experience super enjoyable. However, in extreme conditions, you have to prioritize keeping yourself safe on your ride. Regardless of how skilled you are or how safe your biking technique is, you still need some sort of body armor that protects against severe injuries. Upgrading your mountain bike body armor is key to avoiding a wider range of mountain bike injuries. In this article, we’ll discuss some mountain bike body armor upgrades that can help you level up your mountain biking.
To upgrade chest protection, buy mountain bike body armor with extra padding or with a hardshell material. To upgrade elbow and knee protection, buy hard shell elbow and knee guards with padding inside. To upgrade a helmet, purchase a full-face helmet with an added guard for the chin.
While there are numerous types of mountain bike body armor, pads, and guards, choosing the right one is fundamental to ensuring your safety. Besides that, selecting the best mountain bike body armor based on your needs and riding style will both prevent you from getting injured and improve your overall cycling experience. If you are ready to take your mountain biking to the next level and you are ready to upgrade your bike check out our tips and tricks for what mountain bike you should buy.
Below is a step-by-step guide to common mountain bike injuries and selecting the suitable mountain bike body armor upgrades.
Before moving forward, be sure to take a look at our guide on how to buy downhill mountain bike armor for more tips and tricks.
Common Mountain Bike Injuries
Mountain biking can be fun and exciting, but the risks of getting injured should never be ignored. No matter how experienced you are or how safe the terrain looks at first glance, things happen and even the slightest chance of getting injured should be taken into account.
The most common mountain bike injuries are skin abrasions, scratches, skin contusions, shoulder and clavicle injuries, hand and wrist injuries, knee injuries, head injuries, mild and severe traumatic brain injuries, and facial injuries.
Learning more about the widespread mountain cycling-related injuries will allow you to identify some of the most common causes and optimal ways to prevent them. Here’s everything to need to know.
Skin Abrasions, Scratches, and Skin Contusions
According to this medical survey in the Journal of Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, and Arthroscopy, 75% of the reported mountain bike injuries were minor skin wounds, such as abrasions, scratches, and contusions. Another study conducted by the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine concluded that skin and soft tissue injuries were the most prevalent in a group of 52 athletes.
Although such injuries can be unpleasant, you might not even feel them during your mountain biking trip. However, it is crucial to clean and treat any wounds you notice or feel afterward.
Even though minor abrasions and scratches don’t usually lead to fatal results, they can be dangerous on many occasions. If you don’t clean them properly, debris, gravel, or dirt embedded into your skin can make the area become infected.
But these are easy to treat at home. Wipe your wound with this cleansing pad containing lidocaine and use clean tweezers like these to remove any rocks or particles. Then, if possible cover the wound with a band-aid. If it’s too big, let it air dry.
Mountain Bike Shoulder and Clavicle Injuries
Shoulder and clavicle injuries are among the most common and severe mountain bike injuries. Clavicle fractures can be extremely painful and will restrict your arm movement. Joint dislocations are also common, especially when mountain bikers fall directly onto their shoulders.
As mentioned in a study conducted by Enduro World Series, 25.6% of the reported injuries involved shoulders and clavicles.
Shoulder injuries are expected to heal within a month, but in some severe cases, the recovery might take 4-6 months or even longer. Similarly, broken clavicles typically heal within a couple of months. In both cases, the injuries are not expected to lead to any serious complications. However, if you have a broken bone, you need to see a doctor immediately for treatment.
Mountain Bike Hand and Wrist Injuries
According to the case study by Enduro World Series, hand and wrist injuries made up 15.4% of all reported injuries. Typically, hand and wrist injuries are not fatal. However, if the damage spreads to bones, tendons, soft tissues, and nerves, it can become a life-threatening emergency.
Besides that, hand and wrist injuries restrict you from completing even the simplest daily tasks. Undoubtedly, this affects your personal life and even your career.
Mountain Bike Knee Injuries
Suddenly changing your mountain bike setup or drastically increasing the amount of time you spend cycling often leads to knee injuries. As mentioned in the study by Enduro World Series, 7.1% of reported injuries involved knees.
In general, cycling knee pain is not that dangerous and you can treat yourself at home with rest and proper stretching. However, knee pain from biking accidents could involve a fractured kneecap, which can be dangerous. According to this article by Cedars Sinai, if you experience symptoms including severe pain in or around your kneecap, swelling, pain when moving your knee in both directions, a knee that appears deformed, or tenderness when pressing on your knee, you should refer to a health care professional to avoid any further complications.
Mountain Bike Head Injuries
When riding your mountain bike at high speeds, the chances are greater than you may crash into trees, rocks, or other bikers with your head. A study conducted by Wilderness and Environmental Medicine concluded that a total of 11.2% of mountain bike park cyclists had suffered a closed head injury.
As a result of suddenly and violently hitting an object, you may develop a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as explained in this article by the Mayo Clinic. A mild type of TBI is known as a concussion. In this case, most people recover in a short period of time. However, the symptoms of a concussion can also be serious. Severe physical injuries are dangerous and can even lead to death.
Mountain Bike Face Injuries
Although face injuries are not as widespread as those discussed above, mountain biking accidents often involve your mouth, face, and jaw. According to the case study by Enduro World Series, 2.7 % of mountain bikers reported face injuries.
Oftentimes, face injuries range from minor cuts to more severe problems, like broken teeth or fractured facial bones. Sometimes, facial injuries can be quite serious, resulting in concussions or other traumatic brain injuries and may irreversibly damage your facial features. While facial injuries are usually not fatal, they can be just as dangerous as head injuries.
How to Avoid Mountain Bike Injuries with Mountain Bike Body Armor Upgrades
While preventing mountain bike injuries is not always possible, you can still protect yourself by wearing protective gear when riding a bike. Most of the time, special mountain biking armor and clothing also help you stay more comfortable and allow you to ride more efficiently, especially during long trips.
To avoid chest injuries, upgrade vest armor to chest armor with more padding. To prevent shoulder and clavicle injuries, buy mountain bike full-body armor with a hard shell or extra padding. For hand, wrist, and finger injuries, invest in high-quality mountain bike padded gloves. To protect knees and elbows, upgrade soft padded sleeves to hardshell knee and elbow protectors with extra padding inside. For protection from concussions and traumatic brain injuries, upgrade a half-lid helmet to a full-face helmet with a chin guard for additional protection.
Mountain Bike Chest Armor with a Back Protector, Shoulder, and/or Elbow Pads
Mountain bike armor vests like these are typically coupled with padding that protects your chest and back. While regular vest armor also provides some protection, upgrading to chest armor with extra padding will make your overall mountain bike trip safer. A full mountain bike chest armor set with a back protector is the ultimate body armor upgrade.
Oftentimes, chest armor with extra padding feature shoulder pads as well. This provides additional protection for your shoulders but is not enough to prevent clavicle injuries.
If you want to keep your elbows protected without purchasing elbow guards separately, you can also upgrade your regular padded vest to a padded upper-body suit like this that offers protection for your chest, ribcage, shoulders, elbows, and back.
Protective T-shirts and bodysuits offer more safety than simple chest armor. And since padded tops and bodysuits are thicker, they work well for cold weather. They can also be worn with or without tops since sleeves keep them in the right place.
On the other hand, armor vests are designed to be worn underneath tops and are more lightweight. You might prefer to use them if it’s hot outside. However, high-quality protective upper-body suits offer sufficient breathability for you to feel comfortable in warm or hot conditions. When in doubt, always choose your safety over comfort.
Mountain Bike Full-Body Armor
Although protective upper-body suits prevent your chest, shoulders, back, and elbows from injuries, they do not provide sufficient protection for your collarbones. If you want to shield your clavicles from potential dangers, you should consider using full-body mountain bike armor like this.
While mountain bike full-body armor is sturdy enough, you might still want to consider a body armor upgrade to hardshell body armor with an additional padded layer inside. The hardshell material minimizes the risks of fractures and broken bones, while the padded layer offers you extra comfort.
Since head injuries are so common, you should always wear a helmet when mountain biking. While a regular half-lid helmet can protect you from a possible concussion or brain injury, you can upgrade it to a full-face helmet to protect your face. A typical full-face mountain bike helmet like this includes a chin bar that protects your entire face.
Alternatively, you can use a breakaway helmet that features a removable chin bar, allowing you to transform it into a regular helmet and back into a full-face helmet when needed. Getting a two-in-one mountain bike helmet will also help you save some money, so you should definitely consider this option if your budget is tight.
A Neck Brace
Although fatal cervical spinal injuries are rare among mountain bikers, using neck braces is still recommended. Neck braces are often life-saving safety gear pieces that prevent spreading the impact of a crash across the upper body.
According to this review of Leatt’s mountain bike neck brace by Singletrack, soft-padded neck braces reduce dynamics linked to brain injuries and decrease pressure on the thoracic spine. Therefore, neck braces should be used to protect mountain bikers from concussions and even fatal brain injuries. This protective gear comes in especially handy for mountain bikers who perform tricks or enjoy freeriding on rough terrain and steep slopes.
Elbow pads are beneficial but optional pieces of protective gear. Still, they protect your elbows from scratches or fractures. When used properly, elbow guards like these can even minimize the risks of breaking your arm during a mountain biking accident.
While some mountain bikers prefer riding without elbow guards, others use elbow pads all the time. Although these pads may not always make a huge difference, they still ensure the bikers’ safety. As a beginner, you should definitely use elbow protectors no matter what. For extra protection, consider upgrading your elbow pads to hardshell elbow guards.
While elbow pads are optional, knee pads like these are a must when it comes to mountain biking, especially if you ride a lot. Even though knee guards sound simple, they can prevent your knees from bleeding on almost every occasion. Knee pads are a very common mountain bike body armor upgrade when choosing to go from amateur riding to more serious riding.
There are a few knee protector options to choose from. Soft knee pad sleeves are affordable protectors that work fine for shorter rides. However, they might start slipping off or provide insufficient protection in the long term. This is exactly when you should consider upgrading your padded knee guards to hardshell knee protectors like these.
Hardshell knee pads protect your knees from even the sharpest rocks you may encounter while mountain biking. Some knee guard options also cover your shins, giving you maximum protection against crashes or other mountain bike accidents as we explain in our article about how to buy downhill mountain bike armor.
When it comes to road cycling, regular thin gloves or fingerless ones are enough to protect your hands. However, extreme mountain biking requires enhanced protection for your wrists, hands, and fingers. In this case, you should upgrade your thin gloves to padded mountain bike gloves. Along with shielding your hands and fingers, padded bike gloves improve your grip on the handlebars, enhancing your biking experience.
These padded gloves feature softer and harder pieces of padding designed for specific parts of your hands. Therefore, ensure that the gloves fit perfectly and you can flex and extend your fingers while wearing them. Otherwise, you may increase the chances of getting injured during the mountain biking trip because you won’t have a good grip on your handlebar.
We provide tips and tricks for choosing the right gloves in our article about how to choose mountain bike gloves with grip.
Optional Protective Gear for Mountain Biking
If you want to be extra cautious, you can also get mountain bike pants like these or padded shorts like these that offer impact protection and enhanced comfort. If you decide to invest in padded shorts, make sure the material is breathable to prevent yourself from getting too hot during long rides.
You can also wear glasses or goggles like these to protect your eyes from dust, insects, and flying objects. Mountain bike goggles are typically compatible with half-lit helmets like these. If you are using a full-face helmet, you might not need to use glasses at all because they may come with a face shield.
For more information, be sure to take a look at our complete list of mountain bike armor names and how to select the right ones. Admittedly, wearing all of this armor can be overwhelming. Be sure to read our related article to learn all of our mountain bike heating and cooling tips to make sure you stay comfortable out on those trails. Finally, our guide to mountain bike armor design ideas, tips, and tricks might be an interesting read as well.
How to Choose The Best Mountain Bike Body Armor
While mountain bikers’ safety is paramount, their overall comfort should also be considered when choosing protective gear. After determining how much protection mountain bike body armor pieces offer, consider these other essential features.
To choose the best mountain bike body armor, maximize its durability, select lightweight protective gear, consider heating and cooling properties, check water resistance, and check how easy it is to wash the gear. Mountain bike body armor should be selected to suit the rider’s specific mountain biking style.
Maximizing Body Armor Durability
While body armor is meant to be durable, some materials outperform others. Generally speaking, plastic is less durable than rubber, but heavy-duty plastic body armor is pretty long-lasting. Still, rubber is the most durable material for mountain bike body armor. Although rubber body armor might be a bit more expensive compared to those made of plastic, investing in higher-quality protective gear is a better choice in the long run.
Another factor that makes mountain bike body armor more durable is the padded layer around the individual plastic pieces. When falling off the bike or crashing into something, this padded layer will offer you extra protection and stop the plastic pieces from cracking.
Lightweight Mountain Bike Body Armor
Plastic and rubber mountain bike body armors can be heavy. While this might not be an issue for some people, others find it challenging to wear hefty protective gear. Always check the weight of mountain bike body armor to see if the extra pounds will slow you down too much.
If carrying around extra weight on your bike is an issue for you, padded body armor made with carbon fiber is much lighter than the one made of plastic. On the other hand, plastic protective jackets are more lightweight than rubber ones.
Heating and Cooling Mountain Bike Body Armor Features
Heating and cooling features should always be considered when purchasing protective gear for mountain biking. While keeping yourself safe, you should always ensure that you feel comfortable during the ride.
Whether it is hot or cold, mountain bike body armor should be made of breathable materials like this. When mountain biking, you probably won’t feel too cold because you will warm up once you start exercising. But you may get hot, especially during longer rides. Breathable materials will avoid the condensation of perspiration in body armor and overheating.
If you ride during winter, you may experience cold hands. Wear warm padded gloves to maintain circulation and for a more comfortable ride, our article discusses how to choose mountain bike grip heaters to keep your hands warm.
And if you live somewhere too hot for gloves check out our article that provides tips on how to choose mountain bike grips for sweaty hands.
Water Resistant Armor
As a mountain biker, you might ride your bike all year round. Some bikers even enjoy cycling in rainy weather. If this is the case, you will need some waterproof mountain bike body armor to ride your bike in winter and during rainy seasons. Purchasing water-resistant body armor will keep you dry on your ride and significantly improve your overall mountain biking experience.
Easy-to-Wash Mountain Bike Body Armor
Mountain biking typically involves riding on rough terrain, so your clothes and protective gear will get dirty. Mountain bike body armor pieces are pretty expensive, so you might not be able to purchase a few of each. To ensure that you have clean mountain bike body armor every time you want to ride your mountain bike, choose protective gear that is relatively easy to clean, wash, and dry like this.
If you keep reusing your dirty mountain bike body armor repeatedly, you might no longer be able to kill the stink. Thoroughly cleaning or washing your protective gear is key to smelling fresh even after a long mountain bike ride. Check out the posts in this thread on the mtbr.com forum for more tips on washing and cleaning your mountain bike body armor.
Mountain Bike Body Armor Based on the Location and Your Riding Style
When shopping for mountain bike body armor, consider the location and your riding style. Depending on how rough the terrain is or how fast you ride your bike, you can skip some of the protective gear pieces.
Although your safety is important, you do not need to wear every piece of mountain bike body armor every time you go mountain biking. Instead, wear different armor for different types of mountain biking. For example, wearing a helmet like this on XC routes is enough. But if you are a beginner, consider wearing a padded vest as well.
In the case of rockier trails, hills, peaks, and areas near lakes, it is recommended to wear a helmet, knee pads, and gloves. For extra protection, you can also wear your full-body armor.
When riding a mountain bike on rough terrain and steep slopes, you should always wear a full-face helmet, full-body protective suit, knee guards, and padded gloves.
And to keep yourself comfortable on the bike, we explain where to hold mountain bike grips for proper posture.