Our Guide to Buying: Body Armour

What is Body Armour?

Body armour is a useful bit of kit for any off-road rider, it can be the difference between picking yourself up and dusting yourself down or an unpleasant trip to A&E. Better to go home from your ride with some scrapes and scuffs on your body armour than actually on your body.

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What type of body armour do I need?

Body armour comes in a range of forms from the minimal and lightweight to heavy duty full body suits. All body armour is designed to be comfortable and not impede your riding style, if it doesn’t fit well you won’t want to wear it. For cross-country rides neoprene or soft shell pads work well and will help you get away with bangs and scrapes. As your riding gets harder, faster and more technical so the level of the protection you may want goes up.

Hard shell pads offer a higher degree of protection but may also feel slightly more restrictive and are less breathable. New materials such as memory foam are a big improvement, they feel like a soft pad and mould to your body, but are able to absorb big impacts and some materials will even transition from soft to hard if hit to give you the best of both worlds.

What are padded undershorts?

As the name suggests, padded undershorts (such as the Endura MT500 protector shorts) are shorts which have pads on the outside of your hips, thighs and coccyx. A lightweight and very useful extra layer of protection should you slide along the trail they are great whatever you are riding as they can be worn under lightweight shorts or heavy duty downhill pants.

Cross-Country and Trail Riding

What sort of body armour will I need for cross-country riding?

Soft-shell and highly breathable body armour make it comfortable to wear on long rides, even if you are working up a sweat going uphill. Wearing pads means that you’ll be heading home at the end of your ride with nothing worse than some scuff marks and mud on your pads rather than damage to your body.

What sort of body armour will I need for trail riding?

For trail riding lightweight, soft shell pads for knee and elbows won’t interfere with your riding but will protect you in a fall. Make sure they are tight enough to stay in place but without being restrictive and bunching up. The speed and technicality of the trails may be lower than in more gravity-based riding but even a relatively low-speed fall can result in you bashing your knee or clattering your elbow on some rocks.

How should I fit soft shell pads for cycling?

When you try pads on, remember that your muscles expand a bit when you are warm and exercising. If they are too tight they can restrict blood flow. It is important that you keep this in mind when choosing the right pads for your ride.

Enduro and All-Mountain

With more emphasis on steep and technically challenging terrain the chances of having an ‘off’ are increased. The speed and the likelihood of landing on rocks, roots, or trail debris also means that you will want a little bit more protection. However, for enduro riding, you still need something that is very breathable, lightweight and allows you to remain agile on your bike.

What sort of body armour will I need for enduro and all-mountain riding?

Hard-shell, elbow shin and knee guards are great for protecting you from pedal and rock strikes, as well as from crashes, and offer lightweight but high impact protection. Make sure that they stay securely in place when you are riding and don’t slip or twist.

Gravity and Downhill

What sort of body armour will I need for gravity sport and downhill riding?

Gravity sport on steep, fast and technical terrain, where you are pushing your own and your bike’s limits, calls for a higher degree of protection. One step up is to add a back plate to your combination of shin, knee and elbow guards. These are designed to still allow movement and not impede your body when riding but will protect your spine if you were to come off, most are also neck brace compatible.

Are there alternatives to buying separate pads of body armour when cycling?

Instead of opting for separate pads you may choose full body armour in a suit. This protects your back, chest and shoulders and also offers elbow and forearm protection. By linking everything together in one piece of kit it is easier to wear and the protection is more likely to stay in the correct place as you move around on the bike.

What does the neck brace do?

A lot of research has gone into minimising the risk of spinal and neck injuries from crashes and the outcome is the neck brace. The neck brace sits above your body armour and contacts with your helmet, in the event of a crash the load passing through your neck is reduced which may prevent fractures and soft tissue injuries.

Body armour is available as both hard shell and soft shell that moulds to your body and slows down forces on impact; these are more expensive but also lighter weight and more comfortable to wear.