In recent years neck braces have become popular among gravity and stunt bikers such as MTB Downhill (DH) and 4X racers, freeride (FR) and Enduro riders. Designed to be worn along with a helmet, they are intended to minimize the possibility of serious neck injury by limiting the range of head movement in the event of a crash.
Braces are designed to prevent extreme forward, backward or sideways movements of the head or neck, and also to minimize axial loading (compression of the spine) in conjunction with other forces.
Read on for more information about neck braces and how to choose one that is right for you?
Which neck brace is right for me?
You may ask yourself – do I need a neck brace? Ask yourself if you are prepared live with the devastating and lifelong consequences of severe spinal injury, and then consider the question again. A neck brace may not be a guaranteed insurance against injury – anything can happen to anyone, and the nature of gravity riding means an inherent risk – but many riders are prepared to do as much as they can to minimise their chances of catastrophic injury.
Originally developed for motocross racing, neck braces have now become standard equipment for many high-speed action sports including skiing, gravity biking and motorsport. They consist of a padded ‘collar’ – typically made of reinforced plastic or carbon fibre – which sits under the helmet and is positioned via supports that rest on the rider’s back and chest, or shoulders (depending on the design).
In the event of a crash, the padded brace will limit the movement of the head in order to help prevent injury to the neck, while it also helps to dissipate impact forces – some braces have struts with built-in fracture points and are intended to snap off under severe load.
Neck braces have grown in popularity over the years as riders become more and more aware of the consequences of spinal injuries and the technology trickles down to a price point that makes them more affordable. Neck braces may be worn on their own (with a full-face helmet, of course) or in combination with a chest or spinal protector as part of wider body armour.
The type of neck brace you choose will depend on a number of factors including preferred support type (back and chest or shoulder – both offer equal protection but some riders may find one type more comfortable than the other), size and weight.
Neck braces: in-depth
Neck braces generally fall under two categories – those that use front and rear struts that rest on the chest and back for support, and those that rest on the shoulders (but still use a padded support for the spine). The former are by far the most common type, with the rear struts often designed to break off in the event of an accident, a feature designed to help dissipate impact energy (replacement thoracic struts are available).
Most manufacturers will offer neck braces in different sizes. These will roughly equate to clothing sizes – e.g. S/M or L/XL but check the sizing chart on the manufacturer’s website if you are unsure. The collars are split, with a hinge on one side and a clip on the other to allow for removal. Most neck braces will also feature a degree of adjustability – both in the collar and support struts – in order to enable you to reach a comfortable fit. Many braces will also come with an (optional) harness system to enable them be securely strapped under the armpits for additional stability.
While neck braces at the lower end of the market will be made from reinforced plastic, those at the upper end of the market may feature a carbon fibre collar and struts to save weight. The level of protection offered will be the same, but a lighter brace may be easier to wear on long days in the saddle. Also a consideration is the quality of the padding – look for breathable microbial padding that is removable for cleaning.
Your neck brace can sustain damage in the event of an impact, with some parts (thoracic struts) being designed with fracture points that are intended to fail under load, so to dissipate impact forces.
A full range of neck brace spares is available including replacement thoracic struts, replacement padding, replacement collars (front and rear) and more, as well as accessories including strapping packs, bolts, rain covers and brace bags.