If you are going to be on board a two wheeled mode of transport capable of hitting speeds of 30 mph or more, depending on your fitness levels and amount of courage, you are going to want some added protection should you hit the floor, tree, rock, gravel or any other surface we find ourselves rolling over as cyclists. Below is a guide to the different types of protection and the benefits to each.
The main priority of a helmet is to protect your head and thanks to EU safety regulations if you purchase a helmet in a store or online within the EU you can guarantee it has passed those safety requirements. So price does not actually factor in to the safety of the helmet, what you pay for is lighter materials, more ventilation and extra features.
Other factors that play a part in the price are extra safety features such as MIPS, SPIN, Wavecel, Turbine etc.
Depending on which company you opt to go with they often have a variety of safety features built into the helmet as you go up the price range. All of these features share the same goal though to reduce the risk of a concussion and the energy exerted on the brain. How they set to achieve this differs, but a lot of them try to reduce the torsional stress on the head and neck by having an extra layer that moves independently after a collision that sits between your head and the shell.
Starting with the knee, along with hands theses are usually the body part that hits the floor first when you come off the bike, it is also a major weak point as it is a joint covered in soft tissue susceptible to bruising, dislocation, fracture, effusion and ligament damage to just name a few.
It is almost enough to make you not want to ever cycle again, which is why off-road riders often opt for some kind of knee guard to protect from hits. And thanks to a fairly recent discovery (1999) we can now have optimal protection in a flexible form making body armour more comfortable than ever.
I am referring to the wonder stuff known as D30 which is a substance called a dilatant that in its raw state flows freely, but on shock locks together to absorb and disperse energy as heat before returning to its semi fluid state, making it perfect for sudden impacts like the ones you encounter when falling from a bike.
Shin protection often comes as a package with knee protectors but on a few occasions they can be purchased separately. Shin protectors help stop what were referred to as “Shin Burgers” back in the early noughties this was a time when the flat pedal ruled supreme, but in order to compete with the unrivalled feel of clipped in pedals they made the pins longer and more savage, and because five ten had just launched to great success on the professional downhill circuit everyone I rode with was quickly adopting a platform pedal, the only problem was we did not have the shoes the pros did so a slipped foot resulted in a shin that resembles mincemeat.
Born from this though was a new need for shin guards which I admit have saved my shins from a pretty bad fall in the Dales, judging by the damage incurred to the shin guard I am lucky it was not my shin that took the hit from the jagged rocks. If you can put up with the sweaty legs then shin guards are a great piece of protection.
Much like knees, elbows are another point of weakness and are very susceptible to damage mainly by trees in my experience. Because you need a wide range of movement in your arms if you do buy elbow protection you will be wanting to look for a minimal and flexible covering so again D30 will work really well here. Failing that then some form of neoprene with a stiffer area around the elbow will work just as well in my experience.
Aimed mainly at downhill riders who are unlikely to be doing much climbing and more just hurtling full speed down a trail. There is usually some flexibility in the body armour itself but usually not enough to offer a pleasant climbing and pedalling experience it is more for comfort while wearing rather than functional all day riding wear. D30 may be used again to offer a more lightweight protection, but the cheaper body armour tends to opt for plastic inserts, some downhill riders even opt for motocross body protectors as they are designed specifically for high speed falls and protect the back and ribs from large blunt forces.
Yes these count too, not only do sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UVA and UVB rays they also offer a shield between your eyeball and any debris or insects heading in your direction. Cycling specific sunglasses will often have hydrophobic material, the sole purpose is to keep the glasses on your face, meaning the harder you sweat the gripper the material becomes.
Goggles have a strap securing them so there is no real need for the same material. Goggles concentrate on offering protection from branches, stones and sun glare. Most full face and Enduro helmets cater for goggles with channels and clips to stop them from moving around, but goggles do come with rubber strips on the strap for extra grip when placed around the helmet.
Ventilation is key when choosing goggles, because they cover most of your face they do tend to steam up, and visibility is kind of important when riding downhill.Ventilation is key when choosing goggles, because they cover most of your face they do tend to steam up, and visibility is kind of important when riding downhill.