There comes a time when you first start riding that you wonder what protection do I need to wear when I first start mountain biking? You see many a rider fly down the trail with nothing but a helmet on and sometimes not much of a helmet at that. It is a curious question that beckons us when we think about what gear we should strap on our body for the run down the trail, and exactly how much is too much?
When we first start riding all we want to do is get the new gear and look like we ride the trails, it seems that if we look the part then that should take care of the riding…..right? Wrong. It is all well and good to have the latest gear and the hottest bike but if you don’t know how to ride with your safety in hand when you first start then this may be a short venture before you end up injured and on the sidelines. It is highly important that when you first start riding you ride within your limits and be over-cautious, as you progress so will your ability to know your limits and soon enough you will be mowing down the trail with reckless regard……that is until the trail reminds you of your limits and the flesh hits the dirt.
The absolute minimum amount of gear required
If you are a minimalist you may want to drop some weight and go easy on the gear, if that is the case then you are probably a cross-country rider and you probably shouldn’t read any further and go back to counting calories. For the rest of us trailblazers, the absolute minimum protection you should be wearing is a trail or ‘enduro’ style open face helmet (full face for DH) clothing covering your shoulders, a set of knee pads, decent trail shoes (flats or clipless), full-finger gloves and some eye protection (goggles or glasses). You might think this is overkill but trust me that is the bare minimum, many of us wear a bit more than this and as your skill increases you may start to decrease the gear you wear.
We have outlined helmets in another article, you can read that article by clicking here. However, it should be noted that if you are on the trail you should have a trail orientated helmet that covers most of your head, something like the bell super 3R as seen in the picture above. These helmets are great for everyday riding, riding uphill and when the trail points down but when it gets rowdy, you may want to don a full face. Full face helmets such as the one below provide extra coverage and should be worn for any proper downhill tracks, bike parks and slopestyle.
Knee pads are a crucial piece of kit for any gravity rider, if you have ever seen someone rip open their knee and bust their kneecap because they weren’t wearing knee pads; you would definitely buy a set. I have seen a few lads not wearing knee caps come of and do some nasty things to their knees, leading to them being carted off in an ambulance and off the bike for a while. The type of knee pad you wear will depend on the type of riding you do, I wear relatively light weight enduro knee pads, designed to allow freedom of movement and providing a degree of protection. If you are doing more DH focused or bike park riding you may want to wear a set of heavier knee pads, keeping in mind you don’t have to ride up hill in them.
When I first started riding mountain bikes I didn’t see the need for elbow pads, and living in Australia we still shed them come summer quite frequently. That being said, the importance of a set of elbow pads for protection should not be discounted. I myself started wearing elbow pads after a nasty crash that led to me needing a surgical washout and sutures, something that could have been avoided with a set of elbow pads. I tend to go on the light side when it comes to elbow pads and have been using race face indy elbow pads which are designed for more ‘enduro’ style racing. I find that these types of elbow pads provide cover but don’t restrict your movement. If you are heading down the trail a bit more vertical on a downhill bike you may decide to go a little heavier.
Body armor and chest protection
This is a purely optional and individual choice, for me the trail has to be super rowdy and dangerous for me to don any form of body armor. I tend to wear a chest protector, only at bike parks and when racing downhill, some people steer clear whilst others go the whole hog. Body armor is designed to provide some padding in the event you impact something in a crash, but in my opinion it won’t stop serious injuries, after all it is only padding, keep in mind that is my opinion and not gospel. This is something you will decide for yourself, how much is too much?
Mountain biking protection is like anything else, a purely individual choice, as you start out you may wear more or less than you need and over time you will find the right balance for your type of riding. Remember to always wear a helmet, stop for any injured riders, provide first aid and be safe out there……