A recent trip to the Alps to race the Megavalanche meant a serious think about protection. I’ve always used a spine protector and knee / elbow pads when on my DH bike but after talking to a few colleagues I realised this probably wouldn’t cut it at the Mega. And all I can say is: THANK my lucky stars for making that call. I would not be typing this with working shoulders otherwise.

Before the race Andy from One Industries was kind enough to kit us out with the latest in all body protection – the Evo Pressure suit, plus a set of Pro Race Knee / Shin pads.

I was a bit dubious at first about how bulky this kind of body armour can be, but after an initial inspection you can see it is a lot more adjustable, and therefore closer fitting, than other types of body armour. You get a good quality liner, that zips out of the back / chest plate. All the straps that attach the shoulder and elbow pads are adjustable so you can get a good fit, and more importantly things don’t move about when you crash. All this means you don’t get that dubious effect of ‘bits of plastic hanging off some fish net stocking’ effect which I have seen with other types of body armour. It feels properly integrated, and once you have done all the straps up correctly, and secured the waistband around your waist, the suit really does not move at all and you feel totally secure and ready for pretty much anything!

Arriving in the Alps, Pete wisely decided our first run of the trip should be down the DH track in Oz en Oisans, which he would be racing later that week. This proved a baptism of fire for both myself and the suit. About halfway down  I was head / shoulder first into a large chunk of rock.  Standing up I realised all was OK, and again, THANKED my lucky stars. The shoulder pad had taken the brunt of it. This type of incident was repeated a few times, especially around the top sections of Alpe D’huez, and especially when it was wet. The elbows, shoulders, and backplate all pretty much saved me from the types of injury which wouldn’t mean a trip back down with Mountain Rescue, but more the types that wind you and leave you sketchy and shaken. Instead, you hop back on the bike and carry on enjoying the ride. Excellent!

Key to all of this is the material used – the elbow and shoulder pads are made from a material called ‘memory foam’ – which is very similar to other protective materials you will see on the market – D3, VPD etc. Memory foam does two things. First, as your body heats it up it moulds to your contours, thus providing a better fit as mentioned previously. Second, although it feels soft to the touch, when you wack it with say a big bit of rock, it goes super-hard, thus saving your bacon. It is very clever indeed.

One other point. A common problem with body armour is, well, it smells after a while. So being able to wash it (properly) is key unless you want to smell like an old sock. With the Evo suit, you simply unzip the chest and back plate, and chuck the rest of in the wash – wrapped up in an towel or pillowcase  on a cool wash. Job done, nice and fresh again!

Cost-wise, this suit sits at the top end of the market, but as with any safety gear, I don’t think you can put a price on staying in one piece. If you regularly ride mountainous terrain or ride DH, and are a bit old and creaky like me, then this suit should make your consideration list.

Pro Race Knee  / Shin Pads

I’ve owned a pair of Evo knee pads for a few years now and they have always been just fine for my DH excursions, but I have seen the shins of others (especially if you ride flats, which I don’t) and really didn’t want any more scars at the Mega.

A common complaint with knee / shin combinations is either; a) rubbing / poor fit – as the strap goes behind your knee essentially or b) not staying put when pedalling.

Fit-wise these shin pads were spot on for me in a M. Once you have fiddled with the straps a bit and got them sitting comfortably, they were neither too tight, or moved around too much. They are also really quite low profile and do not stick out much at all. My moment of THANK my lucky stars with these came pretty soon – we were on the last run of the day, tired, one foot  was  out of the pedal, I dropped off a ledge, and the crank span back and clacked the shin pad REALLY hard. I winced at the thought of that on my shin bone. Instead I pedalled away and went and had a beer, great!

What I did find with these pads is that when you are pedalling excessively, they did tend to slip a little and face outwards a bit, so I would give them a little push back now and then. No major problem, and I dont think you would find a knee / shin combo that does stay completely put when pedalling hard for a long period. I did swap back to my knee pads for a few runs, and without a doubt they are more comfortable for lots of pedally bits, but then you lack the overall protection. So conclusion is: for enduro races, knee pads, but I’ll always be using shinpads for DH now.

Filter SPD Shoes

Last but not least, I’ve been using these SPD shoes for a few years now. I ride clipped in, and didn’t like the space age look of the Shimano AM45′s, so went for these. There are plenty of other shoes on the market, but I preferred the clean and simple design of these, and the grip is just fine. There is plenty of protection on the heel and around the ankle too. The only minor issues I have had is the lace eyelet on the top section snapped away recently (probably because I had left them wet for a few days), so perhaps that could be more reinforced, and a removable inner sole would aid drying out. Solid, reliable shoes though and will be with me for a long time I imagine.

A very big thanks to Andy and One Industries for keeping us in one piece!

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