Should I Wear a Neck Brace Adventure Riding?


One of the biggest risks faced by adventure motorcyclists is getting injured in an accident. Safety gear is an absolute necessity. While no-one would argue against the merits of wearing a helmet on a bike trip, it is easy to neglect other safety equipment, such as jackets and boots. This is especially true if you are on holiday in very hot weather. So should you wear a neck brace while on an adventure bike trip?

While the research on the effectiveness of neck braces is inconclusive, there are numerous anecdotal accounts of how a neck brace has saved the life of someone who took a great fall. The brace works by preventing your neck from hyper-extending when landing on your head, and transferring the force to your shoulders

I personally have heard of a few cases where riders claimed that the neck brace saved their lives. And after wearing a neck brace for 90 days straight in Africa, I can conclude that they are not uncomfortable at all.

Falling of my bike in the dirt
On a long adventure bike trip on dirt roads, you are going to come off at some stage.

What is a neck brace?

A neck brace consists of an adjustable chassis made from fibre-reinforced plastic or carbon fibre. The brace usually consists of two parts (front and rear) that can be opened with one hand on either side with a latch. The parts around your neck and resting on your shoulders are padded and the brace is held in place with straps around the chest.

Leatt GPX5.5 neck brace
The Leatt GPX5.5 by https://www.leatt.com/

Why should I wear a neck brace?

The first neck braces for motorcycling were designed by Dr. Chris Leatt from South Africa. The idea came after he witnessed the death of a fellow rider, a week after his own son started riding. While Leatt now has more than ten different braces on offer, many other manufacturers have also entered the market.

A neck brace protects the rider by limiting the movement of the helmet (and head) in the event of a crash. It also ensures that any impact directly onto the top of the head is transferred through the bottom of the helmet, via the brace, into the shoulders, instead of the neck. It also limits the movement of the head forwards (hyperflexion), backwards (hyperextension) and to the sides.

Do they work?

I’ve personally heard from people that claim they are alive as a result of wearing a neck brace during a crash. There are also several testimonials on the Leatt website.  A 10-year study by Action Sports EMS, an ambulance service in Northern Wisconsin, found there were 239 recorded cases of Critical Cervical Spine injuries without a neck brace, and 26 with a neck brace.

Data in this study includes 9 430 total patients of which 8 529 fall into the criteria pertaining to wearing (or not wearing) a neck brace. While they admitted that they cannot definitively rule out that the device (or any device) could potentially play a negative role during an accident, they concluded that in every instance neck braces are an exponential improvement in rider safety.

 Click HERE to read the full study.

Study results
For the full study, download it via the link directly above this image.

Some studies are inconclusive

In another paper published in Sports Engineering, they used Finite-Element (FE) modelling to evaluate the level of protection offered by the neck brace in different crash conditions. The study concluded that the risk of injury was reduced by the neck–brace for velocities lower than 5.5 m/s for all impact orientations. For impact velocities above 6.5 m/s, however, the neck–brace was not as efficient in reducing overall neck injury risk, even though neck loading forces were significantly reduced in most cases.

There are still those riders who maintain neck braces are unnecessary as they increase the risk of breaking a collar bone (would you rather break your neck?), they restrict movement and are uncomfortable. Some simply say they look stupid.

Crashing my bike in the mud in Namibia
Conditions on an adventure bike trip are often less than ideal and a tumble is inevitable. Photo by Villiers Steyn.

For completeness, there were studies using simulation technology that were inconclusive. You are welcome to read them HERE:

  1. https://ibrc.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Abstract_2016_Sathyanarayan.pdf
  2. https://trid.trb.org/view/1222807

Well, are they comfortable?

Neck movement

The first time I fitted a neck brace in the shop it felt weird to say the least. It was awkward to fit it myself and it felt strange as the chin of your helmet hits the brace when looking down. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical, especially since it was not cheap compared to my other gear.

Taking a break on a trip in Namibia
You get used to the brace and after a while you forget you have it on. Photo by Villiers Steyn.

Easy of use

With a little experience it became second nature to fasten and release the clips with one hand. You do not have to fiddle with the elastic chest straps once it has been adjusted. The Leatt brace I purchased had an insert between the front and read pieces to increase the size of the neck opening. My wife’s fitted perfectly without these inserts, while I kept mine in place.

Comfort

I got used to the restricted movement in no time at all. You can still turn your head to look behind you. It is only when you look high up or down, however, that you notice it. We wore the neck braces for 90 days straight on a 3-month bike trip from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (check our our blog at: www.crossingafrica.co.za).

Wearing a neck brace on a 3 month trip through Africa without any issues
I wore the Leatt brace for 90 days not-stop without any discomfort.

We got so comfortable wearing the neck braces that we almost felt naked without them. Ever since, I always wore the brace when going to bike launches, commuting to work or even just a quick dash to the grocery store. People may look at you funny with this thing around your neck, but heck… you are biker. What do they know, right?

How much do they cost?

They vary in price and you might even consider a second-hand one if it is too pricy (my wife almost sold hers the other day, but I stopped her). Here is a list of a few neck braces I found online at https://www.chainreactioncycles.com/neck-braces. No, I don’t earn any commission on sales… yet!

Brand and modelCurrent price (2020)
Atlas Air Neck Brace 2020$149.99
Atlas Air Brace Fire 2020$199.99
Leatt DBX 5.5 Neck Brace$248.49
Leatt DBX 3.5 Neck Brace$187.99 – $249.99
Alpinestars BNS Tech 2 Neck Brace SS19$270.00
Leatt DBX 6.5 Carbon Neck Brace$479.99
Prices as at May 2020.

If you’re spending between $500 and $1 000 on a helmet already, I would seriously consider investing in a neck brace for the extra peace of mind.

Conclusion

Adventure bike touring is one of the most satisfying ways to see the world. The freedom of riding long distances, carrying your food and gear with you is hard to beat in a car. But riding on two wheels is inherently dangerous. The single most dangerous thing of any multi-day bike trip is coming off your bike. Being far from home, or worse, medical assistance, it is important that you take precautions.

By riding defensively (no popping wheelies in Sudan like Charlie Boorman) and by wearing the correct protective gear you lower the risk of seriously injuring yourself in the middle of nowhere. The scientific evidence may not be conclusive. But due to the anecdotal evidence and the potential price to pay, I will continue to wear my neck brace.


Francois Steyn

I've been riding motorcycles since I was in school and have traveled thousands of miles on various bikes through more than 10 countries. For more info, check out my about page: https://adventurebiketroop.com/about-us/

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