One of the most controversial pieces of equipment since cow print baggies. Neck braces have been on the scene since the early 2000s and have always split the industry. The point of the neck brace is to slow down and spread out the force of a possible spine injury by supporting the neck during impact. However some riders believe neck braces can hinder their ability to ride well and a few believe they can cause injury instead of preventing it.
There are many brands out there but Atlas has one of the most low profile, lightweight options at a very reasonable price point. I knew if I was going the join the neck brace for life club, it would be an Atlas brace as a rival brand left a bad taste in my mouth years ago.
The Atlas Air brace uses a simple but smart design. It doesn’t feel bulky and is incredibly lite without sacrificing any of its safety features. It’s made of flexible material and simply snaps around the neck in seconds.
I’ll pass on the typical review layout where I ramble on about the features and history of this product and get to the real reason you’re here. How does it feel and will it impact my riding? We feel that off-road and enduro riders were left out of any reviews we read and knew there were more questions to be answered.
Customers of mine are always asking “is it really that hard to look uphill?” “Will it fit with my hydration pack?” “Will it restrict my movement?”. In order to find an answer, the folks at Atlas Brace Canada were nice enough to send me a brace for testing to answer these questions for myself, our readers and my customers.
I used the Atlas brace over the last few months of the season in an array of different terrains, styles and conditions. I used it with nothing but my moto gear at times but I also used it with upper body armour and hydration to get the fully loaded effect.
My first piece of advice is to use the brace with the included chest straps. I consider these mandatory. I found if I wasn’t using the straps, I’d be constantly reaching and re-adjusting the brace. Especially if I had a hydration pack on with it. Using the straps keeps the brace perfectly in place with no discomfort to the rider.
I only needed to make a few small adjustments to the brace right out of the box. Otherwise it was click on and go. My first experience with the brace would be on a turn track with some berms, ruts and small jumps. I won’t lie, initially it was hard not to notice the brace while getting geared up. However I wasn’t nervous, even a new set of bars will feel strange at first. Just like those college years, it’s all about experimentation.
Once I did a few warm up laps and started riding at speed, I forgot about the brace almost instantly. Since there was no elevation at this spot, looking up was obviously not a problem. Even shoulder checks were only mildly hindered by the brace. By that I mean yes, there was contact between the brace and my helmet when looking back but it didn’t prevent me from executing the shoulder check. The brace was most noticeable when trying to look down at my bike for any reason. You could still look down successfully but the chin bar would hit the brace every time.
The elevation effect
This is where I had the most concern about wearing a neck brace. Before this Atlas brace, my only experience was with one of the earliest braces on the market of a different brand. With that brace, you’d have trouble looking forward let alone trying to look up a steep climb. After my initial test, I already knew the Atlas would be a massive improvement from what I had remembered.
For a good portion of a test ride in some advanced single track, I forgot I was even testing something. This is a very good thing for the Atlas brace. Any elevation found in these trails forced little to no contact between my helmet to the brace when looking forward or up. This myth has no business being applied to the Atlas brace. Unless you’re looking for birds, this brace will not keep you from looking up. Although I’m not stamping that with a Hoodsmoto guarantee, certain body types and helmets can cause a different result. In my opinion, except for a select few, anyone saying they couldn’t look up with an Atlas brace is either a hobbit or wearing their helmet a couple of sizes too big.
The flip side
Although impressed, I wasn’t ready to get my Atlas brace tramp stamp just yet. An enduro rider can get themselves into some pretty precarious situations. I didn’t consider a Sunday trail ride to be enough of a gauntlet.
I decided to replicate the most frustrating, heart rate spiking parts of any hard enduro and ventured to some climbs I have trouble making it up. Since it’s designed to be in an “on the bike” riding position, I knew this is where I may find the Atlas braces limits. My field of view was unhindered by the brace until my talent ran out. This is where the limitations on looking down would make an impact. As I got stuck on a root mid way up a nasty climb. I needed to dismount and clutch the bike up over the root but couldn’t look down far enough to see what was going on with rear tire, just had to feel it out.
Later on, another failed climb would have me trying to turn myself around on a very steep section and the limitation on looking down was noticed again. It didn’t prevent me from performing the maneuver, just had to feel my chin bar against the brace a lot during the wrestling match with my bike.
The remainder of my time with the Atlas brace was problem free. Now that I have been running it for several months, I’ve adapted to the few very minor restrictions and hardly notice them (even when getting stuck). Just like any new piece of equipment, there is a break in period. However in this case, the product doesn’t need breaking in…The rider does.
If you prefer to run a plastic exterior worn chest protector, I would only recommend using the Atlas defender. These pieces of armour do have to be made specially for the brace in question, I tried fitting it with a few chest protectors I had on hand and it wasn’t happening. Not comfortably at least.
If you wear an under the jersey soft shell type of armour, the Atlas brace fits nicely with most of these out there. I didn’t have any issues fitting the Atlas Air brace over any of the soft shell armour I could get my hands on. I wouldn’t recommend pairing it with the armour jackets that have massive plastic chest and back panels though. You need to make sure your Atlas brace is in direct contact to you and not on top of another piece of armour.
Because of the smaller profile of the Atlas brace, I found no issue with any hydration pack I had. Kriega, Fox, Leatt and Klim hydration pack straps all fit nicely with the Atlas brace. Even bundled up for cold weather riding, I was still able to mount the Atlas without trouble. The more bundled I was however, I did find it harder to use the chest straps.
Overall I had a great experience with this brace. The only pitfalls I was able to find were some minor limitations on looking down in certain situations and some other minor contact between the helmet and brace. The moments I found these limits in make up for less than 5% of the riding I do, so I wouldn’t call these a deal breaker. For me, the fact that the Atlas brace could hinder your movements and result in less riding ability doesn’t seem to hold water. With the exception of not being able to look down at my unit when pissing in unfamiliar plant life, the Atlas brace did not impact any of my ability.
Having said that, there are hundreds of helmet designs out there and even more body types that could change your end result. How the brace feels on you can be different from what I experienced. Some riders are more animated than others and have completely different requirements from their protective gear. I’d encourage you to try the Atlas brace on at your local dealer with a helmet on. This will give you an idea of what to expect.
Thanks for reading, feel free to reach out with any questions you may have.
Get more info on Atlas brace and check out the colours for 2019 at the link below.