Think about this for a second: a decade ago there were not even a handful of motocross-specific knee braces available...and even fewer that were affordable without a prescription. Today, there are so many knee brace options that it’s difficult to keep them straight. Just think of how many ACL’s have been saved in the last decade. Thanks, technology and competitive marketplaces!
While many of the brace options come from companies that specialize in knee and joint protection, a few more moto-centric businesses have entered the fray as well. One of those companies is Troy Lee Designs with their Catalyst X Knee Brace.
The Catalyst X has actually been around for a few years now and has proven itself enough that several top-tier pros wear the brace, including a few Lucas Oil/TLD/Honda riders. While the Catalyst X follows the same basic principles of the vast majority of other braces (upper and lower frame, hinge system, hook and loop closure straps, etc.) there are plenty of features that make it unique.
First off is the frame itself, which is mainly aluminum (powder coated white, of course) with flexible stainless steel sheathed in plastic placed at the top of the thigh and around the side of the shin to allow for conforming fitment while riding.
The knee cup is something similar to a skateboard-style kneepad and uses a semi-free-floating design to keep it centered over the patella.
To keep things secure, the strap system uses a numbering system to ensure the user has the right fitment and to minimize slippage. In addition, the Number 1 strap (at the top of the calf and just below the knee) also has two beads of soft silicone to keep everything in place.
I have to admit, when I first got ahold of the Troy Lee Designs Catalyst, I was a bit skeptical about the aluminum construction. The reason many companies have gone with carbon fiber-based knee braces has to do more with flexibility than weight. Carbon can be designed to be as strong or as flexible as desired. Thus many knee braces take advantage of these properties to create a product that will remain rigid in normal circumstances, but can also flex or even break when necessary. On a knee brace, the most important areas for crumple zones are at the very top and very bottom to avoid broken femurs and tibias.
Aluminum is not quite as inherently dynamic in its flexing properties as carbon fiber. In fact the metal is quite rigid, but it is also lightweight and far less costly. The steel/plastic portions at the top and bottom of the brace help compensate for the aluminum’s rigidity in addition to aiding in fitment.
The Real World
When first strapping on the Catalyst, a few aspects are immediately noticeable. For starters, the brace is probably one of the shortest I have ever worn. Granted, I am 6’3, but I typically wear a large size with most offerings to achieve the proper width in the joint area. However, most braces are still long enough below the knee that they will slip about one or two inches into the top of my boots. Not so with the Catalyst X.
I found that the TLD brace fell just short of reaching the top of my boots. During normal riding, this really has little meaning, and if anything allows for more ventilation in and around the shins. In the event of a crash, however, having two separate rigid elements (the bottom of the brace and the top of the boot) right next to each other but not connected, could potentially create a fulcrum in the center of the tibia; in other words, a point of potential bone fracture. Of course I’m thinking worst-case scenario here, but it is something to keep in mind. Bear in mind that the Catalyst X will fit everyone differently as well.
Aside from the length, I have been very comfortable with the Catalyst X from a protection standpoint. While the hinge system is fairly basic, utilizing a dual pivot system, it is also very solid and comfortable. Once I had the proper fitment (I needed to swap to thinner condyle pads to allow for enough room when my knees were bent) I felt right at home with the braces. There have been several instances in which the brace kept my knee in place after catching a foot in ruts. Of course, I should probably just try to do a better job of keeping my feet out of ruts to begin with, but that’s moto and things only go how you really want them to about 50 percent of the time anyway.
One of the aspects of braces that I always pay close attention to is the interaction with the side of the bike, and the Catalyst X passed that test with flying colors. As Ace Ventura would say, “Like a glove!” The feeling of the brace when squeezing the bike with your knees feels completely natural: no strange pressure points on the inside of the knee, and no hang-ups on the outside. The bike interaction was practically seamless; these fall into the category of braces that actually give you more control of the bike. Not all knee braces have that distinction.
Further in depth on the hinge, there is a extension stop system that can be swapped out with a small Phillips screw to change from a range of 0ºup to 25º, while the flexion stop (a rarity on MX braces) can be changed from 45º, 60º, 75º, and 90º.
As I have already mentioned, the Catalyst X is quite comfortable, and this comfort is taken one step further thanks to the Number 2 and Number 5 straps, which are essentially the same. Let me explain.
Both straps are located just above the knee, and unlike any other brace I have used, completely wrap around your thigh. Attached to the frame by a pivoting rivet, once cinched down the 2 and 5 straps help the brace match the contour of your thighs, which are constantly changing size and shape during riding. Most braces have two flexible pivot points attached somewhere near the back portion of the frame, and therefore only have a strap that goes across the back of the hamstring. The rigid front portion of the frame then completely relies on the strap to keep everything in place. The Catalyst X’s Number 2 and Number 5 strap is one of the best systems I have encountered in a knee brace.
Finally, my only other major quibble with the Catalyst X is the bash protection. While the patella cup/guard is very comfortable, I would like to have a bit more protection where the Number 2 and Number 5 strap is located. For anyone who has ever smashed the bottom of their thigh against the bottom of the handlebar or clutch perch, you know how tender and painful that can be. I would like to see some type of plastic guard to help disperse the load of any potential impacts.
Hard Boiled Truth
So, what do all of these observations, critiques, and praise boil down to for the Troy Lee Designs Catalyst X Knee Brace? Although the brace has been on the market for a few years, this is still the company’s first foray into proper knee protection. From an actual bracing and joint protection standpoint, the Catalyst X is an excellent option. I would say the same goes for fitment. Security is also top notch; once the brace is secured properly, it will not move out of place.
Again, I would like to have better impact protection, and while the length of the brace is a point of contention, after checking with other rider who have used the Catalyst X, I found that my lack of brace and boot interaction is not universal.
Overall, the Troy Lee Designs Catalyst X Knee Brace a solid option that is not overly complicated.
For more information, visit www.troyleedesigns.com.
About the test rider:
Bayo Olukotun has been riding dirt bikes since he was nine years old. Far from a child prodigy, Bayo (pronounced “bio”) spent countless hours learning to ride from watching Seals Communications’ epic crash video, Thills, Spills, and Chills hosted by Dave Despain and Larry Maiers, Fox Racing’s Terrafirma series, and endless replays of the 1992 AMA Camel Supercross Series. What he didn’t learn from sitting in front of the television he acquired from racing on AMA District 6 tracks and instructing the Tony D. Motocross Schools for far too long. Nowadays, Bayo considers himself to be a top SoCal pro practicer, but still enters the occasional Loretta Lynn’s qualifier so that he might one day be able to call himself one of the best “never-was-a-pro-over-30-year-old-with-the-resources-to-race-at-Hurricane-Mills” riders in the country!