Vital MX Shootout: The Best Neck Brace 1

Neck braces are a controversial piece of equipment but for those that trust the technology there's a few to choose from. So what's the best for features, range of motion and comfort?

Vital MX Shootout: The Best Neck Brace

No matter how many bikes, parts, and gear we review, there's one simple question that comes up repeatedly. How does product X stack up against product Y? We always try to relay as much information as we can in our regular reviews to help you make a choice, but we also know that some just want to see them go heads-to-head, and the popularity of our annual bike Shootouts prove that. With that in mind, we've decided to expand the Shootouts beyond bikes, placing competitive products in a straight-up competition out on the track. Each one will break down the product features, explain what we were looking for when comparing them, and ultimately rank them.

To kick this off, we've spent the last few months comparing neck braces. We're not going to sit here and convince you whether they work or not. Instead, we'll just give you our thoughts on each one. We wore each of them for a few days, and spent a couple days swapping them out between motos.

Below are the finishing positions and a couple comments about each brace and their history. After that you'll find an explanation on what we looked for in testing and then a bit farther down you'll see the breakdowns of each brace and the opinions.

First Place: Leatt 6.5 GPX

When the words neck brace are uttered, you probably picture a Leatt. Plain and simple, these guys created the market and have been in it the longest. Since then, they've continued to evolve their product with simple adjustments, multiple price points, and improved comfort. Read below to find out why it won, but to keep it a bit simple, it's the whole package in our eyes.

Shop the Leatt 6.5 GPX at BTO Sports or MotoSport.

Second Place: Atlas Air

Atlas came on the scene a bit later than most on the list, but hit the ground running with a lightweight and flexible brace that offered more of the simplistic and inhibiting approach that most motocross riders were asking for. For 2018, Atlas only has one brace in their adult lineup, the Air, which is updated and carries over many of the things that were great about the previous version.

Shop the 2017 Atlas Air at BTO Sports or MotoSport. The 2018 model, tested above, will hit retailers in a few weeks.

Third Place: Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support Tech Carbon

The first few years of the neck brace explosion were dominated by Leatt, but the second most prevalent brace to hit the market was Alpinestars. With athletes like Ryan Villopoto and Chad Reed switching from Leatt to A-Stars during this period, it the BNS (Bionic Neck Support) some serious momentum. The biggest points behind the BNS were the high range of motion it offered and inhibiting fit for some riders.

Shop the Alpinestars BNS at BTO Sports or MotoSport.

Fourth Place: EVS R4K Race Collar

Arguably the oldest neck protection company in the crowd is EVS, although most don't picture a neck brace as their product originated as the neck rolls we saw popular in the early 2000s and were more common amongst mini riders. Probably the least brace-like product in the class, it's more of a product that was born and evolved from their original roll until it finally reached the brace-like look of the latest version.

Shop the EVS R4K at BTO Sports or MotoSport.


How We Tested

Let's cut to the chase, we don't have the testing lab access to tell you which product is safer, and that's honestly not the point of this test. Our results are based off test rider opinion of features, options, adjustability, and the comfort on the track.

Individual testing is where we started, taking each brace out to the track on their own and spending a couple days in only that brace. With the initial fitment, we started off trying the braces with just a jersey on, and no under or over jersey protection. The braces were adjusted for the best fit and ridden with and without the provided retention systems. Basically, we let them float for a few motos and then strapped them down with what each brand provides. After this, we moved to running the braces with a hard under-shell protector. Once again, adjustments were made (if possible) to improve the fit and ridden without retention, and then with retention systems. Lastly we rode with a hard shell protector on the outside of the jersey, seeing how the braces fit under or on top of them. Then going out again to test with and without any straps.

After we spent some individual time with each brace, we gathered them all up and went back to the track with them to ride back-to-back motos. That allowed us to see what stood out on each brace when compared to the competition. We weighed our opinions based of the fitment of each brace, the ease to set them up for each situation, how adjustable they are, and how they were to ride with and without the strap/retention systems they provide. Also for testing, we tried out two different helmets for clearance. The two helmets used were the Bell Moto 9 Flex and the new Shoei VFX-EVO.


Best in Test: Leatt 6.5 GPX

Leatt 6.5 GPX Specifications

  • The frame is constructed of a carbon matrix with injected foam padding.
  • Clear external chest strap included.
  • The 6.5 GPX offered three forms of adjustment, including front and rear sliders, and three adjustments blocks for rear strut angle.
  • All adjustments are tool-less.
  • It's available in small/medium and large/x-large sizes.
  • Claimed Weight: 1.32 lbs.
  • Tested Weight: 1.37 lbs.
  • Price: $499.99

Leatt 6.5 GPX Sizing Guide

First Impressions

Leatt has been through a few generations of braces and while theirs is still a rigid platform like the previous generations, it's undergone quite a bit of evolution. The version we tested, the 6.5 GPX, is the top-of-the-line model made of carbon with integrated, injected foam padding along both sides of the brace. Gone are the days of the Velcro pads, which were a pain to keep clean and put on straight. The newest Leatt still opens from one side and pivots off the other, but with a much more simple single button system for opening.

Where things really shine for the Leatt is the amount of adjustability and how easy it is to do. Every other brace in this test requires tools for any adjustments, while the Leatt can all be done by hand and in a fraction of the time. Both the front chest area and the rear strut have sliders with multiple grooves to adjust how close or open the brace is in relation to your chest and back. These sections are held in by a latch that can be popped open with your fingers, slid forward or back a few millimeters and then latched back into place. This made the Leatt the easiest brace to set up as I moved from just a jersey, to under and over jersey protection. If the front or rear of a protector is thicker, you can adjust one end of the brace or both at different levels to keep the platform height and angle where you'd like it, as opposed to adjusting the rear and having the front push up, or the other way around.

Outside of the slider sections, the rear strut angle of the Leatt can also be adjusted via three different rubber blocks that go on the top of the strut and change the angle in relation to your back. These can also be changed with just your fingers, and make things a total breeze. Because of this adjustability, the Leatt is available in two adult size; small/medium and large/x-large as they can be manipulated to fit a large range of riders.

Less angle...
More angle...

As for the straps, the brace is provided with  clear straps that wrap around the chest. They attach to the bottom of of the front chest support and the bottom of the rear strut, wrapping under the arm pits.

On the Track

The Leatt was a little bit more noticeable than some of the other braces due to the stiffer padding and rigid frame, but the low deck height and adjustability made it fairly easy to adapt to. The real key to that was the simple adjustment with a tool-less design, it was easy for me to move the front and rear sections a little each way, until I found what suited me. Beyond that the third adjustment, which was done by fitting different thickness rubber blocks to the top of the rear strut, allowed a bit of extra comfort by changing the angle of the rear strut to match the curve of my back.

Swapping from no protector to an under jersey and over jersey protector was where the Leatt stood out for me, as it was so simple to adjust and make it work with each combination. The options for the retaining systems were also a big positive, as I could either let the brace just float, tuck the hooks over the shoulder into my jersey, giving it a loose but secure feel. There were also two straps options, one of which is provided, and the other optional. The one provided is a clear plastic with clips that wrap under your armpits that goes from the front to rear strut of the brace. The other, optional strap, goes under the jersey in an "X" pattern, coming out of the collar area of the jersey to latch around the hooks at the sides of the brace. For me, the under jersey straps or just using my jersey on the hooks were the most comfortable options.

As for the range of motion, the Leatt scored high for me on front to rear head movement, but moderate for side-to-side action. I honestly thought the Atlas or Alpinestars were slightly better in this department, but the Leatt still wasn't bad. Someone with a bit shorter neck length might find the Leatt a little too restrictive in this area.

Summary

The Leatt took the top spot for me as I felt it was the whole package. From the weight, to strap options and most importantly the adjustability...along with the ease of those adjustments. In my opinion, the Leatt GPX system is the easiest brace to buy and fit for your needs. The rigid chassis isn't as initially comfortable as the Atlas, but being able to fit it so precisely makes up for that a bit in my eyes, along with a wider range of chest protection to pair it with. The main downside is the price, as this carbon version costs $499.99. However, Leatt's 5.5 GPX sits in the same price range as the A-Stars and Atlas at $369.99, but is primarily built of polyamide...making it around four-tenths of a pound heavier than this model. That would put that brace around 1.7-1.8 pounds, the heaviest in this comparison.

Shop the Leatt 6.5 GPX at BTO Sports or MotoSport.


Most Comfortable: Atlas Air

Atlas Air Specifications

  • Flexible plastic frame.
  • Single button lock system under the chin bar.
  • Rear struts flex independently from each other due to open design, with a rubber cable that connects the two ends of the brace.
  • Height adjustment with thicker or thinner padding under side spars.
  • Rear struts offer six ways of adjustment through offset-able mounts.
  • Available in small, medium, and large sizes.
  • Claimed Weight: 1.27 lbs.
  • Tested Weight: 1.25 lbs.
  • Price: $329.99

Atlas Air Sizing Guide

First Impressions

It's immediately obvious that the Atlas Air is simple and light, along with being a bit different from the Leatt and Alpinestars by the fact that the whole frame is somewhat flexible. This is actually a big part of the Atlas design as they promote their brace for its flex and "suspension-like" qualities. From the front chest strut to the split rear struts, and even the frame itself...it has a certain give, flex and movement that has given them a solid following. The rear of the brace frame isn't actually connected or one pice like the other braces, they're independent from one another and the only thing holding them together is a rubber strap bridging the gap. This is mostly there to limit how far the rear sections can flex from each other and to keep the brace from falling into two pieces when you open the front of the Air to place it on.

The Air seems so simple you'd almost think there was no adjustment...well, at least I thought so until I read the manual. The Atlas does have two adjustments in this model, thicker padding that can go under the shoulder area (thinnest is equipped already), along with a multiple positions for the hinges on the rear struts. While I dislike using tools for adjustments, especially after using the Leatt system, the Atlas does keep it fairly simple using one size allen bolt to remove the struts and loosen the hinge's position into the strut. From here, it has three notches and the hinge can have its angle adjusted by switching which notch it settles in, then tightening things back down. The angle at center point is considered zero, with plus or minus 10 degrees to increase or decrease the angle at which the struts run along your back. You can also reverse the hinges and change the overall offset of the struts by 8mm, then use the three notches in that position for more adjustments.

Click any photo to expand.

In total, that means the rear adjustment has six positions to use. With this you can tweak the brace for the angle of your back, plus the thickness of your back and/or chest. Beyond that, the Atlas Air has the most base sizing options available for purchase with a small, medium, and large model available. Compared to the two sizes offered by the other brands in this test.

On the Track

Once I had the brace fitted properly, the Atlas really shone on the track for comfort. The deck height of the front, rear, and shoulder area of the brace are low; so they don't intrude much when riding and take very little to get used to. Although the brace is light, it was actually okay to ride a few motos without the strap system. Even though the Atlas Air would lift a little off the body, it would settle down again and stayed put in the corners...instead of lifting up and catching under my helmet. After a bit I tested the Air with the provided under jersey straps. These straps are in a "X" pattern but have a small plastic junction box that connects them and sits on your chest, under the jersey. These straps were functionally good, but if I ran them too tight I could feel that junction box digging in just a little. (Note: I found the A-Stars under jersey straps were more comfortable to use on the Atlas than the provided ones).

Once on, you pulled them through to the collar of the jersey to connect to floating hooks on the outside of the brace. This took a bit of practice as the hooks aren't the easiest to find and then a bit difficult to get the straps into (compared to similar systems on the competitors braces). But once in place, they were very secure and the fit was excellent. While strapped to your body the Atlas still retains a bit more comfort than the other braces as by design that bit of flex allows it to move with the body and not feel so rigid when pulled down on you with the straps.

Thinner and thicker padding to adjust the height of the Atlas brace on your shoulders.

The only negative for me on the track came from the split rear struts which sit on and near the shoulder blades. When under braking in the attack position, I found the brace lifted just a bit in the rear due to how my shoulders flex as my arms row back and forth in chop. I'm not sure if this push would be the same for everyone, but with my style, it was a little prevalent...depending on the section of the track and my stance. This also depended on the helmet a little as the Atlas Air does have a low deck height in the rear, even with the lift I barely noticed it with the Bell Moto 9, but on the Shoei with the extra ridges, it was a little irritating how it would catch.

Summary

The Atlas is comfortable, there's no doubt about it, and the simple/minimalistic design is probably the best for those who struggle to adapt to the size and feel of other neck braces on the market. I also found the Atlas to work fairly well without being attached to the body, but it was very comfortable when using the under-jersey retention system due to the frame's natural flex. Overall, my only qualms come with the adjustment of the brace, while unique and holding quite a few options with the rear strut...I feel like the fitment on this brace is a little more hit and miss based off the size of your body due to the lack of adjustability up front.

Basically, I'm saying that I think it's not as easy to fit as the Leatt in all situations. Beyond that, the split rear strut is comfortable but can make things a bit difficult with certain under or over jersey chest protectors. For me personally, as mentioned above, I feel this brace push up just a bit under braking due to how my shoulders move. All-in-all, I'll still label the Atlas Air as the most comfortable in the test, but not the overall package when taking everything into consideration.

For 2018, Atlas updated the Air model which we tested. Due to the updates and lower weight than the previous model, they've cut the carbon model from their lineup. This will be Atlas' only adult model and is available in eight colorways.

Shop the 2017 Atlas Air at BTO Sports or MotoSport. The 2018 model, tested above, will hit retailers in a few weeks.


Great Range of Motion: Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support Tech Carbon

Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support Tech Carbon Specifications

  • The frame is constructed from carbon polymer with lycra-laminated foam padding.
  • BNS adjustable through different length frame struts and different thickness padding.
  • Available in XS-M and L-XL.
  • Claimed Weight: 1.6 lbs.
  • Tested Weight: 1.61 lbs.
  • Price: $349.99

Alpinestars BNS Sizing Guide

Click to enlarge.

First Impressions

The Alpinestars BNS (Bionic Neck Support) brace is quite interesting compared to the others in this test as it's a rigid frame and made up of three main sections which can be disassembled in seconds. The rear strut twists and clicks into place, and once removed, it allows the two top halfs of the brace to separate when opened and you slip the key area of one side out of the other. This makes the BNS very easy to take apart for travel or to even wash it. Unlike the other braces in this test, which use a button to release the brace, the BNS uses a pull cord to open the latch at the center of the brace and allows the brace to pivot from the rear to open up, allowing your neck to slide in or out of the front of the brace.

As for adjustments, the BNS has two ways of doing this. First off, the padding under the rear strut, shoulder area, and the chest of the brace can be changed. It comes equipped with a thinner set of 6mm pads, but can have 10mm pads equipped in any combination of positions to change how the brace contacts the body. Beyond that, the BNS uses what A-Stars labels the SAS (size-adapting system) which is basically different length spars that connect the shoulder area to the front of the brace. The shorter struts make the brace smaller, and the longer stretches it out for a large chest area. The downside of this system is it needs tools to change and requires more disassembly than anything else in this test.

When first placed on, the BNS is a bit larger overall then the other braces, but is very comfortable due to the range of motion it offers. Alpinestars released the original BNS not too long after the original Leatt was hit the market, and their main focus was an improved range of motion compared to the competition. Retention-wise, the A-Stars BNS has one way of holding it to your body, a set of straps you wear under the jersey in an "X" pattern, coming out of the collar area and attaching to small hooks on the shoulder area on each side of the brace. This retention system is extremely simple, minimalistic, and very comfortable.

On the Track

Riding with the A-Stars was a bit interesting. Initially, with the amount of surface area it covers, I figured it would be the best to use without any sort of straps, but something about this brace makes it do the exact opposite of that. Within a few corners I had it pivoting on my chest and the brace was lifting up towards the outside of the corners I was hitting...meaning I was struggling to tilt my head as needed. I quickly came in to switch out to the provided straps and it helped immensely. Once these were in place, I found the BNS to be quite comfortable and I was impressed with the range of motion it offered. Front, front-to-rear, and side-to-side...I had no complaints.

I will say, though, out of the braces tested I felt like it was the most noticeable because of how low it sat on my chest and back, you could just "feel" the brace a bit more than the others when it sat on you.

As for protection integration, this is where I felt things got tricky with the Alpinestars brace. Due to that large surface area it covers, I noticed I had more problems fitting it with certain protectors, both over and under jersey. As suspected, the ones it worked best with were A-Stars branded items as they put a bit more effort into fitting them with the brace. Beyond that was the time it took to try and fit this brace with other protectors as every change of the SAS struts took more time than I'd have liked, then fiddling with the different pads to find something that was optimal.

Summary

It's been a few years since we've seen an update to A-Stars BNS, but in all, it still has some solid qualities. Standing out among them is the overall range of motion the BNS allows and for some that have struggled with head movement, this brace could be the solution. Also for a rigid frame brace, the padding system makes it quite comfortable. The downsides, however, are a little longer than most on the list. The first is the top-of-the-line model only being available in red, and the second more important one is the bulkiness of the brace itself. It's not heavy by any means, but just takes up a lot of space and is ultimately hard to combine with different chest protection unless it's one of Alpinestars own products. This is mostly due to the front/chin area of the brace, which extends down quite low.

Also, while the brace offers a decent amount of adjustability, it takes a bit of work to disassemble the components every time you want to make a change. Lastly, I wish the rear strut had some sort of the angle adjustment, as I found for a smaller rider such as myself and with my back curve, I would need more inward angle to get the best fit. In its current condition, the brace can move around a bit too much and I definitely need the straps to keep it in place. But one last positive, in my opinion, the A-Stars under jersey straps are better than anything else on the market and I found myself trying them on the other braces in this test...I would buy these straps no matter which brace I used.

Lastly, Alpinestars offers a cheaper BNS Pro which is made of glass fiber instead of carbon. This brace offers all the same features outside of weighing around two-tenths of a pound more, and it's available in white instead. It's also cheaper, at $289.95 and due to the small weight gain for a cheaper price and neutral color...we'd probably recommend the Pro version over the Tech Carbon.

Shop the Alpinestars BNS at BTO Sports or MotoSport.


Cheapest Option: EVS R4K Race Collar

EVS R4K Race Collar Specifications

  • Utilizes nylon upper shell and polyurethane foam base.
  • Koroyd materials in core sections for impact absorption.
  • Two-stage opening system with velcro and button latch.
  • Two-position rear strut.
  • Available in youth and adult size.
  • Tested Weight: 1.13 lbs.
  • Price: $199.99

EVS R4K Race Collar Sizing Guide

First Impressions

Currently listed at $199, the EVS R4K Race Collar is by far the cheapest option in this test. In the box you'll find the brace itself, an instruction manual, and some allen header tools to adjust the rear strut on the brace. The R4K is also provided with two different strap systems, one for over the jersey that connects to the brace through the velcro on the underside, and then there are a set of straps that go under your jersey and latch onto two hooks on the sides of the brace. Color-wise, the R4K is available in white with green accents or black with red accents.

Also from a quick glance, the EVS does give you flashbacks to their old rolls as it has a very simple platform area with a very short and small outrigger on the rear. The EVS frame is extremely flexible, so much so that it doesn't have a hinge or pivoting point for it to open, you just undo the velcro and latch at the front and pry the brace open. With the frame being made of nylon, there's enough flex to twist it open and allow your neck to pass through. The main point behind this flex is for the nylon frame and Koroyd inserts to offer damping and energy dispersion unlike a rigid framed brace.

What else is simple about the EVS? The sizing, as it's only available in youth or adult. When ordering, this had me quite curious as I figured there must be a decent range of adjustment with the brace, but this was my first negative as the only real adjustment is two positions for the rear strut. In the standard setting, the R4K was quite large and not suitable at all for my smaller size. So I pulled the bolt out of the rear strut, slid the angle forward until the holes had aligned with the optional hole and reinstalled. With the change the brace felt a bit closer to the right size, but the front and rear still didn't contact my body evenly like the other braces we tested.

On the Track

At first I ran the R4K without any straps and that didn't last long...due to front and rear of the brace not full contacting my body at the same time (basically, there was a large gap in the front to my chest if the rear strut was touching my body, or vice-versa). Because of this the brace flopped back and forth quite a bit, so I pulled it in and went for the straps. Both the over jersey and under jersey strap systems pull the brace down adequately, but I spent most of my time with the under jersey straps as they were my preference. With them on the EVS was now secure, while the gap is still prevalent, now the rear strut contacted my back a bit more constantly. On the track this was an improvement, but the overall height of the rear strut was a problem. The front offered enough room for my helmet, but the rear was high enough my helmet would contact as I looked up and down the track in the attack position.

This was sort of a dead-end street for me, as there are not really any other adjustment options with the brace. I tried adjusting the straps a few times to see if I could pivot how the brace sat on my body, but it would ultimately settle in a place that was restrictive for my position. The gap did thin up and work better when I wore a hard shelled protector under my jersey, but without it, I just couldn't get the brace small enough to work for me. Also, with my Bell Moto 9, the range of motion was tolerable, but with the ridging on the Shoei VFX-EVO, it was a no go at the rear. On the bright side, the short rear strut design did have a positive effect on how the brace sat during riding. As mentioned above, some braces tend to move a bit when the shoulder muscles flex but the EVS doesn't seem to contact those same places and was in the same position no matter what my shoulders were up to...it just wasn't the prime position I would've liked in the first place.

As for fitment with chest protection, it's actually quite excellent. Due to the front of the brace not having a low chest plate like the other in the test and the rear strut also being short, there's not much to interfere with an under or over jersey chest protector. The only thing that gets in the way is the overall width of the rear strut can be a tad bit wide for some shoulder straps, as they come over the back to the rear part of the protector.

Summary

Like any other safety device, if you have a chance...try one on! The EVS R4K was at the bottom of our list due to the rear deck height in relation to my helmet, but front movement was excellent and side-to-side was moderate. The flex and impact absorption of the nylon chassis and Koroyd inserts is also a nice addition, giving a little less worry towards concussions or collarbone snaps. Finally, it's fairly cheap! Around $150 less than any brace in the test.

Shop the EVS R4K at BTO Sports or MotoSport.


About the Test Rider

Michael Lindsay // Age: 25 // Height: 5' 8" // Weight 155 lbs.
Riding Experience: Somewhere between really good and really bad...

Michael Lindsay - is a born-and-raised moto freak and gearhead from the heart of motocross in Southern California. First swinging a leg over a bike at the age of five, he immediately caught the racing bug, spending nearly every weekend behind a gate…and a lot of time on the couch while injured. While swinging back and forth between moto and the off-road scene, giving him a wide range of experience on the bike. Of course, all of this led to one thing: Lindsay loves working on his bikes almost as much as he loves talking about them. When he’s not in the Vital MX forum or writing his latest product review, you can find him out at the track taking dirt naps, snapping some pictures, or drooling over the latest parts for his bike. With an outspoken personality, gearhead background, and as Vital MX’s guru for product, Michael is here to share his unbiased opinion.

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