Asterisk Cell Knee Braces
A pair of Asterisk knee braces is where it all started for me. Back when I was 14 and just moving up to full-sized bikes, I had a minor knee injury and my parents decided to step up my knee protection. I attempted to get my insurance to buck up for a pair of custom CTIs, to be one of the cool kids, but that didn't work...so off to Chaparral Motorsports we went to try on anything we could get our hands on. I walked out with a pair of Asterisk and those initial braces survived a lot; around three years of riding with three to four days a week of abuse was handed out before they finally went in to be serviced...then another year or two before their second rebuild. Once they finally kicked the bucket I had opportunities to try other products and have pretty much jumped through everything you can think of between now and then.
Along the way, I've found certain things I like about a lot of the braces on the market and really only one of two I didn't like but in all that time I hadn't looped back to Asterisk. Once I finally made it back, the company had gone through some changes and the braces are two generations newer than my original set of Cells.
Asterisk Cell Knee Brace Features:
- Asymmetri-Glide hinge allows for automatic tibia alignment of lower frame.
- Adjustable extension regulator from 0 to 30 degrees.
- Produced from a carbon fiber epoxy matrix.
- Includes anti-rotation tether.
- Includes a pair of undersleeves.
- MSRP: $699.00
Ending up with my latest set of Cells was an odd situation. During our 2018 450 Shootout back in August of '17, I crashed on our second day of testing and dislocated my wrist. Due to my focus on that, I didn't look at my gear before our final day of testing...once we arrived at the track I realized I snapped a knee brace from landing on my leg, right above my knee (hmm, explains the bruise). Anyhow, one of our test riders had a fresh pair of Cells that had never even been used, so I inherited them for the day and kept them for the following six months.
The latest Cells are quite comfortable right out of the box and simple to setup. I pulled them out of their wrapping in a hurry to start riding and since I don't need to modify the extension stops for me knees, I simply adjusted the four straps to fit snuggly on my legs. Due to the flexible top and bottom cuffs (the area that wraps around the leg), it has just enough give to mold around the leg as tightened but enough stiffness to stay put as I moved about before getting on the bike. The four straps themselves are fairly basic in layout, but the quality of the interior liners and velcro thickness plays a big role into how comfortable it is.
The liners have a good amount of cushion, with many points of my leg pressed up against the foam snuggly but comfortably, all within my usual size large. This combined with the strong but thin velcro means the braces stayed in place as I placed my riding pants on. The straps play a big part into this, as the velcro doesn't easily snag on the inside of the pant as each leg goes on. Beyond that, my leg is snug in the brace and the foam itself holds it in place to the point I could see the foam compress in a few spots after my initial rides. Once again, I didn't feel pressure points or any discomfort from the frame itself.
Another big factor in the fit was the movement between the lower and upper brace. Imagine your upper and lower brace frames being able to move side-to-side from each other just a bit, it's not slop as they feel tight but it allows the frames to align slightly to your legs. For me, I'm somewhat bow-legged so the ability for the lower frame to offset a little from the top allows it to settle on my leg more comfortably, where on some other braces I can feel a bit of pressure from the lower frame. Typically I'd run thinner pads on the inside of the brace and a thicker one towards the outside to align my leg a bit better in the brace. With the self-aligning joints, this wasn't needed.
On the Track/At the Track
Within a couple of laps on the track, I found the Cells to be right on the money. Normally with other brands I'll spend the first day swapping out padding, changing around the straps, and playing with any other adjustments to get them to contour to my legs and stay in place. This is where the Cells stood out as none of this was needed, mostly due to the self aligning hinges and internal padding all along the inside of the frame. Also, I could hold and control the bike just as I needed without the braces catching along the bodywork.
After a few weeks in the braces I really began to appreciate the balance between support and bulk the Asterisk Cell has. As far back as I can remember, not many braces I've tried had the support the original Cells I had...but most were much easier to move about in as the originals were bulky and restrictive at times. At first glance I thought the newest Cells might fall in that category as well, but once they're cinched down and the cuffs wrap around the legs they're thinner than they look.
Don't get me wrong, they're not the most streamlined set out there but they're a big step from the original. The patella cup that stays under the frame on the cell makes a big difference as well. When you're sitting on the bike, most patella cups sit on top of the frames and expand the knee material of the pant too much and create a binding feeling. The Cells however stay much closer to the knee and doesn't stretch the pant as much. However if the pant is just too tight, sliding sections over the top of the patella cup can be pulled against it and it could bind up a bit.
The anti-rotation tether offers a unique option that not other brace has, allowing the user to connect the boot to the bottom of the knee brace. This keeps the boot and brace in alignment, so if your foot catches and pulls around to the side, your leg will follow it instead of twisting at the knee and possibly tearing your ACL or Meniscus. I've personally tried the braces with and without it. I do prefer the rotation tether installed, especially as I have a problem with my left knee inflaming with minor twists. With the tethers I found if I caught my foot through a corner or in some sort of hole it would pull my whole leg back, instead of twisting the knee. In some cases this would pull back on my hip a bit but for me that was better than my knee taking the brunt of the hit.
The downside however is cutting your pants and boot to fit the tether receiver. If you have one pair of boots and just a few pants it's quite easy to get them all setup. In my spoiled case, I get new boots for photoshoots regularly and a couple pair of pants a month...so sometimes I don't go through the effort of setting them all up. When I get the time however, I do find the value in using the tethers.
With our time at the tracks involving photoshoots, I tend to wander around for hours with gear on. In this case I'd leave my braces on, sometimes with boots and sometimes without...and surprisingly the Cells do a great job of staying in place no matter what I do. I've never really found myself having to pull up on the braces or adjust them throughout the day.
Durability-wise, the Cells are certainly favorable. In the last six months this is the only brace I've ridden with and the only wear on the brace is a bit of rubbed off paint along the inside hinges. Now the actual wear on pants has been so-so, the hinges aren't sharp but there is enough of a gap between them that a bit of material can sandwich between them. If the leather or knee material is flexible it seems to get in that gap and chewed up a bit over time. I wouldn't call the wear extreme but it's a bit more than what the average knee brace does.
A bit surprise is how well the velcro and straps have held up. Usually around the six month mark I start to notice straps like these stretching or starting to fray a little. The Cell straps however still seems as good as day one, with the liner inside holding up very good as well...no noticeable tears or damage but one side did slip a little after four months. The liners inside are held on by velcro which is glued to the frame. One of the velcro circles had moved a little from the glue starting to come off. I took it out, wiped out that area of the brace and re-glued it. Since then, all has been good.
The hinges themselves are holding up great as well, with no noticeable wear or clunkiness in the joint...and the side-to-side motion is where I remember it being when I unboxed them.
The Last Word
With the amount of time I have in these braces and the ease of fit, the latest Asterisk Cell have become a real favorite of mine. The ability for the upper and lower sections of the frame to sit into place, and move over for the offset of your legs by a margin is quite helpful. The quality of the padding inside the braces and the straps keeps the brace in place, which is kinda surprising since the layout of the straps could be considered basic. Between the liners and the thin profile of the straps, I never had a problem with the Cells sliding down.
The layout of the patella cup is the only negative but a positive at the same time. With the knee part of the cup being under the two sliding sections, it keeps it close to the leg and eliminates some of the bulk other braces have by placing this outside of the brace frames, pushing against the pant and making it a very snug fit. With the Cell version being underneath I found it fit easily in most pants but had a slight tendency with certain pants to "eat" them. If the pant is loose and thin in the knees, the material could get caught a little in the patella cup as it goes back from bent to straight and slightly jam it for a second. In these cases, I had to have my knees collapsed or folded through the whole range to open the joint enough for the pant to catch. On the bike, this rarely happened, it was actually more of an off-the-bike thing.
The best compliment I can give these braces is I forgot I had them on during my first day on the bike. They're a great mix between comfort and support, along with bulk and movement. Not the smallest set out there but not overkill at the same time. At the moment I've just swapped over to the BOA reel version of this brace, the Ultra Cell, for a review on them. For those wondering the differences I'll keep it brief; the Ultra Cells offer more adjustment but are a bit bulkier. The BOA reels are so simple to setup and comfortable, but the lower reel can be a bit bulky in boots if you have a large calf-area such as myself. We'll put a few months on this set and report back on those as well.
Vital MX Rating - 4.5 Stars
In the end, the Asterisk Cell is currently the most comfortable knee brace I have in my collection. There is a few small digs, as I mentioned above, I did experience a few pants that would catch into the sliding patella cup as the knees are pulled tight against the braces. Secondly, joints of the brace weren't horrible on pants but not great, it wasn't the most abusive brace but I saw some generous wear on my pants. Asterisk offers a product called the Zero G pant which covers the whole brace to protect the inside of your pants...but it's a bit too warm for the summers in Southern California, so I don't consider it the perfect solution for my scenario but they work very well.
Beyond these little comments I love the Cells, when it comes to safety and comfort I can't praise these enough...I highly recommend them. For more information on the braces and accessories, head over to Asterisk.com.
About the Test Rider
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.
Review by Michael Lindsay // Photos by Michael Lindsay