How Mountain Biking Gear Works

Mountain Biking Armor

How much would you like to bet that this guy's wearing armor?
How much would you like to bet that this guy's wearing armor?
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

For those who can't fully enjoy the great outdoors without the threat of death or disfigurement, welcome to the world of downhill mountain biking and freeriding!

In downhill, riders try to negotiate a tight course of jumps, drops and unfriendly terrain (rocks, steps, mud, etc.) and finish in the fastest time possible, preferably alive. In freeriding, it's more about style than speed, which usually translates into a lot more jumps, ramps, drops and airtime.

As a short visit to YouTube will confirm, extreme mountain biking carries a high potential for injury. That's why professional downhillers and freeriders gear up with serious protective equipment called armor. Quality armor can make the difference between walking away from a wipeout and being carried away.

Downhill and freeriding helmets are different than the standard mountain biking helmets. They're designed purely for protection, not style or comfort. They're "full face" helmets like BMX or motocross helmets, fitted with goggles or visors to protect the eyes and nose during high-speed crashes.

If you're going to be getting a lot of air, you need to invest in a spine protector. This is a stiff plastic board that runs the length of your back and protects against potentially crippling spinal cord injuries. Neck collars offer further protection against spinal injuries.

For the rest of the upper body, you can buy special jackets and jerseys that come with built-in chest, shoulder, elbow and forearm pads. For the lower body, you can buy full-length bicycle pants with built-in knee pads, shin guards, hip pads and even tailbone pads designed to protect that fragile coccyx.

Next up, let's look at a GPS to meet your mountain biking needs.