While the recent surge of debilitating neck injuries being suffered by professional MX racers has prompted a matching surge of media attention and a rash of articles about neck safety, in reality this issue is one that should always be in the forefront of any motorcyclist’s mind. Most experienced riders (both on- and off-road) know that crashes are inevitable, and take all possible precautions to minimize their injuries when a crash does happen. While most riders these days seem to be pretty well covered as far as protective gear for their body and head, neck protection (and thereby the prevention of neck injuries in an accident) is an area that has received too little attention for too long.
In recent years, we have seen some motocross racers begin wearing a small foam collar attached either to the top of their chest protector or the bottom of their helmet – the purpose of this collar being to prevent the head from being rotated too far forward, back, or to either side. We applaud the designers of these collars along with those smart enough to wear them, but we do feel that a device made solely of foam can only be so effective – in a crash where a large amount of force is applied to the helmet, it is the opinion of at least one expert that it is possible that the foam could be compressed to such a point where it merely acts as a fulcrum point around which the neck is bent. It would appear that ultimate protection would require an innovative design combining energy-absorbing foam with some type of rigid ‘backstop’ material.
In the world of automobile racing, a piece of safety equipment called the HANS device has been quickly gaining popularity in recent years. In December of last year, the FIA (the world’s largest automobile racing sanctioning body) announced that HANS devices would be mandatory for drivers and co-drivers in all FIA-sanctioned races and series, begining on January 1, 2008.
So why don’t motorcyclists have the option to purchase a similar piece of protective gear? Well, they do now: a company call Leatt Brace has recently released a neck bracing system of the same name, designed and engineered specifically for motorcyclists.
The Leatt Brace was designed by Dr. Chris Leatt, a South African neurologist who also races both on- and off-road motorcycle events. After extensive research into the types of neck injuries commonly received by motorcyclists involved in accidents (check out the link titled ‘Research Article’ on the Leatt Brace website), Dr. Leatt concluded that no currently available protective device provided an adequate level of defense against all of the most common neck injuries, and set out to design a product that would provide the necessary protection, while still being comfortable and easy to put on, and without impeding any actions necessary to riding.
The result is the Leatt Brace, and it is already gaining popularity with European racers like Dakar rally rider Cyril Despres and English MX champ Paul Cooper. But professional racers aren’t the only ones vulnerable to serious neck injuries – these injuries could just as easily occur in everyday street or off-road riding, or in any form of amatuer motorcycle competition.
We’re excited that Dr. Leatt has taken his time to address an underserved section of the protective gear market by applying his medical know-how and research skills to design what looks to be a truly effective neck brace device. Motorcycle Daily has contacted Leatt Brace to request a brace for evaluation – we hope to have a Leatt Brace in our hands soon to begin evaluation for a future ‘Product Review’ article.