3.5open jacket.jpg
3 Chest Protectors Reviewed

McRib and Leatt Upper Body Protection

Words Trevor Hansen
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Mar 1, 2022
Reading time

The Final Straw that Broke this Camel's Ribs

I spent a lot of time testing a big electronic DH rig last spring and summer. In the review, I wrote about breaking two ribs and blamed the amazing traction the Norco Range VLT provided for giving me a false sense of security. When I tackled a chute, that the Range ate up easily, on my Specialized Enduro on a dry dusty day, I lost control, dismounted and rolled into a stump breaking two ribs on the second day of my two-month summer holidays. After wallowing in self pity, I vowed to never experience rib breaks and bruises again.

Over the course of 27 years of mountain biking, I have broken ribs 3 times and bruised them bad enough to feel broken 3 other times. Clearly I need to learn how to crash better. Most of the breaks come from landing with my elbow smashing my ribs during the tuck and roll phase of the crashes. I doubt I can change the wipeout techniques I have developed and I know I'm not gonna stop riding so the only thing I can think of to deal with these rib issues is to get armoured up. That's where Leatt comes in.

Three Leatt Chest Protectors: Airflex | 3.5 | 4.5 Pro

Leatt has been in the moto and bike protection game for years. Their neck braces were everywhere in the mid 2000's but the range has expanded significantly. In addition to braces, Leatt offers helmets, shoes, outerwear, and a large inventory of protection including 30 models of various upper body armour pieces aimed at mountain bikers. When I was ready to start biking post-rib break, I reached out to Leatt to test some light gear (Airflex), mid-weight gear (3.5) and full-on moto gear (4.5 Pro).

leatt protection wheel chest protector 4.5.jpg

The Leatt protection wheel for the 4.5 Pro. With the shoulders off and the RF D30 in I got the chest, back and flank to 15/15. Throw on the elbow pads I have been testing from 661 and I'm 20/20 and hoping for the best with the shoulder at 0/5.

In October, when the 3.5 and Airflex protectors arrived, the weather was cool enough that I could wear them with a jacket over top, decreasing the visibility of my fear blankets and ipso facto my dork-o-meter. After riding those two new arrivals a few times each I craved the security of my 4.5 blanky and the 3.5-Airflex combo has been gathering dust ever since.

All of the braces are compatible with Leatt's neck braces, using removable padding to allow the brace to sit on top of each protector. They all have a pile of certifications like EN1621-3 Level 1 and EN1621-2 Level 1 and 2 and prEN1621-3 Level 2 Back, EN1621-2 Level 2 as well as FIM - International Motorcycle Federation Certified and FFM - French Motorcycle Federation Certified. All those letters and numbers are great but if the high adrenalin Frenchies in the moto world certify it it has got to be safe.

And finally they are all compatible with hip packs; back packs not so much.


Leatt Chest Protector 4.5 Pro

This solid piece of body armour is aimed at moto riders and Leatt does not even include it in their 20 piece mtb protection section. It offers the most flank protection of all their pieces. I'll get into that later.

The first thing I changed on the 4.5 Pro was adding the D30 inserts from my Race Face Indy elbows to the flank protectors. The thin layer of soft impact foam on the flank did not give me enough security as my latest breaks were in that area. I found when researching upper body protection most companies leave the flank unprotected which seems like a big miss to me. Leatt has a 5 point 5 area rating for their protection: shoulder, back, elbows, flank and chest. The 4.5 Pro rates the flank at 3/5 which I think is a bit generous considering how thin the foam is.

The next change was to take the shoulder pads off which is an easy velcro operation. The D30 added weight and bulk while the shoulder removals reduced weight and bulk so I came out about even.

The 4.5 can be found at many Leatt moto dealers. It retails for 270 CAD Motosport.com.

Leatt Chest Protector 4.5 Pro info


3.5open jacket.jpg

The Leatt Chest Protector 3.5 exposed.

Leatt Chest Protector 3.5

This one is lighter and more compact than the 4.5 while still offering a high degree of chest and back protection; though it's only 4/5 for chest but still 3/5 for back according to Leatt's wheel of ratings. There is zero flank protection so I gave it a few test runs for the sake of a few test runs and went back to my 4.5 safety blankey.

At around half the weight of the 4.5* the 3.5 is a less cumbersome option than the 4.5. I didn't feel the same confidence about the protection of the 3.5 compared to 4.5 with my added D30 but I appreciated how much more stealth it was and therefore easier on the ups than the 4.5. Like the other hard shell chest protectors, the 3.5 is meant to be worn outside your jersey. The good thing about its compact nature is that it fits well under a jacket thereby decreasing the dork-o-meter by two and half points.

*The 4.5 is 1660g with shoulder pads/1350g without vs the 3.5 at 750g

Our strong and free neighbours in Alberta have the 3.5 selling at 200 CAD

Leatt Chest Protector 3.5 info

Leatt Chest Protector Airflex

I wish I could feel confident wearing this lightweight super-comfortable protector but... I don't. They have rated this higher than the 3.5 with a total score of 9 vs the 7 for the 3.5 which is a bit surprising considering the 3.5 is bulkier with higher density plastic. The Airflex doesn't come with the fancy 5 point diagram (is it a Venn diagram? Let me know in the comments) so I am guessing they give those thin flank straps a couple of points.

flexfront.jpg

The Leatt Chest Protector Airflex offers minimalist lightweight protection.

The back extends lower than the 3.5 and 4.5 so there is a bit more sacrum/low back protection than those two but that's not what I am after. The safety material is ventilated soft impact gel. The Airflex has thin material that is labelled flank protection, though I don't see how that is going to do much other than prevent scrapes and low impact punctures. I wish there was a chest protector that offered the high flank protection of my D30 modified 4.5 with the lightweight super comfort of the Airflex and the hard shells of the 3.5. In the absence of this fantasy hybrid, the Leatt 4.5 Pro is an excellent chest back and flank protector that gives me confidence in knowing that my ribs may still stand a chance on my next oops drop and roll.

Airflex is flexing at 170 USD over at Jenson USA

Leatt Chest ProtectorAirflex info


Padding Up

There was a brief window in my riding when I ditched all protection I rode with on big gnarly days (upper body armour with chest, back, elbows as well as big knee pads and even ankle braces) and headed out with shorts, shirt, helmet and gloves. It felt great, especially in the summer but then the scratches, cuts, and bruises forced me back to wearing knees and, even though I disliked them, elbows. The thought of adding a bulky layer to my upper body in the heat of the summer, once I had rehabbed the ribs, made me claustrophobic and I overheated just thinking about it. In the end I sucked it up and wore the armour, starting with the 4.5 Pro.

I started wearing that chest protector in the middle of August so the heat wasn't as intense as June and July but still, the full torso wrap got the shirt soaked within minutes. After a few rides I got used to wearing it, though I did try to figure out ways to pack it during climbs to avoid feeling like I was trying trying to make weight for a wrestling match. I settled on leaving the flank straps unclipped which allowed for a bit more airflow and cooling. It was a little awkward on tech climbs but I managed. On shuttles and E-bike rides it wasn't a big deal and once the weather cooled down, I barely noticed it. The wrap of the full torso hug was like a security blanket for me and it made me feel whole once I was clipped in. I only had one fall on it during the test and it did the job; no bruising, no cuts, no breaks and zero pain.

It was all worth it for that one wipeout.

More info at Leatt.com

Trevor Hansen

Age - 57

Height - 5'9"

Weight - 175lbs

Ape Index - 0.992

Inseam - 31"

Trail I've been stoked on lately - Bukwus

Bar Width - 780mm

Preferred Reach - 465-480mm

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB

Comments

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
4 months ago
+8 Ryan Walters Mammal 4Runner1 Deniz Merdano Niels van Kampenhout Cam McRae Pete Roggeman grambo

First NSMB article my GF ever read over my shoulder and then asked me to send her the URL!

Reply

LoamtoHome
Jerry Willows
4 months ago
+6 Ryan Walters Cooper Quinn IslandLife Deniz Merdano Pete Roggeman Dave Smith

175 lbs?

Reply

rwalters
Ryan Walters
4 months ago
+2 Jerry Willows Dave Smith

Shots fired.

Reply

T-mack
T-mack
4 months ago
+4 Pepe Niels van Kampenhout finbarr Pete Roggeman

Sick review but whos your barber?!

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
4 months ago
+3 Niels van Kampenhout Pete Roggeman grambo

Haha T-mack - I love it. That's my Greek girl's Covid cut special. Leaves me with plenty of post-ride beer money and post ride hair trashing from the boys.

Reply

rwalters
Ryan Walters
4 months ago
+3 Jerry Willows Deniz Merdano Pete Roggeman

I'm sorry, but did you say there was bike gear in those photos? Couldn't see it through all the smoke.....

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
4 months ago
+1 Deniz Merdano

Good one Wally

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
4 months ago
+5 Ryan Walters Pepe Deniz Merdano Pete Roggeman AlanB

As Deniz was shooting for this he was salivating about the burns I was gonna get. I swear he lights and photoshops for maximus burning from the crew.

Reply

rwalters
Ryan Walters
4 months ago
0

Also, you're welcome for the inspiration for this review.

T-bone breaking hearts, while I seem to be better at breaking your ribs.

Reply

boomforeal
boomforeal
4 months ago
+1 Cam McRae

glad to see all of these options reviewed. i seem to acquire a set of broken ribs every couple of years and am getting a bit sick of them. trevor, would you say the (lower) coverage of the airflex and the 3.5 are similar/the same? it's a little hard to tell from the pictures, but it seems like the 3.5's lower panels run a bit wider, whereas the airflex's protection is more centrally concentrated

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
4 months ago
0

I would agree that the Airflex packs its punch in the centre compared to the 3.5. I still say as far as ribs go the 4.5 with D30 mods is the one as much as I want the Airflex with its lightweight comfort to be the one. I have experienced this same dilemma in many choices in my life...as many have I would guess.

Reply

Konrad
Konrad
4 months ago
+1 Cam McRae

I have been rockin' the Airflex Stealth Tee on every single ride. It's light enough both in weight and breathability that it does not hinder too much while pedalling. A light thermal layer underneath in the winter, a light moisture wicking layer under in the summer. It seems to have just the right balance of protection and weight for enduro. It will take the sting out of low-medium speed crashes and give some abrasion resistance. Not quite heavy duty enough for DH or gnarly park duties but I still wear it at WBP. Something like the Leatt 3DF Airfit Hybrid Body Protector might be better for DH/park.

Reply

Taz123
Taz123
4 months ago
+1 HughJass

The semblance to "Cable" from Deadpool 2 is uncanny. :)

Reply

khai
khai
4 months ago
+1 Cam McRae

I'm really curious to see when moto airbag technology will be refined for, and adopted by the mtb community.  I can see something like this being used for top tier DH racing, then trickled down and adopted by non-racing bike park riders, and possibly even those who pedal if it can be made breathable enough.  As it currently stands I can see it only really being a viable option for factory teams as the re-useability/re-deployment isn't awesome -  but there's so much potential...

Reply

Bermstyle
Jason Van Horn
4 months ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

Been thinking about adding one of these myself after an ebike get-off. 

It would be helpful for the readers if there was a shot of the back. A lot of Roost Guards are now being offered with additional spine coverage at the rear, which makes way more sense for repurposing moto gear for aggressive MTB use.

Reply

Carmel
Carmel
4 months ago
+1 Cam McRae

Bought this one last year looking for combined back and chest protection:
https://leatt.com/int/product/body-vest-3df-airfit?selected-color=5440

Flank protection is very limited, but the chest and back have a hard topshell. Very comfy if warm too wear, feels like it gives more protection than the moto style protectors.

Reply

syncro
Mark
3 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Ryan Walters

Learning how to take a fall is a good way to help reduce injuries. A good way to do that is by taking some intro BJJ or Judo classes and learning breakfall techniques. They aren't specific to mtb'ing of course, but something is better than nothing.

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

That's true...ish. Years of gymnastics and wrestling and I still revert to the flying squirrel dismount.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
4 months ago
0

Some serious Blue Steel going on here.

Thanks for the info, too! I’m slowly forcing my aging self to adopt more riding protection.

Reply

syncro
Mark
3 months, 4 weeks ago
+4 Jerry Willows grambo 4Runner1 Tremeer023

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

oh my oh my!!!

Reply

LWK
LWK
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

I just happened to be looking at some moto websites last night and then ended up at the Leatt website.  they have 2 additional protectors under the moto menu that offer even more protection, especially for the rib and flank steak areas.

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
3 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 LWK

Ya I saw those but thought they were way too big and bulky for pedal days.

Could just go with Bubble boy full protection

Reply

DanL
DanL
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

Have you had a look at the RaceFace flank core for comparison? Doesn't cover the ribs but does a good job of covering the spine and a little on the chest, although I'm not 100% sure that D3O on the shoulders would amount to much, being soft tissue and all

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
3 months, 4 weeks ago
+1 Konrad

I did look at it and dismissed it immediately for its lack of adequate protection.

Reply

khai
khai
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

Looks like Fox has stepped up their game with a couple of options that provide really good (based on the pictures) rib protection as well - the Raptorand the (even beefier!) Airframe Pro.  Neither looks like much fun to pedal in June-Aug, but for park use or if you really want that coverage while trail riding...

Reply

Tbone
Trevor Hansen
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

Those look like the perfect flank solutions. I couldn't see weight to compare but it's probably just as bulky as the 4.5 pro with my D30.

Reply

khai
khai
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

After reading a bunch of reviews where people consistently complained about screws falling out of their Fox Raptor as well as shoulder pad breakage I ordered an Alpinestars A-10.  Looks like as good if not better coverage overall and reviewers seem to rave about the airflow.  Now that might feel very different on an MX bike compared to slogging up hill pedaling, but especially when the coverage is this extensive, more ventilation is a definite plus!  I definitely think it will be cooler than the "pressure suit" style jackets as well as my RXR Bullet - which I do like but it offers no rib protection from the sides at all, and is pretty sweaty...

CE2 chest, back, and shoulders.  The shoulders appear to be removable and the website talks about "modularity" - but doesn't explicitly say that they can be removed.  I'll update when it arrives.

Reply

khai
khai
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

The A-10 arrived on Friday and it appears to be really well made.  CE2 chest, CE2 back, and CE2 shoulders - though I took the shoulders off as I don't love how they sit.  I'll probably try again to be certain but my initial bit of mucking around didn't leave me thrilled with how the shoulders on this piece sit and move.  The shoulders are a 2 piece design - the actual shoulder "cups" and then a "bicep protector" lower down.  You can run the full upper arm, remove the lowers, or remove the whole thing.

The rib protection is really good.  The chest and back are well perforated so I think airflow should be pretty good for something that's essentially making a sandwich out of my torso.  

It's designed to be neck brace compatible (even has little elastic loops on the shoulders to hook into a brace) and based on back to back trials with my RXR Bullet, the neck brace sits a bit lower in the back - eliminating that issue I had where I wasn't able to look up enough to see down the trail when dropping steep rock rolls or chutes.  The integration is really well done even with my non Alpinestars brace and I'll be happy to be able to run a neck brace again in the park.  

Based on preliminary "in home testing" I think this could be a winner.  Obviously I need to ride it to confirm, but it appears to be a really solid option thus far...

Reply

just6979
Justin White
3 months, 4 weeks ago
0

Spiderweb diagrams. Venn is the overlapping circles style.

Reply

el_jefe
el_jefe
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I just ordered the new Troy Lee Designs RockFight CE, which I'll use on moto and DH park days.... I like the D30 back (D30 insert is removable) and that one can remove the complete back (ie if I were wearing a pack which I thought was enough protection) and use the extra accessory back strap. There's 3 different versions on the website.

https://troyleedesigns.ca/products/rockfight-ce-chest-protector-black

Reply

cheapondirt
cheapondirt
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

Hey Trevor, I'm a bit younger with no history of injuries, just wanting some spine protection because the responsibility of parenthood is on my mind. Do you think something lighter like the Airflex is a good solution for me, or would you argue it's not even worth buying?

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.