Author: Michnus Olivier / Published in SuperBike Magazine February 2018.
It is a good question, and we only really came to think about it when Elsebie ran out of luck fifteen years after starting to ride off-road on dual-sport bikes. But we’ll get on to that a little bit later.
Most riders buy the obligatory protection for use with a dual sport adventure bike. Helmet, jacket, pants, gloves, super strong enduro boots and they are off. Why riders would think buying super protective enduro boots but not proper knee-braces is a mystery. At least these days more riders use neck braces as part of their kit. I think because suits and pants normally come standard with knee pads, riders accept that they are adequate enough for protecting knees and trust the clothing brand to know best
We have better technology today, lighter stronger materials to offer us protection so why not use these advantages? The same with neck braces. Obviously it feels much better having less kit than more, and you do not want to get to a point where it is better to just not ride and get a safer hobby instead, like playing chess. Many riders today can not afford costly medical bills or be off work or suffer ailments from injuries when older. Most importantly why risk injury and thus not being able to ride when it is possible to utilise the technologies, advances and materials we have today to stay safe?
Elsebie’s knee operation to her three ligaments in Mexico cost 20000.00 USD (R249999,00) and two months of sitting around doing nothing. And it was a silly parking lot drop fall that twisted her knee. She had to wear a knee brace daily for the first 6 months. The cost of knee surgery is truly expensive and not even to mention what that will cost in the USA. In many cases, you are never 100 percent after a serious knee injury, in some instances it can put an end to your riding days.
For this article I tried to get some info on knee injuries and spoke to various people that might have more information. When I mention to our enduro friends whom are also adventure riders I was stunned by how many had knee or ligament injuries and had undergone operations.
Matthew Snyman medical Doctor and seasoned adventure rider: “The topic of knee braces in adventure riding is a really interesting one, and is definitely a topic that needs to be payed more attention.
Its incredibly interesting to look at the evolution of the safety equipment that is readily available to us today. From their exclusive inception into the world of motor racing, items like the helmet and seatbelt, amongst others, have become indispensable, everyday safety equipment on nearly every road on earth. Something once thought of as ‘overkill’, ‘unnecessary’, ‘too uncomfortable’ or even elicited comments like ‘what a wuss’ have become unimaginable to ride without.
We can see it happening in front of our eyes, for example: take a look at the neck brace, a piece of equipment well into its evolution, whereas another piece of equipment which is only starting its journey into mainstream adventure-riding is the full knee-brace.
Currently this kind of brace is worn nearly exclusively in enduro and motocross, to the point where it has become a ‘must-have’ piece of kit for anyone who takes the sport seriously. So why not in adventure biking? The amount of knee-injuries which occur in adventure riders is significant, and if you can tear ligaments in your knee riding a feather-like enduro bike off-road what makes you think you can’t do the same with an often over packed (guilty as charged), heavy-as-hell adventure bike? You can… easily…
One needs to remember how these injuries happen: The knee is extremely strong and extremely fragile at the same time, this is because all joints have to balance mobility with stability. The more mobile a joint, the less stable it is and vice versa, and the knee is incredibly mobile.. The knee has a tough job to do, not only is it supporting the weight of your entire body above it, its has to flex, extend and, to a small degree, rotate in either direction whilst doing it, and the only things keeping it together are a few ligaments here and there, each of which performs a vital and unique function.
Now add a fully packed adventure motorcycle.
Now add deep sand.
Now add 80km/hr
And then a speed wobble and an off.
Screwing up your knee is not like breaking a bone, with a small amount of force and just the wrong angle, you can completely mash your knee, threatening your trip, your budget, and the function of one of your most important joints for the rest of your life. Its frighteningly easy to do. Essentially what a knee-brace does is re-enforce all of these ligaments, giving every one added strength and preventing the wrong movements or too much of the right ones, giving you a far more stable, solid joint.”
Says Suzie a physiotherapist and overlander from the UK: ”In outpatient physiotherapy I see a lot of knee ligament and meniscal injuries for many different reasons and in people of all ages, and many of these could be avoided especially in the world of off-road motorcycling. Take my partner Kelvin for example. He never wore knee braces, but enjoyed getting on his TE450 or DR650 and adventuring off-road, and he’s done it for years. Then one day while green-roading, he put his foot down on a slippery surface whilst at a stop, his foot slid out to the side and the weight of the bike went onto his leg quite hard.
Now, if he’d had a brace on, it would have likely been fine, however the varus stress on the knee joint and slight twist without support caused his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to fully rupture, his medial collateral ligament (MCL) to strain and his meniscus to tear. End result: many weeks of recovery, and then 10 months later an operation to reconstruct the ACL and trim the meniscus, with several weeks on crutches both times around and months of rehabilitation to get back to off-road riding. Long term, he’s now much more likely to suffer with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee and at an earlier age than if he hadn’t have had the injury.
Obviously knee braces will only do so much, if you have an extreme impact then the brace is designed to fail, which is sensible, but where they are especially useful is the common low level, low-force traumas that can cause serious injury to the knee if unprotected. Kelvin and Elsebie are both prime examples of this and there are many more.”
From a study done in 2011 with the The American Journal of Sports Medicine the following is quite telling. “The most common injuries involved the anterior cruciate ligament, menisci, and medial collateral ligament. Of the riders sampled, the largest group are over 35 years of age. Those riders also had the highest percentage of brace wearers (69%).” From the report the older the rider and with greater experience, more wore the braces. So with age comes wisdom? “Prophylactic knee braces is defined as a knee brace worn by a rider with the intent of preventing an injury to the knee.”
There are three different types, the knee pads which are the pads that come standard with most motorcycles pants. They basically only protect from impact to the knee and nothing else. The second is knee guards which look a bit like a knee brace but is not. They also mostly protect for impact to the knee and shin.
Knee braces protect for hyper flexion, hyperextension, twisting, knee protection and shin protection. There are various brands offering full on knee braces which you can consider. Even custom made knee braces. But do not be fooled by the ones as mentioned in a few articles that looks like knee braces but are only knee guards with straps.
Why we got the Leatt knee braces? As we knew Leatt is a well know and respected brand and the inventors of the Leatt neck brace, we decided to invest in them. Dr Leatt and his team are well known in this field. Many of the brands are accessory manufactures not medical specialist like the Leatt team. Also they have distributors around the world that we could obtain spare parts if need be. We do not have to get them custom fitted and the Leatt brace will fit 95% of people when and if we decide to resell.
Leatt C-Frame Knee Brace
Fit and function: To date we have done 42000km with the Leatt C-frame knee braces and at first it took some getting use to fitting them properly and getting accustomed to them while riding 5-8 hours a day. We wear KLIM suites and the braces fit well under the pants. I am sure it won’t work with narrow cut pants.
Once we got the braces fitted properly it felt as if we had bionic limbs and they were easy to ride with. After a while we actually forgot that we were wearing the braces. I can work and fix a flat tyre bending down and it has no restriction due to the innovative hinge design.
We had a few other spills and drops on dirt road since we started using the braces and it is much more comforting, reassuring and a solid feeling having the braces on. In addition the braces also protect the knee caps from injury when going over the handle bars or hitting tar.
The polyester leggings that are supplied with the braces are good for day riders and maybe if used for two or three days, but not prolonged use. We got rid of them in exchange for Merino wool. Merino is cooler and even when used for a week it will not stick up. Our use of these braces took us through hell-hot Central America and even then it was livable.
The C-Frame comes standard with different sized stops that limit your knee range to within five degrees of full knee extension in stock configuration. Extra stops are included, and can limit knee range to less than 20 degrees of full knee extension.
With the adjustable calf and thigh velcro cuffs and an excellent strapping system, they can be made fit perfectly every time.
There are some sizing points and this allows for different size legs. So if you get fat or skinny you can adjust the braces accordingly. Or when wanting to sell them you are not stuck with a custom fit made set.
Durability: One big benefit of investing in a set of knee-braces is that unlike other protective gear the knee braces, if not completely destroyed, or a person’s physical size does not change, they can be used for a lifetime. Leatt sell spares for their braces if and when they need replacing. These braces are built tough. They are not some flimsy quick rip-off design from another brand and they use proper quality materials. They will be able to handle years worth of abuse, wear and tear.
Brace design: The Leatt C-Frame knee brace is a one-sided hinged brace that is designed to protect the kneecap from impact, prevent joint hyperextension, and reduce twisting injuries by providing stability to the knee. The C-Frame brace main parts are manufactured from aluminum, and carbon fibre. The brace’s three-point force distribution with super stiff forged C-arm mono hinge construction as well as reduction of forces to limit knee injuries (ACL, Meniscus and MCL) Leatt designed it with built-in fracture points, and the C-frame chassis protects you by breaking before you injure your shin or thigh bone. The C-Frame Pro also have a shin bone section with a load distribution plate that is super low-profile.
The design of these braces are the same as the hinge movement of the knee which makes walking and using the brace non intrusive. Leatt designed the C-Frame in a way that it doesn’t put pressure on the femur which has been a major problem with similar braces.
The brace is low in profile, and doesn’t get snagged or caught on your riding pants liner. The aluminum knee joints are clean and rounded, and will not rip up your pant knees and motorcycle paint work or seat covers like many braces do.
What needs looking out for on the C frame brace: There are 10 Allen head screws used in the brace and they are not lock type screws, so over time they come loose. It is good to check them every now and then to make sure that they are still tight.
Some points of choosing a good brace: Important thing is fit! The brace should attach to your limbs as much as possible through the straps and formed hard parts. Not so tight that they restrict blood flow.
Conclusion: The bottom line is it is better to prevent than have to use it after the fact. The cost and longevity of the braces will be a fraction of the cost and pain of an injury. There is enough information available to research why it is absolutely preferable to consider using proper knee-braces and which brand may be better for you. There will be riders professing that they are such skilled riders they do not need the braces, or that they have been riding for years without injury. That’s okay.
If you are an asphalt rider 90% of the time as is the case with most of the current adventure and big dual sport bikes, then maybe you won’t need these braces. On the other hand if you love off-road, dirt tracks and exploring back country roads on your dual-sport or big adventure bike then at least do some more homework and seriously consider investing in a pair.
Sources and credits:
Dr Matthew Snyman http://www.greatamericantrek.com/
Suzie Bostock UK HCPC Registered Physiotherapist https://www.avvida.co.uk/
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363546510394431 unfortunately it is a pay portal if you want to read the entire study.