Seven years ago, I was “attacked” by two strangers who have become two of my favorite people in the motocross industry. As I relaxed in between motos at our Dirt Days Motocross festival, Geoff Patterson and Jason McCune snuck up on me from behind and slapped a Leatt-Brace around my neck. Having never seen one before, I had no idea what was going on. Who were these clowns, and why were they putting a bear trap around my neck? It was an aggressive move to make on someone they didn’t know, and I was startled, to say the least.
As they gave me the sales pitch on the protective qualities of the Leatt-Brace, I looked over the crude brochure that they handed me. The riders featured in the photos were wearing outdated and mismatched gear and mounted on dual sport bikes. Needless to say, I wasn’t enticed to try the brace, and I actually didn’t on that particular day.
A couple weeks later, I decided to give it a go, but I made a critical mistake in my first go-round with the product: I tried to wear it in conjunction with a chest protector that was not modified to accept the brace. As I rolled around the track, it felt less restrictive than I expected it to, so I started to do a few of the jumps. Within a few laps, I was doing everything, but not yet at a race pace. That all went out the window when my brother Ross raced past, and I instantly went into charge mode. As I braked aggressively for a corner, my shoulders pushed up on my chest protector, which in turn pushed up on the Leatt-Brace. The brace then pushed my helmet up, forcing my goggles to slip up on my face. Unable to see, I flew off the track and nearly crashed. Dejected with the brace, I nearly threw it in the trash can but figured that I should send it back instead.
When I relayed my experience to the guys over the phone, they told me that I needed to widen the neck opening of my chest protector so that it had better clearance for the brace. After making the appropriate modifications to my Fox Airframe, I found that I was able to ride comfortably with no more incidents, and I’ve been wearing it ever since.
At first, I felt a little goofy wearing the brace, as its appearance set me apart from the other riders on the track. Once Mike Sleeter gave the brace its pro racing debut at the Anaheim III Supercross in 2007, though, the Leatt-Brace rapidly became a common sight at tracks everywhere.
A lot has happened since then. Several competitors have surfaced, and many choices for neck bracing are available. Purpose-built chest protectors have been designed to dovetail perfectly with the brace. The trendiness of the neck brace has come and gone. Vocal opponents to the technology have swayed opinions.
On a personal level, I have never really considered riding without my Leatt-Brace. Last year my brace didn’t make it to Japan with me (thanks, Delta), and I felt naked in my initial laps at Shidoki MX Park. Sure, that sensation faded after a few laps and it was actually more comfortable to ride brace-free, but that didn’t stop me from putting my brace back on during my first ride back home. During my second year of wearing my Leatt-Brace, I tangled with another rider on the start straight and found myself low-siding into the first turn at a local racetrack. I’m not sure why, but an old tractor tire was used to mark the inside of the first corner, and I plowed into it — headfirst. I don’t remember much after that, but I’ve seen video of the crash and it’s not pretty. Later the following week, I developed a bruise on my shoulders, chest, and back, that perfectly resembled my Leatt-Brace; it was almost as if I had coated the padding with purple paint and put it on my bare torso. In that horrific crash, I suffered no injuries to my spine, neck, or collarbones. In fact, I wasn’t even abnormally sore. That crash (and sadly, several that have followed) convinced me that trendy or not, my Leatt-Brace is one of the most important pieces of safety equipment in my gear bag.
Wearing a neck brace or not wearing a neck brace is completely up to you. I encourage all of my friends to do so, but I don’t nag those who don’t. Motocross is a dangerous sport that we all love. Why not minimize the risks so we can all continue to love it for many, many years to come?
On page 84, you’ll find a comprehensive guide to all of the neck brace options that are available to you. Enjoy!