Extreme Sports protection specialists, Leatt, offer no fewer than 12 upper body protection garments for mountain biking, with variations that protect the rider’s chest, back, shoulder and elbows, and numerous combinations of all of the above. Only two of those products have an option designed specifically to suit the contours of a (cis) female torso; Leatt AirFlex Chest and Back Protector, and the Leatt AirFlex Body Protector which combines the aforementioned with a jacket housing elbow and shoulder pads.
That’s not to say none of the other options will fit women, of course. I mean only that products such as the 3DF AirFit and 3DF AirFit Hybrid (which offer a higher level of protection with some flank pads), aren’t designed with female anatomy in mind, and that those who are well-endowed in the breast department may struggle to find a comfortable fit.
At any rate, I am always stoked to see new women’s-specific protection popping up. It’s a step in the right direction in regard to making women feel like they have a place in the sport, and that their needs are considered. The next step for Leatt is of course to add women’s-specific gear that offers that top-level protection of their unisex products.
My thoughts on diversity and inclusion aside, here’s how I got on with the Leatt AirFlex Body, Chest and Back Protection for Women.
Review: Leatt AirFlex Body and Chest Protector
Any mountain bike protection beyond the standard helmet, knee pads and gloves combination is, for most of my day-to-day riding, very much optional. There’s no denying that mountain biking, particularly the disciplines of enduro and downhill, can be fairly dangerous sports. There is always justification for extra body protection, and if you’re racing, a back protector is sometimes obligatory. Outside of the race tape, however, we are all free to wear as much or as little protection as we like.
The decision to wear additional body armor to protect the back, chest, elbow and shoulders, needs to be made as simple as possible. Is it comfortable? Is it breathable enough for the style of riding I’m doing? Will it not impinge of my enjoyment of the ride? If the answer to all of the above is an easy yes, then happy days. Buckle up and go shredding.
If the answer is no, then you’re in a pickle. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how protective or durable your body armor is, if you can’t bear to wear it, it’s totally useless. Lucky then, that a lot of brands now seem to get it. Leatt, along with a number of other MTB Protection brands like POC and Bluegrass, are now making body armor that ticks all of the above boxes, doesn’t take twenty minutes to put on, and doesn’t make you look like you’re headed to the front line (or space).
The Leatt AirFlex range for women comprises two products; the AirFlex Chest and Back Protector, and the AirFlex Body Protector made up of the aforementioned and an ultra-lightweight zip-up jacket, or sleeve even, housing removable shoulder and elbow pads. At 163cm tall, I have been wearing the S/M Chest and Back Protector, and the Small Chest Protector. The sizing chart relies on rider height alone, covering everyone from 148cm to 178 cm tall. For women’s torso protection, Leatt really should be indicating the range of chest sizes each garment is suitable for. This has been fed back to Leatt, and I have asked them to provide further information in that regard.
I can provide some sizing insight here, for now. I wear a size 32C bra; for me, the fit of the S/M Chest and Back Protector is absolutely perfect. It fastens down at four locations; there is a velcro strap on each side that extends from the back protector around the wearer’s side to fasten onto the front of the chest protector. Higher up is a secondary pair of elasticated fasteners that make use of a simple hook. Both of these are adjustable, so you can alter it to suit what you feel is both comfortable and secure. I have been able to adjust the straps to find a fit that doesn’t overly compress my breasts, but still makes me feel locked in.
The S/M AirFlex Back and Chest Protector is recommended for women with a torso length of 46-50cm; mine measures up at 49cm long. The red AirFlex Pad is the CE Certified back protector, covering the thoracic and lumbar portions of the back. The upper (cervical) portion of the back is covered by a separate EVA Foam pad that can be seen as the raised portion in the image below. This is removable to allow for the fitment of a neck brace. I don’t have one, so can’t comment on that aspect.
For eMTB rides, I’ve worn the Leatt Airflex Chest and Back Protector with the EVOC Hip Pack Race 3L, and I can confirm that the two do not negatively interfere with one another. The back protector does slot in underneath the Hip Pack by a couple centimeters but I don’t feel the two interacting with one another, whether I am sat down pedaling, or descending out of the saddle.
For a recent trip to Revolution Bike Park for the inaugural Project Evolve Women’s Gravity Jam, I chose to wear the Leatt AirFlex Chest and Back Protector alone. Turns out that was a fine life decision as I crashed hard on the first run, slamming my chest into the ground after washing the front wheel in a tighter-than-expected left hander. The chest protector did a superb job; I wasn’t winded by the impact, and my ribs remained intact. The chest protector didn’t tear either, so still looks good. Hard to say how bad it could have been had I not been wearing protection, but I can tell you my ribs were still sore a week on from that crash.
I haven’t (yet) crashed in the Leatt AirFlex Body Protector (the sleeve with the elbow and shoulder pads). But, it does fit supremely well. The shoulder and elbow pads seem to sit exactly where I want them to; Leatt sure have nailed the proportions on this one.
The sleeve itself is made up of a thin, elasticated, and perforated material that is next-level breathable, likely at the expense of durability, as ever. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it wouldn’t take an awful lot to tear the material that secures the pads in place, especially if you were unfortunate enough to land on rocky terrain. The perforations in the material could easily snag on something.
Overall, I feel Leatt has struck a good balance between wearability and protection. I have been more than happy to wear the whole package (Back and Chest Protector with Body Protection Sleeve) on recent eMTB rides. I don’t actually sweat too much on those rides, as I tend to go Boost mode everywhere, so breathability isn’t too much of an issue.
The full package isn’t so breathable that i’d wear it for regular mountain bike rides, at least not during the summer months anyway. I’ll be limiting its use to chairlift and shuttle days, and eBike riding. The AirFlex Back and Chest Protector alone is bearable for regular riding, even in summer, especially as it works so well with a Hip Pack.
The AirFlex gear doesn’t feel weighty when I’m wearing it, but I weighed it nevertheless. The AirFlex Back and Chest Protector weighs 760g on my Park Tool Scales. The AirFlex Body Protection piece, i.e the torso sleeve with shoulder and elbow pads, weighs 432g. That gives a grand total of 1192g, or 1.19 kg. It might sound a little on the heavy side, but I can assure you it carries its weight well.
The two products together are heavier than SixSixOne’s one-piece offering; the EVO Women’s Jacket. That comes in at 973g. Important to note however that the SixSixOne option doesn’t have a CE Certified Chest Protector, only some EVA foam pads in that region.