EVS Sports is in the protection business. Catering primarily to the off-road segment, it makes helmets, neck braces and collars, knee/shin guards and braces, ballistic jerseys (similar to the Alpinestars Bionic 2), chest/roost guards, gloves and support braces for shoulders (after injuries), wrists and ankles. Sponsorship deals aren’t the same as seals of approval. Nonetheless, that “professional extreme athlete” Travis Pastrana–king of the motorcycle backflip–and his motley crew of stunt hooligans on MTV’s Nitro Circus wear EVS gear is sayin’ something: those guys (and gal) crash A LOT.
The EVS RS7 Knee Braces tested here retail for $185 each, or $370 for both knees. They can be worn on bare skin, with grippy material to prevent the braces from sliding around. But EVS also sells lycra Brace Sleeves ($28 each) that fit over the leg from mid-thigh to mid-calf, which are designed to prevent chafing and provide a secure fit. I would recommend these, or wearing a thin base layer (see photo–I wore polypropylene underneath for warmth on a cold day). Extending from the middle of the thigh down to the middle of the shin, the RS7s protect most of the front leg, with motocross boots protecting everything else below the knee. The upper and lower material is flexible (as opposed to the rigid carbon-fiber used in EVS’ high-end Web knee braces) but durable, and the brace is attached to the leg with four wide, stretchy Flex Bands–two around the thigh and two around the calf–that secure with hook-and-loop.
My contact at EVS was right: knee braces are bulky. But I didn’t have trouble getting my pants over them or buckling up my motocross boots over the lower portion. They didn’t impede my ability to ride or move around, and they were reasonably comfortable. However, toward the end of an all-day ride, the lower edge of the braces dug painfully into my shin. Loosening the buckles on my boots didn’t really help, but standing up did. Remember, these things are designed for motocross riding, which is typically done in short, rapid-fire bursts, standing up nearly the entire time. On the all-day ADV rides that are the norm for me, I cover a lot of street miles sitting in the saddle, with my legs bent. Keep this in mind if you are considering heavy-duty knee braces, as I’ve never had this problem with the SHIFT Enforcers or other knee guards.
On the front of the RS7s are Extreme V hard-plastic impact panels to protect the thigh and shin. Connecting the upper and lower portions of the brace are TrueMotion hinges on both sides of the knee, which are made of durable 6061 T-6 aluminum and covered with neoprene. The hinges protect the sides of the knees, and a full-coverage, hard-plastic knee cup protects the knee bone. Built into the hinges are 165-degree hyperextension stops, which “helps prevent hyperextension that can cause an ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] tear.” Remember what I said earlier about protective gear not preventing all injuries? Well, I’m a case in point.
While wearing RS7 knee braces on an ADV ride a few months ago, I went down after sliding out on a downhill turn. The bike flopped over one way, I flopped over the other and my leg got caught somewhere in the middle. I felt a sickening pop in my knee. After laying on the ground holding my knee and whimpering like a puppy for a few minutes, I regained my composure, remounted and continued on the ride. My knee was sore for a few days, but I was ambulatory so I just munched some Advil. My knee didn’t seem to get better. A visit to my orthopedist and an MRI later, I learned that I tore the ACL in my left knee.
By recounting this experience, I’m not suggesting that the RS7 knee braces didn’t do their job. They are stout and well-made. Landing on my knees, as I’ve done several times wearing the RS7s, has generally been a ho-hum affair. Rather, even with the best protective gear, we’re still vulnerable. Had I not been wearing the RS7s, my injury could have been much worse. When it comes to a major joint like the knee, there is nothing that can be strapped to your leg that will prevent all twisting, compression or hyperextension. Knee braces may lessen the trauma, but weird spills still happen. The only way to avoid all possibility of injury is to stay at home. Since that option isn’t really an option, stick to the basic tenets of sensible riding: wear proper gear, get proper training and ride within your limits.
For more information on EVS knee braces or to order a pair, visit www.evs-sports.com.
But, just as ABS and airbags don’t prevent all crashes, proper protective gear won’t prevent all injuries. This issue is getting a lot of attention these days regarding head injuries sustained in professional football. What is unequivocal is that protective gear can help reduce risks of sustaining certain injuries, as well as their severity. It’s simple: when you hit the deck, do you want your skin, muscles and bones to absorb the impact entirely, or do you want state-of-the-art plastics and foam to be your first line of defense?
Following my weekend of dirt training at MotoVentures, I adopted the motocross approach to lower extremity protection on my first few ADV rides. I wore SHIFT Enforcer Knee/Shin Guards tucked intoSHIFT Combat MX Boots. At just $12.95, the Enforcer guards are a bargain, and they provide adequate protection. However, since they are secured with only two hook-and-loop straps around the calf, the knee cup can be knocked out of the way on impact. Also, the Enforcer guards don’t provide much protection for the side of the knee, as I discovered during one get-off.
Having never sustained a knee injury and regarding those two joints as vital to my job and active lifestyle, I sought out a higher level of protection. When I called the folks at EVS to inquire about knee braces, they told me they are designed primarily for the rigors of motocross riding: lightning fast acceleration, high-flying jumps, leg-out berm turns and handlebar-banging races. Knee braces are bulky, and they are expensive (EVS knee brace prices range from $119/pair for the SX02 to $375 EACH for the carbon fiber, monocoque Web). I was forewarned that knee braces might not be comfortable for all-day riding, but I was insistent. Protection before comfort!