It all happened so quickly I had no time to react: jumping over a berm, I’d realized what awaited on the other side wasn’t flat ground. Instead, there was a ditch, and my WR nosedived right into it, sending me over the bars and landing head-first. I hit the ground with a sickening crunch and for the first few seconds, lay there dazed until I sat up and saw the world twirl in front of my eyes. Seconds more later, I managed to stand up, but something was clearly wrong – the dizziness wouldn’t go away, and it was obvious the ride was over for the day.
I walked away with a classical concussion; part of the deal when you’re on an off-road training tour and suddenly feel just a tad too confident with your newly acquired jumping skills. Owch. Still, I was glad I was wearing my Leatt neck brace that day: a landing like this could have easily ended with something much worse. There’s no way to tell, of course, but ever since, I ride with the neck brace both on and off the road. If you haven’t tried one yourself, you may think it feels clumsy and restrictive, but the reality is, once it’s on, you forget it’s there – and it might save your neck.
ADV vs MX
I first started using Leatt protective gear back in 2019 as I was psyching myself up to enter the Hellas Rally Raid. Back then, I had a weird combo of Leatt chest and back protector, knee braces, soft elbow pads, and the neck brace combined with their MX pants and a Klim Artemis jacket.
I’d just shipped my bike from South America to Europe and planned to keep traveling after the rally, so I didn’t want to ditch my adventure suit for full racing armor and light motocross wear just yet. On the other hand, racing in a heavy GoreTex adventure suit wasn’t an option, either. I thought I could somehow combine the gear and keep the best of both worlds.
I was wrong.
Adventure gear is a wonderful piece of tech and durability, and it’s fantastic for what it’s designed to do. During a rally, however, the heavy ADV jacket restricts movement, and the heat gets unbearable – you’re quite literally boiling in your own juice. To top it off, it doesn’t really work with body armor underneath, so you’re trading off a lot of protection.
I stuck it out with the same combo during the Bosnia Rally training event, but after that, it was obvious I needed to make a change. Enter Leatt GPX 5.5 armor: essentially, a true exoskeleton when racing, and I’ve crash-tested it more times than I care to admit. For the 2020 rally season, I chose the full body armor, Leatt impact shorts, knee braces, and neck brace; serious overkill for adventure riding, but a lifesaver at the races – especially with my landing and crashing talents that cost me a torn thigh muscle during Hispania Rally 2020 (but left my knee and shin intact thanks to the knee braces, as I crashed on rocks at high speed with the bike landing on top).
Trading It In
From that point on, it became clear something had to go – either the adventure gear, or my rally attempts. I am a complete rally noob and podium stardom is clearly not in my future, but I do these events to improve my skills, push myself, and have an absurd amount of fun in the process, and I’m not ready to give that up just yet. For the Dinaric Rally 2020, it was Leatt armor, GPX Enduro pant, and light jersey over the armor all the way; in the hot temperatures and gnarly terrain, I felt as comfy and as protected as humanly possible.
However, there were still miles to cover between rallies, and I was planning to ship the bike to Africa next. The ADV and rally gear combination wasn’t working; lugging a pannier full of armor just because I may chance upon another race felt unreasonable, but I still wasn’t ready to ditch the ADV gear completely – when covering longer distances on-road, the abrasion resistance of the Klim jacket and pants seemed much better than that of light motocross wear.
In the end, however, something had to give. Rally races aside, I’m aiming to ride off-road as much as possible, sticking to the TET in Europe, and I finally sent the Artemis suit to a friend’s back home to be kept safe until I go back to more on-road riding. This summer, I’ve worn Leatt protectives and their Enduro line pants and jacket all the way from Andalucia to Croatia where I’m hoping to line up at the start of the Dinaric Rally again. And while I felt a tad twitchy riding at high speeds on pavement, I typically save all my crashes for off-road riding, so the off-road gear and layering system seems to be working very well, especially as Europe is seeing insane heatwaves and wearing anything more would feel like torture.
So what’s the bottom line? If you ride mostly off-road – whether you race or not – layering armor with light MX or enduro-style gear seems like a pretty decent option, especially if it’s mostly hot temperatures and if you often find yourself riding more technical terrain.
So far, the durability of Leatt has proved exceptional – here is a quick rundown of what’s worked best:
Leatt Body Protector 5.5 This thing is virtually indestructible – and trust me, I’ve tried (albeit involuntarily). After two years of almost daily use and abuse, it’s as sturdy as ever. There are some minor scuff marks, and the fabric is fraying a little at the zipper, but it’s nothing a local seamstress can’t fix. The armor is surprisingly comfortable – it looks heavy and chunky, but because of the integrated kidney belt and the design, once you put it on, you almost don’t feel it. At this point, it’s like a second skin. Be warned: you’ll need to handwash it. Regularly, otherwise, the aroma wafting off of you when you enter a gas station may cause people to faint. Note: Leatt is coming out with a body protector designed for women in 2022!
Leatt Z-Frame Knee Braces. I love those things almost as much as the body armour; they’ve saved my legs and knees more times than I can count, and they’ve lasted beautifully. Almost three years in, there are barely any scuff marks on them, and if you manage to lose or rip off the plastic strap loops, those are replaceable. The knee braces look a little like something out of the Terminator’s Friday casual wear collection, but, much like the body armor, they are surprisingly comfortable to wear – even after spending ten hours on the bike, you don’t even feel you’re wearing them (and if you do, you probably haven’t adjusted all the straps well – this is crucial). I know Leatt now offers newer, even more high-tech knee braces, but frankly, I’m pretty sure the Z-Frame is going to keep me safe for years to come.
Leatt Moto 5.5. Neck Brace. I don’t think the neck brace will ever wear out, frankly. They’re pricey, but they’re built to last for years.
Leatt Impact Shorts. These things are a bit tricky to put on and peel off when you’re sweating it out all day, but they get the job done by protecting your hips and behind if you happen to land on your backside. When you’re wearing them, they pretty much feel like regular underwear – no fuss, no muss. In terms of durability, I haven’t managed to destroy or damage mine in two years.
Leatt Moto Enduro 5.5 pant. I love how this pant is a fantastic middle between ADV and light MX pants: they’re lightweight and breathable just like motocross gear, but are a little sturdier, have leather knee grips, and feature large, spacious cargo-style pockets like most ADV pants. They’re very comfortable for off-road riding and perfect for rally, but I’ll confess I tend to shred them every six or eight months or thereabouts – if you hit hard-packed dirt or pavement and slide, the pants will get damaged or torn.
Leatt Moto Enduro 5.5 jacket. This is an interesting one: extremely lightweight and breathable with plenty of ventilation and sleeves you can zip off, plus large pockets, back pocket, and hydrapak pocket on the back, it’s like it’s made for rally racing, especially if you’re facing long, cold liaisons. I haven’t crash-tested this jacket for durability yet, and it’s not water resistant, so you’ll need an extra waterproof layer, but for off-road riding in hot temperatures, it seems to tick all the boxes.
Leatt Moto 5.5 Flexlock Boots. Boots typically last me about two years at best because of heavy use (and, I admit, I’m probably not looking after them as well as I should). I’ve had the Flexlock for a year and a half now, and they’re still holding up well: there are scuff marks all over, but everything including the soles and the inner lining are still intact. My only complaint is super sticky buckles – sometimes, it’s really hard to do them up, but I hear Leatt has already fixed the issue, so if you’re getting Flexlock now, you should be fine. I suspect more regular cleaning would solve the issue, though. These boots are not waterproof, but they are surprisingly water-resistant. In terms of comfort, they feel very snug and easy to walk in, compared to Gaerne SG12, these boots are much more comfortable. Compared to Sidi Crossfires, I’d say the comfort level is about the same, but I prefer the thicker calf of the Leatt more than Sidi. I am considering going back to more ADV/touring type of boot once the rally season is over, but for now, these boots are doing the job exceptionally well.
So there it is – layering armor and light gear may not be for everyone, and if you ride more or less 50/50 on and off the road, adventure gear is probably a better choice. For more off-road riding, rally experiences, and gnarly trails, however, I don’t think I’ll ever trade Leatt protectives for anything else – and, judging by the durability of their gear, I probably won’t have to – for years.
What gear layering system works best for you and why? Share in the comments below!