Review by Amanda Wentz // Photos by Amanda Wentz and Mimi Wentz
In the past few years there has been some debate over neck braces. Do they just break your collarbone? Do they restrict your movement? Are they effective in a mountain bike fall? These are the questions I have heard posed many times. I have even participated in some of these discussions despite the fact that I had yet to ride in a neck brace. So given the chance to test out the Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support (BNS) Tech Carbon I jumped on it so that I could see for myself what all the debate is about.
Bionic Neck Support Tech Carbon Highlights
- Advanced, high-performance carbon polymer compound with resilience to low temperatures, below 0°C.
- SAS (Size Adapter System) for a versatile fitment in size ranges XS-M and L-XL.
- Lycra-laminated foam padding kits: Adaptable and interchangeable EVA foam pads which also aid compatibility with other body protection systems.
- Strap system: small, light strap worn over or under the jersey.
- Rear stabilizer, promotes progressive force relief (PFR) by providing strategically positioned, pre-engineered absorption, flex and fracture points.
- Frame construction promotes improved contact with helmet during Impact and Instantaneous load channeling – including rear support edge that fits closer to the body, extra width to account for different helmet sizes, and raised chest to avoid hyper-flexion injuries.
- Innovative quick-release locking closure system for rapid and efficient fitting/removal.
- Compressed EVA foam compound padding to distribute the impact force over the widest area
- MSRP: $349.95 USD
One of the first things I noticed about the Alpinestars BNS was the light weight, it comes in at 725 grams. I also appreciated the clean low profile design and the bright red color scheme. It did come with an intimidating amount of hardware but seeing as how it only comes in two sizes, XS/M and L/XL, most people will have some adjusting to do. Luckily adjusting the fit was surprisingly easy.
The BNS comes with different size plates to adjust the circumference of the brace as well as two widths of foam to adjust the height of the BNS on your shoulders. I was slightly skeptical of the perhaps overly simplified system to secure the brace to your person. It was simply 2 elastic loops that you have crossing over your chest and back which then hooks to a notch on either side of the brace. I could see these getting lost. But when all was said and done in about 15 minutes of reading instructions and making the necessary adjustments I was ready to get out there and give this thing some true test runs.
On The Trail
Due to the fact that I got my hands on the BNS in December and most lift access was closed for the season, I did get to spend some time wearing it while riding my dirt bike. I have to say that one of the great features of the BNS is its quick release closure system. On the front of the brace you pull a tab and it quickly and easily releases. This is great for getting the brace on and off but is a safety feature as well. In the event that an injured rider needs to be freed of the brace it can be done quickly and efficiently without having to remove a helmet.
The BNS has a small amount of play though the rear stabilizer. This is an Alpinestars innovation and they are the first in the industry to use this design. The shape of the rear stabilizer and the small amount of play is meant to distribute impact forces evenly over the back and protect the spine. What it meant for me was a little more range of motion and a comfortable fit because it moved with me. I hardly noticed the brace. It never impeded my movement and I actually forgot I was wearing it because it was so light. Additionally, the shape of the Alpinestars BNS is designed to be a snug fit with a wider range of helmets and it seemed to fit my Fox helmet just fine.
Spring has finally come around and I was looking forward to testing the BNS on some lift accessed trails. In the warmer weather I came to dislike the strap system even more. As previously mentioned, the straps are supposed to be crossed over your chest and back then attached to hooks on the brace itself. Alpinestars claims that these can be worn over or under a jersey however no jersey would have a neck wide enough to accommodate the system. In the winter I was able to wear the straps over my jersey and then have a zip up hoody over that. But it seemed no matter which way I wore them they always rode up to high under my armpits which was quite uncomfortable. Another issue specific to us ladies is that the criss-cross shape of the two elastic bands doesn’t exactly stay in a flattering location across the chest. They are either too high or too low. I found myself wishing it was a design that was similar to Leatt or other brands where the attachment system is more substantial. But hey, saving weight is important. I get that.
There was a difference in feel once I got on the mountain bike. Honestly, it took some getting used to after the more upright position on the moto. I did continue to appreciate the play in the rear stabilization. That certainly gave it a more customized feel. It seemed to me that the position of the brace while crouched over the bike did make me feel a little claustrophobic at first. My helmet was hitting the brace every time I turned my head coming into a corner. Although, I learned that apparently I look around a lot while riding. So it did teach me something to be aware of. Bonus points for that. It was obviously still very light and had I not been hitting the front of my full face helmet, I might have forgotten it was there. On the bike as on the moto, my chief complaint was still with the strap system. No amount of playing with it would keep it where I wanted it for very long.
Things That Could Be Improved
My one and only gripe with the design was the strap system. I feel they went a little too far to try and cut weight and make it minimalist. No amount of messing with them could keep them in one spot. I can also see them as easy to misplace.
Long Term Durability
The only part of the BNS I could see being an issue in the long term is a loss of the two straps. They are small black elastic bands so not hard to imagine them getting lost easily. Other than that the EVA foam pads didn’t show any sign of wear and stayed put. The quick release still works flawlessly and even though it has been tossed around a little bit in the gear bag, there aren’t any scratches or nicks. Overall I don’t see why the BNS won’t hold up over the long haul.
What's The Bottom Line?
I think that this is a fantastic option for someone looking to find a light neck support system in the mid-range for price. Coming in at $349.95 it is certainly competitive with the higher priced Leatt braces. The light weight combined with innovations meant to keep you safe like the rear stabilization and the quick release make the Alpinestars Bionic Neck System a great choice.
For more information, head on over to www.alpinestars.com.
About The Reviewer
Amanda Wentz fell in love with mountain bikes in 2005 after moving to Colorado and wanting to explore her new home. This love of riding, pushing her limits and exploring has taken her all over the US and even a few places internationally. It has motivated her to become a PMBI certified coach and personal trainer so that she can help people both on and off the bike. She has dabbled in racing downhill and XC and looks forward to more events and racing. While any day out on the bike is a good one, she is the most happy on anything that it challenging both uphill and down. Amanda recently moved out to Truckee where there lots of new riding to explore!