Review by Nick Zuzelski // Action Photos by Brandon Turman
Atlas has become a household name in the bike and moto neck brace market over the past few years. In order to keep at the forefront of design, Atlas has re-engineered and refined their previous offering for 2015. The result is a brace that goes on a diet with impressive weight savings, in addition to offering a simpler design and improved fit. The new brace is available in two different versions, the Air and the Air Carbon - we have been shredding the more wallet friendly Air model which at less than 600-grams certainly lives up to its name! Read on to find out what else we thought of it.
Atlas Air Highlights
- -10°, 0°, or +10° Back Support Angle
- Easy Open and Close
- Height Adjustment
- Stiffer Front Suspension with Increased Suspension to 30mm
- Spine Free and Sternum Free Support Designs
- Weight: 1.3 lbs (599g)
- Colors: Arctic Covert, Covert (Tested), Red Tornado, Orange Tornado, High-Viz
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large
- MSRP: $299 USD
After enjoying a great run with the Crank Carbon Atlas Brace last year, I was very interested to see what new improvements and changes Atlas could have designed into the new Air brace. Foregoing the carrying/travel case supplied with the previous generation, the Air comes in a simple box and includes the newly designed hybrid strap for securing the brace to your body. The Air is available in an array of flashy color schemes, I chose to keep it low key with the black/gray themed Covert model.
Immediately noticeable was the simplicity of the new design and an even smaller sized chassis. Instead of the pivoting chest pads found on the Crank, the Air sports pre-formed pads with a claimed 3x more flex compared to previous models to act as suspension for better fit, mobility and safety. The back pads carry over the same basic design as the Crank with a forward folding storage feature, but the pads themselves have been shortened and reshaped.
The Air comes in three sizes (small, medium, large) and can be micro adjusted using the rear pad pivot hardware - a flippable design can give + or - 10mm of front to back growth in addition to 3 fine-tune angle adjustments for the back pads. Using these adjustments riders should be able to find that perfect fit for their body. I opted to try a large as I fell in-between a medium and large brace per the sizing chart and used the flippable pivot hardware to reduce the brace to the smaller size for a great fit. Atlas also provides extra shoulder pads that riders can use to shim the brace off their shoulders to further adjust the height of the brace. I found that the standard pads were fine and provided good, even contact with my body.
A new easy-open latch offers riders the option to split the brace in the front for entry and exit by means of button located under the front chassis. The Air's new hybrid strap is just that - a cross between the old x strap method (two elastic bands that cross your body, under your arms and up to the opposing side hooks) and the full strap system (direct strap attachment points on the back pads and the front of the chassis).
Picking up the brace revealed a weight that lives up to its name - at 1.3 lbs (599g) the Air is even lighter than the Carbon Crank and I was impressed at that. The lack of beautiful carbon construction, replaced with a more basic, simple plastic-and-decals job was noted - but the cost savings (for the non carbon model) and weight reduction in the end I found to be a fair trade-off.
When it comes to the actual main function of a neck brace, it is one that every rider hopes never to have to actually put to the test. Designed to keep your neck safe from a variety of flexion, extension, and compression related injuries, the brace is there to limit the range of movement of your head in the event of a crash. Lab testing shows significant potential for reduced risk of neck and spinal cord injury with a brace, as for how that translates into real life scenarios is for every rider to decide for themselves. We certainly feel as though Atlas have done their research, and we're happy to shred it - confident in the knowledge that the Air provides levels of protection comparable to its competition.
On The Trail
After throwing on the brace and getting the strap adjustment dialed in, it was go time. The feel of the brace is very similar to the Crank and it sits comfortably on the chest/back/shoulders. While subtle, the slight flex that Atlas designed into the Air can be felt while your body moves around, it does not have the fully rigid feel other braces I've used. You can especially notice the brace move/flex a little with your body if you stretch or really reach for something while wearing it.
The hybrid strap system is a little prone to tangling, but after getting used to it I was able to get in and out of the straps with no issues. I found myself still preferring to just slip the brace over my head rather than opening the front of the brace and snapping it back together. I found that getting into the hybrid straps was easier this way for me. The straps stay in place fairly well and don't bind up the jersey while wearing it too badly. Having said that, you can opt to run the straps under your jersey for that no strap look, but I have found a few negatives that kept me from running it that way: the straps interfere and hold your jersey collar open, the strap isn't very comfortable against bare skin, and it takes extra time to hook and unhook the elastic straps when you take the brace on and off.
The hybrid strap does a fair job of securing the brace, but I do find it bounces around a little more than I would prefer when the trail gets really rough. Tightening the straps helped a little, but the design inherently will be at the mercy of having only 2 attachment points and elastic straps (the Crank Carbon had 4 with the full strap system).
I run the Specialized Dissident helmet which worked well when paired with the Air brace. The integration was seamless and caused no unwanted interference. Head and neck mobility was good while riding, even when the trails steepened and body positioning put the neck bent upwards after leaning back. Having said that, there is still the occasional clunk from helmet-to-brace contact when the brace jumps up off the shoulders in really rough sections. I have found this with every brace I have used and just learned to expect some level of it when wearing one.
Things That Could Be Improved
The Air leaves little to be desired in terms of improvements. It is simple, light, comes in decently priced, and offers adjustability to help riders get the fit right. I do feel that the older strap system featured on the Crank brace worked a touch better for keeping the brace secured to your shoulders so it wouldn't bounce around as much. It would have been nice to have that option on the Air.
Long Term Durability
The Air has shown no signs of major wear or damage from normal use so far. The large decal on the chassis has started to lift in a few small areas but pushing it back down with the finger occasionally seems to stop it from getting worse. The Air doesn't come with a carrying case, but I have found that with the rear back pads folded down, it is easy enough to store in your luggage or gear bag.
What's the Bottom Line?
It has been very interesting to see Atlas's progression and design process with their braces the past few years. After wearing the past two models, I can truly see the Air's refinements in fit and simplicity. The Air has proven to be a comfortable, low profile brace to wear all day while terrorizing your favorite bike park. Despite my small gripe on the new hybrid strap system, I feel that the Air is another great step forward for Atlas and should be on the top of the list for someone looking for a new brace.
For more information, head on over to www.atlasbrace.com.
About The Reviewer
Nick Zuzelski began riding motocross at a young age, a sport that would eventually lead him to the world of downhill. As a Colorado native, racing downhill, dual slalom, or a chill dirt jump session were never far away, and he eventually worked his way up the ranks to the Pro level. Now residing in Eastern Pennsylvania, he recently changed it up from Rocky Mountain dust to East Coast loam, world class dirt jumps, and rocks... lots of rocks. If a trail has fast flow and some fun gaps, he is grinning ear to ear and getting after it. Living by the assumption that basically everything feels better with a short stem and wide bars, you can count on him keeping it real with a laid back attitude and flat pedals most of the time. Mechanical Engineer by trade, rider by heart, he enjoys riding it, finding out how it works, and making it better.