Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow
With strategically placed D3O padding in a lightweight and breathable package, the Flank Core Guard from Race Face is for the rider looking for a bit of extra body protection without the bulk of a full pressure suit. To help you figure out if it could be the right solution for you, we slipped one on and hit the trails.
When you pull the Flank Core Guard out of the bag, the first impression is of a quality product, much like we’ve grown accustomed to from Race Face over the years. The guard appears well put-together, with quality materials and good workmanship throughout. It’s often the little details that give away the real identity of a company, and Race Face stays true to its rider roots here. For example, you get a spare chainring bolt instead of just any old eyelet on the main product label. Awesome.
Flank Core Guard Highlights
- Removable D3O high performance shock absorbing protective foam at shoulders and spine
- Custom heat-molded foam chest plate
- Compatible with leading neck braces without compromising fit and protection
- Strategic fabric mapping - Highly durable dense mesh throughout the core ensures second skin super fit to keep targeted protection in its place and allows for maximum venting
- Lycra stretch panels are integrated with flatlock seam finish to ensure mobility and comfort through the athlete's full range of motion
- Sized for a snug fit
- MSRP $119
The Flank Core Guard is designed to be worn directly on the skin, under a jersey (we don’t suggest leaving the house if all you’re gonna wear is this item, unless you enjoy getting funny looks and/or arrested). The guard employs a combination of lycra mesh to ensure a good fit and maximum breathability. All of the seams are of the flatlock variety, which is meant to ensure optimum comfort and reduce the risk of chafing.
The chest area features a foam chest-plate, which realistically is more about abrasion protection than anything else - but if you’ve ever practiced swan diving on dirt, you’ll know that this particular feature could probably have saved you a fair bit of skin, if nothing else.
The main job of the Flank Core Guard is to hold a couple of D3O pads in place for when the going gets a bit too tough. If you are not familiar with D3O, it is a soft rubber-like material that is capable of absorbing impact energy and then instantly returning to its natural state. The structure of the molecules allows them to lock together when compressed violently.
Three D3O pads are included in the Flank Core Guard - two shoulder pads and a large back-protector. The pads are securely held in pockets sewn into the guard and are easy to remove for washing. The pads themselves are perforated to improve airflow and feature rounded edges for comfort and maximum flexibility.
On The Trail
The Flank Core Guard is relatively easy to slip into – it is flexible enough to allow you to get in and out of it despite the snug fit. Once properly adjusted, the guard is comfortable and the pads are held in place with no excess movement - you don't really notice them while riding. The back protector is large and is designed to not interfere with a neck brace.
The Lycra materials used are not of the sweat-wicking kind, but because of the mesh design, the garment still allows sweat to evacuate fairly well. The same cannot be said of the D3O pads, which do get wet and slippery when you start sweating. Especially the large back protector, which can feel a bit like riding around with a large slice of salmon on your back (not that we’ve ever actually tried that, so we wouldn’t really know - but you get the picture). Race Face have pointed out that we should have been running the back protector the other way around - the deep wave-shaped grooves you see above should actually be facing inwards, and having tried that, it does improve matters somewhat (and to be fair, we tested this item during fairly hot conditions). If you sweat a lot, you'll feel it - but that is to be expected of any armor, and not to be construed as criticism. Note that if you fancy running the shoulder pads without the back-protector it can be easily removed, or you can buy the Ambush version of this guard which is essentially the same item minus the back pad.
We experienced no chafing while riding in the Flank, and the pads are also held in place on the trail - there is no unwarranted movement of any kind. As for crash protection, we’ve crashed enough in D3O to know that the stuff works as advertised - on direct impact with blunt objects, we’d say it’s just about up there with hardshell protectors, at least when it comes to the first impact. D3O's own testing actually shows it to be superior to standard hardshell protectors in terms of shock absorption. Of course hardshell products are superior when it comes to abrasion protection, as they will skid across rough surfaces in a way that D3O cannot, but that is where the trade-off between comfort and protection comes in. Impacts from sharp objects also leave something to be desired from the D3O material.
With regards to the design and placement of the pads however, it’s not all rosy. The back-protector is large enough and well placed, whereas the shoulder pads appear slightly too small, and also do not sit in the optimal spot – they cover the outer area of the shoulder and part of the arm, but fail to provide any protection for the top part of the shoulder or the collarbone. This means they work OK for sideways falls or for impacts on trailside trees/branches and such, but they won’t provide any protection for the top of the shoulder or the collarbone. Without straps to hold the pads in place, they also tend to move on impact more so than traditional upper body armor would allow. With the supple properties of D3O, we think more shoulder protection is an achievable goal without sacrificing comfort or neck brace fit, although we should once again point out that this guard was not designed as a full-on replacement for a pressure suit, rather a lightweight alternative for those who just want a little extra protection.
Things That Could Be Improved
Apart from the aforementioned issue regarding the placement/size of the shoulder pads, there is little to complain about regarding the execution of the design. The Flank Core Guard is a quality piece of kit, well thought-out and well put together. The back protector gets slippery when wet, but we don’t really see how the design could be improved upon to avoid this issue without adding a lot of extra material that would probably only defeat the purpose. The only remaining question then is how much protection you want. If you feel that the minimalistic shoulder protection on offer here is not enough, you might want to look at a full pressure suit.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The Race Face crew set out to build protection without adding bulk, and on that count they succeeded. For the trail rider looking for a little extra protection or the racer needing lightweight race day padding, it’s hard to fault the Flank Core Guard. It will certainly do its job within the limits of the design. In terms of quality and comfort, there are only positives to report. The only issue that remains is the design of the shoulder pads – we feel they are a little too minimalistic, even for a guard, and for that reason we’ve reduced the star rating a bit.
For more information, visit www.raceface.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.