Review by Sean "Griz" McClendon // Action photos by Ian Collins
Designed and developed in Canada by Brady Sharron and his father Rick, the Atlas line of neck braces launched in Spring 2012. Built for the rider looking to protect their neck, Atlas offers six variations of their neck brace including the cycling specific Crank brace. We’ve noticed top MX racers Ryan Villopoto, Jake Weimer, and Jeremy McGrath using Atlas braces and that got us excited to test the Crank brace. At $330 it offers a wide range of adjustability and is of a competitive weight. Let’s put the Atlas Crank brace to the test...
A Word On Neck Braces
Neck braces have been a topic of controversy and remain a product used based on personal preference. They’re available to those that want them and advocated by many. Naysayers often complain that neck braces are cumbersome can lead to secondary injuries to collarbones and the sternum in the event of a crash. Atlas designed their line of braces with secondary injury prevention in relation to neck protection in mind. Another element to neck brace comfort and function is choice of helmet. Not all full-face helmets compliment neck braces well. There are many variables around neck braces but the intention remains simple – protect the rider from catastrophic neck injury. Even Wu-Tang knows it’s essential to protect your neck and they don’t even ride.
Outside of neck braces, the other option for neck protection is developed via sport specific conditioning and intuition. I survived a near fatal get-off at US National Champs in 2010 where my head and spine were spared thanks to instinct and professional conditioning. The bottom line is, neck braces are available to those that want them.
Crank Neck Brace Highlights
- Available in 3 sizes Small, Medium (tested) and Large
- 3-axis adjustability (chest size, neck length, and width)
- Removable shoulder pads for custom fit
- Dual pivoting back supports (foldable for storage)
- 6061-T6 aluminum hardware
- Easy on/off
- Custom graphics available
- Emergency Removal System (ERS)
- Chest suspension
- Full chest strap and under arm cross straps included
- MSRP $329.99
Clockwise: Dual pivoting back supports; Adjustable 6061-T6 aluminum rear support mounts; Optional shoulder padding installed; Optional shoulder padding removed
We opened a box containing a complete package including a nice drawstring bag where the brace can be stored. The graphics are clean and to the point. With multiple mounting options, removable shoulder pads, and spare aluminum back support hardware, the Crank brace is very customizable.
We were impressed with the simple task of sliding the brace on and off our neck with its light feel. All you do is insert your head through the brace and it comfortably rests on your chest and shoulder blades away from the sternum and spine. There are no clumsy clasps or buckles to deal with.
The contact points of the brace inspire confidence that secondary injuries in the event of a crash have been well thought-out, and the large pads help disperse loads over a larger part of the body, reducing pressure points.
This brace won’t be gaining weight in the rain either. The padding is durable, comfortable and weatherproof material.
The Crank with the under arm cross straps - one above the jersey and one below it.
On The Trail
After a couple runs with no straps, we adjusted the fit by removing the optional shoulder pads. We also decided to try the full chest strap to keep the brace stable. This was the most straight forward mounting option, although the cross straps under the arms are more popular and can be hidden under the jersey. There’s no question the cross strap method is the most streamlined mounting option, however we settled with the familiar full chest option due to the simplicity. With the brace now sitting lower and with stability from the full strap, our Fox Rampage helmet had the range of motion it wanted and we felt minimally restricted.
Utilizing the Fox Rampage Pro Carbon helmet through the duration of testing, we noticed most commonly the chin of the helmet would naturally bump the brace under heavy compressions. We got used to this and it never caused any real problems. Clearance was great in the back and to the sides at all times, even on the steeps, and the Crank brace was noticeably less cumbersome than any previous neck brace experience.
Thankfully we were unable to perform any crash tests. Clean riding remains the best method for injury prevention. Even so, Atlas's own test methods are quite extensive and replicate several real world crash scenarios. They claim to be the only manufacturer performing real world style tests, and also utilize some very expensive, very accurate test equipment.
In the event of a crash, the Emergency Removal System is quite easy to use should medical personnel need to remove the brace without disturbing the head. You simply remove the pin through the front axle nut, remove front axle nut, and finally pull the brace apart horizontally in two parts. Simple.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The Crank brace has been designed with lower profile MTB specific full-face helmets in mind. It is the lowest profile rigid frame neck brace on the market, so if you test one and don’t like the fit you probably won’t like any neck brace. Providing critical protection with excellent cost benefit, the Atlas Crank brace is comfortable, customizable and is a solid product overall. For riders that have been considering neck protection and riders that currently use neck protection, the Atlas Crank brace is worth looking into. After all, it's critical to protect your neck.
For more details, visit www.atlasbrace.com.
Distribution of Atlas braces in the Americas is handled by Matrix Concepts. Eddie Cole leads Matrix and has rich industry background as the Founder and former President of Answer Products, Protaper, Manitou, SIXSIXONE, Tag Metals, Sunline and Filtron. Entering 2013, the family operated company is penetrating the mountain bike market with multiple products targeting your garage and race-pit, but Matrix also sells and distributes the Atlas Crank neck brace in America, Central and South America.
About The Reviewer
Sean "Griz" McClendon is back, ladies and gentlemen. Following a major crash during the 2010 USA National Championship Pro downhill race, he put in the hours and fought his way back to health and the fun that is two wheels. Griz has ridden for a number of the USA's top teams throughout his racing career, testing prototype frames and components along the way. Motivated by the mantra "whips don't lie," you'll often find him perfecting his high-flying sideways aerial maneuvers while living the #pinelife.