ALPINESTARS, NECK TO TOE
We crash. We tip over. We tumble and sometimes we break. We all know the deal and happily sign on anyway. If off-road riding is part of your lifestyle, you know that accidents come with the territory and consider it part of the contract, like marriage and going to a Broadway show once in a while. It’s a price you have to pay. It’s possible, however, to pay a little less when the time comes by wearing the best protection available. That’s where the people at Alpinestars come in. They’ve been striving to make the best protection gear possible for racers. That doesn’t mean you have to be in an ATV National to consider wearing Alpinestars stuff. It will work just as well in the dunes and on the trail. Here are some of the products that we’ve tested recently.
BIONIC NECK SUPPORT
We hold some truths as self-evident. At the top of the list: more protection is better than less. Neck supports are now worn by the majority of riders on the line and are creeping into the trail-riding world. Along with Leatt, Alpinestars has established itself as one of the two big players in this field. The idea of all neck supports is to prevent the neck from extending to the front or rear beyond its normal range of motion. In a crash, the base of the helmet hits the support and distributes that energy over the upper chest and shoulders. The Alpinestars BNS Tech Carbon has a number of key features. Its construction is of a carbon polymer compound and is very lightweight. It also has a quick-release, locking rear stabilizer over the upper spine in the back. And, the fit can be customized with interchangeable EVA foam pads.
We’ve been riding with the BNS for several months and consider it virtually unnoticeable. In normal riding situations, you simply don’t know it’s there. At first, the support seems a little obtrusive because it’s difficult to look at your feet before the ride starts. The solution is to not look at your feet; put your boots on first. The best feature of the Alpinestars BNS is the latching system. It’s super easy to install or remove. You can even put on the support after your helmet, and with the latch in front, it comes off easily. On the trail, the support can move up and down slightly, but there doesn’t seem to be any downside to this. If you use it with the A-8 Light chest protector, there are little elastic bands that prevent this.
We’ve become big fans of the BNS. The price is a little severe, at $349.95, but like all protective gear, if you need it, it’s a bargain.
A-8 LIGHT CHEST PROTECTOR
There’s a big personal preference factor when it comes to chest protectors. The Alpinestars A-8 Light is for the rider who likes it small, light and unobtrusive. It has front and rear panels without anything covering the shoulders, elbows or sides. If you’re a racer, the roost protection is substantial in front, and the back protection is as good as anything available. In the center of the back guard, it has a pad that can limit head movement to the rear beyond the normal range of motion, which is helpful if you don’t wear a neck brace. On the other hand, the A-8 is designed to integrate with the Alpinestars BNS brace. The aforementioned pad is removable, and there are little straps to hold the neck support in place.
It’s hard for a product to stand out in the fairly homogeneous chest protector market. The A-8 does this by working perfectly with the company’s own neck brace. If you wear the BNS, you’re obviously a believer in protection. That being the case, the A-8 makes perfect sense at $139.95.
FLUID TECH KNEE BRACES
Back when knee braces first appeared, the price was so high that they could only be attained with doctor’s orders and some amount of insurance co-payment. That’s changed with products like the Fluid Tech knee brace. The Fluid Tech is an off-the-shelf item that is available in five sizes. With the wide variation in knee shapes and sizes, that’s still not enough to cover everyone, so Alpinestars includes provisions for customization. The most critical area is the width across the knee joint, so there are spacers that allow the Fluid Tech to fit across that area with absolute precision. The four other contact areas can be customized with simple Velcro straps. The range of motion allowed can be further customized because everyone differs in this respect, as well.
The brace frame is made of a carbon-polymer compound that compares well to carbon fiber for weight and rigidity. What sets the Fluid Tech apart from many others is the protection in the patella region. Instead of being an afterthought, as is usually the case, the kneecap is protected with an integrated cup.
If you’re a knee brace wearer, the Fluid Tech requires no adjustment period. It will feel perfectly natural from the start. The contact areas are slightly different from those of a CTI or an Asterisk, but that’s unlikely to cause any problem. On the other hand, you’ll probably find the patella protection much improved. If you’re not a knee-brace person, you’ll have the same adjustment period that you would with any other full-protection brace. It takes more time to get dressed, and you have to go through a trial-and-error period to learn how to install this brace properly, just like any other ones. Once you make the mental adjustment to wearing a knee brace, you’ll probably feel naked without it. Of course, all that depends on the condition of your knees in the first place. If you’re shopping for a brace, it’s probably because you’ve injured your knees and don’t want it to happen again. The Fluid Tech stays put and prevents hyperextension and twists as well as any knee brace can. The price is $349.95 each, which is much less than the customized products that require a prescription.
TECH 7 BOOTS
Boots can be like old friends. The longer you wear them, the tougher it can be to break up. Boots, however, will turn on you if you don’t move on at the proper time, and when that time comes, the higher the quality of the replacement, the easier the transition. That’s where the Alpinestars Tech 7 comes in. This would be the top of the line from any other company, but Alpinestars also makes the Tech 10 as a flagship. This is a truly great product, but for our money, the Tech 7 is ideal for quad riding and racing.
Break-in time is very quick, but then breakdown time is very long. For ATV riders, we’ve seen Tech 7s last years. The sole is one of the best in the business. It’s flexible enough to offer good feel, but doesn’t get torn up by the footpegs unless you do all your riding without moving your feet. Even for riders with a statue-like riding style, the 7 soles go and go, lasting much longer than those of most other brands. When they do wear out, the sole and footpeg inserts are replaceable. The upper part of the boot recently got a remake with new buckles and a redesigned shell.
One of the best features of the Tech 7 is its weight. They are very light, and that’s vital to anyone who spends long periods wearing boots. Face it, on any given day of ATVing, we spend more time standing and walking than riding. That’s where the Tech 7 stands out. They’re flexible and comfortable in any circumstance.
This year the new buckles are a big improvement, as you don’t need to hit them with your fist to get them fastened anymore. Of the four buckles, the bottom one is reversed so it can’t be caught on brush and unhooked, but that also means it’s more likely to get clogged with mud from roost in a race. Otherwise, we loved them. Overall, these remain among our favorite ATV boots, even though they are expensive compared to anything aside from the Tech 10s. The Tech 7s sell for $349.95, which is $180 less than the 10s. Both are available from virtually any ATV shop in the known world.