Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support Tech Carbon
Intended Use: Staving off paralysis
Blister’s Measured Weight: 730 grams
- SAS (size adapter system) for a versatile fit in size ranges XS-M and L-XL.
- Lycra-laminated foam padding kits
- Strap System: Allows a small, light strap worn over or under the jersey.
- Carbon polymer compound resilient to low temperatures, below 0°C.
- Innovative quick-release locking closure system
- Compressed EVA foam compound padding
Reviewer: 5’9”, 155 lbs, Chest measurement: 37”
Duration of Test: 5 months
Test Locations: Whitefish, MT; Whistler, BC; Fernie, BC; Hurricane, UT
The Italian company Alpinestars is well-established in the motorsports world, and more recently has begun designing apparel and protective gear for mountain bikers, too.
The Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support (BNS) Tech Carbon is similar to many other neck braces on the market, however, it does have some pretty unique features. I’ve spent a lot of time in an older model of the Leatt DBX Ride, which is most similar to the current DBX Comp 4, and will be comparing the BNS Tech Carbon to my DBX Ride throughout this review.
(I should also note that Alpinestars calls their product a “neck support,” while Leatt calls theirs a neck brace. Despite the difference in name, they serve the same basic purpose.)
A Word on Neck Braces in General
The general idea behind a neck brace is that, when paired with a full face helmet, it will prevent your neck from bending too far in any given direction in a crash. For example, if you land on your face and your head snaps backward, the helmet will stop once it hits the neck brace, ideally preventing your neck from breaking. This (theoretically) should hold true whether or not your head is pitched backwards, forwards, or to the side.
Quite a bit of research has been conducted by Leatt and other companies (including Alpinestars) demonstrating the effectiveness and benefits of neck braces. Those studies don’t seem to be without their biases, but I’m not a doctor, and I’m not in any position to discredit them outright. From the research I’ve done, the general consensus seems to be that neck braces do, in fact, do their job quite well.
The (Potential) Drawbacks
My own philosophy is “better safe than sorry,” and I almost always wear a neck brace whenever I wear a full-face helmet. However, there are some (potential) drawbacks to wearing one. Namely, in a crash where your helmet is forced into the neck brace, that force is transmitted to your shoulders and back. Neck braces have been known to snap a rider’s collar bone.
I’ve had a couple decent crashes while wearing a neck brace where I jammed my head into the ground, which then jammed my helmet into the neck brace. In one particular crash, that put a fair amount of force into my shoulder, which was pretty sore the next day. But those crashes weren’t bad enough that I was concerned about a neck injury. I’m 99.9% sure that I would have been fine had I not been wearing a neck brace, and I probably wouldn’t have ended up with a sore shoulder. Still, if wearing a neck brace means I’m more likely to walk away from a really bad crash, I’ll live with the potential consequences of wearing one in a minor spill.
Other drawbacks to wearing a neck brace have to do with annoyance and convenience more than safety. First, a neck brace can take a bit of getting used to; it’s a big plastic collar rattling around your neck and often bumps up against your helmet while riding in rough terrain. I’m now used to wearing one, but the bulk-factor is definitely a deal breaker for some people.
Second, neck braces aren’t always compatible with certain clothing and types of padding (some hooded jackets and chest / spine protectors, for example).
BNS Tech Carbon vs. My Older Leatt DBX Ride
Like I mentioned above, here I’ll compare the BNS Tech Carbon to an older Leatt neck brace most similar to the current DBX Comp 4. Several of Leatt’s newer models, like the DBX 5.5, have some noteworthy differences compared to my Leatt brace, so I can’t speak to how those the newer models compare to the BNS Tech Carbon.
Fit and Adjustability
Fit and adjustability are probably the most significant points of differentiation between neck braces. The BNS Tech Carbon comes in two different sizes (XS/M and L/XL), and since I am pretty skinny (37” chest measurement), I chose the smaller size.
The fit of the BNS Tech Carbon can be adjusted in two ways. First, different plastic spacers can be used to adjust the brace’s “depth” (people who have thicker chests can use longer spacers). The brace also has interchangeable pads where it contacts your chest and back, allowing you to achieve a more precise fit.
I usually have to adjust everything for the smallest possible fit on the neck braces I’ve worn in the past. But with the BNS Tech Carbon, I used the smallest spacers and the thinner set of pads because the brace was too tight with the thicker pads installed. Even if you’re a bit scrawnier than me, there’s still a good chance the BNS Tech Carbon will fit you.
With the proper adjustments, the BNS Tech Carbon rests on my shoulders and back comfortably without too much slop. The fit feels pretty similar to the DBX Ride, which is an “adult” size with all of the adjustments moved to their “skinniest” position.
I should note that the BNS Tech Carbon doesn’t have as many adjustments as most Leatt braces. Except for on the lower end models in Leatt’s line, the angle for the back support and the height of each brace’s collar are adjustable.
Points of Contact
All of the neck braces I’ve used have three distinct points of contact: on top of the shoulders, on the upper chest, and on the top of the back. The BNS Tech Carbon and the DBX Ride are no different in this respect.
Both braces, once properly fitted, are comfortable and feel like they will do their job well (i.e. protect your neck while not causing too much collateral damage to your back / collar bone). I haven’t conducted an extensive battery of tests that involve throwing myself face first into the ground, so I can’t say one brace is clearly offers better protection than the other – they both seem perfectly adequate.
Range of Motion
On the trail, the BNS Tech Carbon allows for a greater range of motion than the DBX Ride. For the majority of my riding with the DBX Ride and the BNS Tech Carbon, I was wearing a POC Cortex helmet, and I often found that I couldn’t lean my head back far enough in the DBX Ride. Especially on flatter jump trails, the back of my helmet would almost constantly be pushing against the brace. I had the same issue with other helmets I tried as well.
While there is still some helmet-brace contact with the BNS Tech Carbon, it’s much less bothersome, and I greatly prefer the BNS Tech Carbon in this respect. While this potentially means the BNS Tech Carbon is a little less safe (since it doesn’t restrict the movement of my head and neck as much), it doesn’t feel like I’m even close to overextending my neck when my helmet hits the brace. I’ll put my faith in the folks at Alpinestars and say that the brace will still offer sufficient protection.
The top of the BNS Tech Carbon, where the helmet and brace meet, is made entirely of hard plastic where the DBX Ride has some softer foam. I like the foam addition on the DBX Ride since it makes any helmet contact a little quieter.
Some of the newer Leatt braces advertise a greater range of motion, suggesting that the older Leatts were unnecessarily restrictive. But based on my experience with the DBX Ride, the BNS Tech Carbon is the clear winner in this category.