When it comes to upper body protection, we’re talking about protecting your elbows, shoulders, chest and back. As a beginner off-road rider, I think it is essential that you feel protected in these critical areas so that you can feel free to ride and experiment with different body positions and weight transfer without the fear of falling and injuring yourself.
The most freeing feeling is when you try something new or tackle new terrain, then fall off the bike, and realize that nothing hurts and nothing’s broken, the bike is fine, and you can pick up and try again.
With that said, here’s a couple recommendations for body armor:
Fox Titan Armor Jacket:
Wearing this armor makes you feel like a riot trooper, and it’s got the protection to back it up. First off, the jacket is made of mesh material which is great for hot days and allows a lot of airflow. It can be worn over or under a jersey, though wearing it under a jersey makes you look like a football or hockey player.
The jacket provides chest, back, shoulder, elbow, and forearm protection, which works well against brushes with trees and hitting the ground in a fall. Along the back spine there are articulating sections that contour to the back to provide good back protection almost down to the tailbone. A built in kidney belt straps across the waist just beneath the ribcage to help keep jiggly bits tight.
For chest protection, two separate pieces cover the left and right chest areas, with a zipper between to close everything together. This is pretty good protection for most falls and hits, though I have experienced personally one flaw of the two piece chest protection design. Taking a forceful direct hit into the center of the chest causes the two pieces to direct all the force into the zipper area between them. Unlike a single piece chest protector that will distribute the impact throughout the area of the armor, the two piece design folds in at the zipper and directs the force into the wearers sternum, which is very painful. Something to be aware of. After that hit, I opted to wear an additional single piece chest protector on top of the armor jacket.
Overall, for a single purchase, this is a great option for upper body protection. It would also otherwise be a great value at about $150 if it weren’t for the next option…
Ebay “motorcycle armor”:
Searching this term on Ebay will yield an armor jacket that is suspiciously similar to the Fox Titan Armor jacket, but for only about $40 or less. I found one in the screenshot above for $25. Examining the two, it’s hard to tell if this is a knock-off or an extra run of inventory off the same factory floor. With the only slight difference being a built in thumb hole in the mesh sleeves, this is as close to an exact copy as one would find.
If you’re on a budget, and don’t mind not having the “FOX” logo, this is the right option.
For slightly less protection
On the hottest of days, or if you’re comfortable with slightly less protection, I suggest looking into armored base layers or armored shirts. These use softer armor sewn into the shirt that provide a bit less protection, but are much more comfortable to wear under jerseys or other layers.
Moose Racing XC-1 Body Armor:
This is my go to armor for most days of riding. This armor shirt provides comfortable protection for elbows and shoulders without being too bulky. There’s also built in chest and back protection, but they are much smaller in size compared to the Fox Titan Armor.
I like this setup because it's very breathable which is great for hot days. It's also a lot less bulk. Since I usually have a separate chest protector and back protection, I can remove the armor from the front and back armor pockets to cut down the bulk even more.
The Moose Racing XC-1 retails for about $99. Other similar options are available from other reputable companies like Leatt, Thor, and others.
Whatever your riding style, I highly recommend some form of upper body protection. Not only will it protect you in falls, but the feeling of protection and safety will help you ride better and more comfortably knowing you are safe.
Whether it's hard armor like the Fox Titan Jacket or softer protection like the Moose Racing Armor shirt, you can be assured that these will keep you from serious injury.
Good luck and Happy Riding!