“There are only two types of motorcycle protective equipment available today that were specifically designed to help save your life in the event of a serious impact,” says Leatt’s Phil Davy. “First is your helmet; second is a neck brace.” An entirely true statement, as all other pieces of gear are meant to prevent injuries that can be serious, but not entirely life threatening. Boots, knee braces and even chest protectors are meant to protect and do their jobs well, but blown out knees and broken
ankles won’t kill you. As much as we hate to think or talk about it, head trauma and cervical spine injuries can and do end rider’s lives. According to Leatt, 60% of all fatal spine injuries are injuries of the neck, and neck injuries are the second most common upper body injury.
Such was the case in 2001 when Dr. Chris Leatt attended a local enduro where a rider named Alan Selby suffered fatal neck injuries. Dr. Leatt helped attend to Selby on scene, but nothing could be done to save him. Just a couple weeks prior to that, Dr. Leatt’s son had begun riding, so he decided to put his son’s riding on hold until he could find protective equipment that would protect his son from a neck injury. Not content with what was on the market, he began to design a device that would prevent hyper flexion of the cervical spine while creating an alternative load path for injury-causing forces encountered in a crash.
When Dr. Leatt began designing the brace he had no test facilities, no set industry standards such as CE or any idea what the brace should look like. The first prototype consisted of metal and foam and was crude to say the least. In time the design was streamlined and refined as Dr. Leatt worked towards the brace design that began to resemble the well-known shape it is
(Top) Dr. Chris Leatt holds up his very first neck brace prototype alongside a current GPX model. (Bottom) The Leatt testing lab is jammed full of rigs to simulate accidents and gather data.
now. In time, Dr. Leatt was able to include a staff of bio-medical engineers, designers and testing rigs to design, test and refine the Leatt neck brace. Finally in 2006, the Leatt-Brace was widely available on the market.
There have always been some misconceptions and even controversy concerning neck braces since Leatt first broke onto the scene. There are claims that neck braces break collarbones, injure backs or just don’t work. In order to refute those ideas (most often espoused in internet chat forums), Leatt invited MotoUSA to its headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa to explain exactly what a Leatt neck brace does and DOESN’T do. We were to be given access to every corner of the facility and were to be shown the how’s and why’s of its design.
First order of business when we arrived at Leatt HQ was an introduction to the staff including design, bio-medical engineering, marketing and sales. It didn’t take long as the company is small in size with just around 20 people in the building. Then it was a quick walk around the facility that has an open layout to promote communication and collaboration between the team. All well and good, but the highlight of the tour was the testing lab.
Inside the lab was a myriad of testing rigs to simulate the stresses and impacts put on a human body during a motorcycle crash. The main testing rig is a pendulum that swings a 50th percentile Hybrid III Anthropomorphic Test Dummy upside down and head first into a 70kg (154 lb) block of steel to accurately simulate the force that would result a neck injury. Martin, as the Leatt team calls him, has 23 built-in sensors to measure data as well as a Motorcycle Anthropomorphic Test Dummy (MATD) neck that perfectly mirrors a human neck. They use this swinging type of rig because it is the best way to conduct the test over and over with repeatable results. But this is just one of the numerous contraptions that test anything from the strength of the back strut to the reliability of the hardware used in the brace itself. There was even
Leatt’s test dummy, Martin, is about to come in contact with a 154-lb block of steel to simulate a certain type of motorcycle accident.
a rig for the development of Leatt’s upcoming car racing brace.
After each test, data and high-speed video is downloaded and analyzed using various programs. Additionally, the engineering team can use programs such as MSC Adams LifeMOD for virtual simulations of the test dummy and a detailed spine model, saving time and allowing for a greater understanding of every detail and force incurred in certain scenarios. Leatt’s team can also do finite element and material analysis on the actual brace to ascertain the loads put on it during a crash in a variety of situations. In layman’s terms – Leatt knows crashes inside and out and can tell exactly what happens to your body, spine and gear when you crash.
After the tour we sat down to delve into the ins and outs of the Leatt-Brace. A very detailed and thorough PowerPoint presentation laid out the hard data and explained in what scenarios a brace can protect the rider. Hyper flexion (forward bending of the neck), hyper extension (backward bending) and lateral hyper flexion (bending to the side) forces are all reduced by the shape of the brace that stops the cervical spine from being bent too far in any direction. Unfortunately Leatt also reveals that there is one circumstance that no neck brace can protect a rider from and that is axial loading, which is an impact straight in line with the spine. This would be a drop straight down on your head with the neck straight as well. The good news is this type of crash is rare as ta crashing rider is usually moving at some sort of angle to the impacting surface, which would more commonly create one or more of the flexion scenarios.
The Leatt team also dispelled the most common rumors and misconceptions about neck braces. We’ve all heard
(Top) A model is used to show where the Leatt -Brace sits in relation to the spine. (Middle) The rear strut of the Leatt-Brace is designed to break before well before forces reach the level to cause injury to the back. (Bottom) Dr. Leatt is passionate about protection.
someone say, “I’d wear one, but they break collarbones.” The fact is that since the introduction of the Leatt-Brace there has been no change in the amount of collarbone injures in AMA racing. Dr. Leatt explained that a clavicle (collarbone) protrudes from the human body the furthest when the arms are hanging down. Movement from that position actually causes it to recede into the body. How often do you crash with your arms perfectly at your sides? The second most common worry or misconception is that the rear strut will transfer a damaging load to the back. The truth of the matter is the strut is there just to keep brace in its proper position, and is designed to break away long before the force is great enough to cause any injury to the spine. If a part of the brace breaks in a crash that means it’s done its job, simple as that.
Another benefit from the Leatt-Brace that might not be apparent is its ability to lessen the chance of a concussion. This is the by-product of the design slowing and limiting the arc of your head in an impact. The less distance your head moves, the less speed and energy can accumulate before it stops. The brace also reduces the whiplash effect or secondary movement in the opposite direction of the original force that can do just as much damage to the brain as the first impact.
There is so much data and information on this subject; I couldn’t possibly include it all in this article without losing most of the readers along the way. Visit the Leatt website at www.leatt-brace.com and do your own research in the Leatt Knowledge Library section. Its all there for you to take in – the testing methods, the testing standards and the results.
After seeing the testing methods, the science behind the design and benefits of wearing a Leatt-Brace, I have personally decided to wear one from here on out, even if that means buying it myself. To me the neck brace is now the second most important piece of safety equipment for riding a motorcycle, after a helmet of course. Dr. Leatt didn’t get into this to make a fortune. He just wanted to protect his son and friends; the rest of us are the beneficiaries of his passion for protection.