There's something undeniably sexy about shiny, new carbon fiber. You know that saying "a diamond is forever?" - no, a knee injury is forever. The fact that these braces will help avoid painful, lifelong injuries makes them even more appealing.
When I first begin riding, I was blessed with a sense of indestructibility. I could do no wrong and there were no consequences for my actions. Granted, I was pretty young and a little naive, but the chance of injury rarely entered my mind. Then, just as I began to consider myself immortal, I was given a wakeup call, a broken leg. It was nothing serious, but enough to make me think a little the next time I went riding. That was about twenty years ago and I've since had more wakeup calls than I care to remember. A broken leg here, a concussion there and so on. They seem to show up every couple of years and are nice little reminders about how vulnerable I really am.
Like clockwork, it had been exactly two years since a broken wrist when I decided to race the EnduroCross in Las Vegas. My confidence was high and sustaining an injury on the slow yet technical course was the last thing on my mind. Then, in an effort to regain my balance through the rock section, I dabbed my foot and felt that all too familiar wakeup call. This time the reminder was a little different though. First off, I didn't feel as though I had made a mistake, and secondly, unlike my previous injuries, I could have prevented, or at least lessened, the injury by wearing a knee brace.
A couple painful and drug filled weeks later I finally received my MRI results: Tibial plateau fracture, medial femoral condyle fracture with bone contusion, complete avulsion of the inferior ACL with associated tibial spine fracture and oblique tear of the posterior horn of the medial meniscus.
After talking to a few doctors and hobbling around for a few months, I came to realize that any future riding would require a knee brace, which I obviously should have been wearing to begin with.
"I have pretty good knees for the time being," says our brazen Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, "but that's probably an excellent reason to get a preventative set before I wind up hobbled and decrepit like Chamberlain. If you're already in the same sinking boat as BC, it's a no-brainer to get some kind of protection before the damaged joint gets shredded again."
That being said, I did some product research and decided to begin my post-knee injury career with the EVS Web.
The Web brace is the top of the line knee protection offering from EVS Sports
, and just by looking at it, you can tell it's a serious piece of protective equipment. The brace is made from twin wall, hollow core, 100% carbon fiber. This makes the brace extremely strong as well as very lightweight. The lightweight frame also features built-in crumple zones, which help to limit the risk of a femur break.
As you can see, the extra-long nylon straps, especially the one just under the knee, overhang enough to snag on your pant liner. Other than that the cinch system worked very well.
In addition to absorbing impact, the main purpose of a knee brace is to prevent the knee from hyper-extending, and thus tearing one of the four ligaments in the knee. The Web brace achieves this with a four-bar, T-6061 aluminum linkage hinge system. This hinge system allows full, natural movement of the knee while adjustable stopping points prevent the knee from over-extending.
The adjustable hyperextension stops prevent the leg from extending into a straight line with settings of 170-, 160- or 150-degrees. I personally used the 150-degree stop for my damaged and weakened right knee. The joint has less range of motion than my left leg which comfortably utilized the 170-degree stop. This ability to fine tune the braces, which are leg specific to begin with, is what makes them really stand out above a lower end brace.
The final piece of protection offered by the Web brace is the articulating knee cup. This multi-piece, jointed knee cup is designed to absorb the impact of a crash and moves extremely well with your knee as it bends. The free-floating cup is also removable/replaceable for cleaning or to use the Web for non-impact type activities.
The brace is secured to the leg with a total of five hook and loop type straps. Two nylon straps secure the brace above the knee and two below. We really enjoyed the added comfort and security of the fifth strap which is 2.75-inches wide and made of the same 5mm-thick, removable/washable rubberized padding that lines the entire brace. All together they do an excellent job of securing the unit in place and the padded material is a nice buffer between sensitive skin and unforgiving carbon fiber. Excessive length on the nylon straps gave us our only complaint by catching the liner of our pants.
"I never found myself in a situation where my knee would have exploded without the EVS," says Hilde, "but I sure felt safe wearing them. The adjustable stops, floating knee cap and snug fit all contribute to a sense of security while making the braces as comfortable as possible. Not wearing a hole in my leg scored major points."
After months inside various sets of sweaty motocross pants and multiple open-air sessions on the mini bikes, both Web braces have yet to reveal a single mechanical or structural flaw. Slight scuffing where the inner frame contacts the bike was the only semblance of damage.
We came away pretty impressed with the EVS Web brace, which we fully expected to given the $345 pricetag. The things that we didn't like so much were the annoyingly long nylon straps and lengthy overall dimensions. We would have liked the braces to be a little more compact, but part of what makes them so safe is their all-encompassing nature.
"I've been a knee cup guy since Day 1," admits JC. "so wearing something as bulky as the EVS brace felt very unorthodox. Believe it or not, I actually got acquainted with it fairly quickly during the initial ride, but it would take a whole season to really get used to a full set. The biggest issue for me wasn't necessarily the bulk, but the lack of feeling between my knees and the bike. You just have to learn to cope with it all."
At almost $350 per leg, most people probably have a hard time justifying or budgeting for a set of braces. Is the protection really worth that kind of money - after all, you're indestructible right? Four doctor bills, three months of physical therapy and countless painful missteps have made them easily worth the MSRP in my book. If you need more convincing, come find me at EnduroCross next year. I'll be the bionic, carbon fiber guy with as much Web bracing as possible.
EVS Web Knee Brace
Carbon Fiber (Graphics available: White/Tan Ornate, Green MX, Blue MX, Red Flame)
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