Safer Trails with Race Face Flank Core Protection [Review]

The Race Face Flank Core body protector features D3O pads on the shoulders and back sewn into a durable mesh shirt.

Trail protection starts with a helmet, then knee pads, elbows for some, and eventually the torso needs to be armored. Many legit gravity races require athletes to wear a back protector, so why not wrap a sternum pad in the mix. This thin Flank Core sleeve from Race Face has your spine, sternum, and shoulders covered against dirt naps and checking trees. With an MSRP of $140 for all of that protection tech, this looked like a great armor option, so we decided to give it a look.

From the treeline looking down, this is a meshy shirt with D3O back and shoulder protection, and some padding over the sternum. You might think that these pads could be sewn into any tight shirt and you’d be good to go. The DIY method would likely work fine, but this protection shirt has some cool material features that make it work well on the bike. For example, the mesh material is tough, and the seams are double stitched to keep it from ripping every time you interact with the ground or a tree branch. Pad placement is dialed to keep the back protector out of your pants in an aggressive riding position while it also covers more of my spine than a lot of the spine pads I’ve tried.

Since it’s super stretchy, there’s a nice amount of compression coming from the size small I’m wearing. I’m not sure it’s enough to aid muscle recovery, but it feels good either way. The inside stitches are looped over one another to keep them from chafing against your skin, creating a comfortable feel while pedaling. So it’s cozy throughout, which would be difficult to achieve with a set of pads, a tight shirt, and your own sewing machine.

Another reason not to DIY is because this protection is certified, which some race promoters may require. The Flank Core shirt uses D3O padding similar to that in most armor clothing, and the orange pads have been tested and certified by certain impact safety regulations. Each pad is about as thin as it can get, and the protection is hardly noticeable from the outside when you’re wearing a light jacket. It also makes your shoulders look significantly more muscular than they are which might be a humorous bonus for some folks.

I’ve only worn this protector on cold days below 60° F, and I sweat small ponds beneath the padding even in low temperatures. Heat is an issue with all body armor, and it wasn’t magically solved in this piece. On hot days I would be inclined to remove the shoulder pads and potentially cut the sleeves off to reduce the material against my skin. Fortunately the shirt breathes well in all of the places it’s not holding protective padding.

All body armor is hot, and it’s all hard to get off after a ride. This shirt is particularly tricky to remove by yourself, as sweat glues it to you and makes it feel like a second skin. The best move it to roll up the bottom and grab the back protector with both hands over your shoulders — as if you’re doing a tricep press. With that large pad in hand you should be able to slide it up and over. The alternative is a zipper along the length of the shirt that typically rubs against your skin and causes chafing, so maybe the second skin is preferable.

Pros and cons of the Race Face Flank Core protection shirt


  • Long back protection
  • Comfortable and breathable
  • Shoulder pads help with accidental tree checks


  • Hard to get off when it’s sweaty
  • Sternum protection could be far larger
  • No pockets


Apart from the heat and removal process inherent to all torso protection the Flank Core is a fantastic protector for the price. Hopefully more people can prevent injuries with gear in this reasonable range.