You don’t have to be in this sport long to know that there is some real potential to hurt yourself. In fact, if I’m away on a group ride for a weekend I almost always assume someone will be going home with a body part in plaster, a sling, on crutches, or all three. My own X-ray file is proof of all of this, so I’m a big fan of riding within my limits these days and, if I want to push them, I will only do so when I’ve armoured up.
Lots of people own the requisite full-face helmet, elbow pads and knee pads, but fewer people opt to go for a chest and shoulder protection system like the 100% Tarka. And that’s understandable. Chest protection is kind of another level of hassle and has tended to be uncomfortable to wear, bulky and awkward fitting. The Tarka seeks to address some of these issues.
The Tarka is available in three versions: a vest (chest and back only); a short sleeve (chest, back and shoulders); and a long sleeve (chest, back, shoulders and forearms). We tested the short sleeve option. The Tarka features unique ‘Smartshock’ material in all three impact zones, and is impact tested and certified to the highest level of CE impact protection. The Smartshock panels are a blue, impact resistant material that look a little like they are made from camping pad foam, albeit a fair bit firmer and, on the front and back, there are three of them stacked on top of each other. They are malleable yet firm. How firm? Well, I think you could hit a rock at any speed and if it hits you in the blue zone - that zone will be the least of your worries. All Smartshock plates are removable, so if you just want the back protection, you can remove the chest protector for example, which also means you can easily wash the vest to keep it fresh.
Fit wise, it is slim. I would err on fitting up a full size from normal, but once it’s on it's comfortable enough. Some other body protection I have worn seemed to itch from the get-go, but this felt fine. I didn’t need to wear a liner shirt underneath generally, but some people might. Silicone logo grippers on the lower hem also keep it from riding up your back too. All the blue panels are ventilated, and the material of the body is a breathable mesh. Don’t get me wrong, wearing body armour is still warm, but this breathes about as well as you can expect from this kind of product. On the trail, I was impressed with the free range of motion, it never really felt ‘in the way’ like some armour can. It’s definitely a solid piece of kit, so much so that I’m not going to put it on for a regular trail ride but, if I was spending a day on the shuttles or a gondola, it’s something I would definitely take. It’s got enough heft to it that I think the target market is much more the gravity/DH crowd, rather than trying to add a little bit of protection to your everyday trail riding. Basically, I think if I was doing something where I was planning to wear a full-face helmet, I would take this too.
At $399 it’s a wee bit of an investment, but it’s cheaper than time off work when you injure yourself or when you have to take care of your young grom who’s smashing out laps on the bike park, trying to be the next Blenki or Bulldog, but ends up smashing themselves. I also think that wearing appropriate protection for the risks that are taken in our sport is not only common sense but, really, it’s about being a good citizen too. So, if you’re taking risks, suit up, your future self will thank you for it.
Available through FE Sports.
Review by Lance Pilbrow