NINGBO WEINUO PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT Co. LTD
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Modern mountain bikes are faster and more powerful than ever. But this enhanced downhill performance increases the likelihood of crashing – that’s why a good pair of knee pads should be an integral part of any rider’s equipment arsenal. With the best knee pads on the market offering peerless protection, ventilation and comfort, we tested some of the most exciting models in the lab and on the trails.
Gone are the days of knee pads looking like prosthetic limbs: they are now a true fashion statement for modern mountain bikers. The market has been dominated recently by viscoelastic foam protectors, not only because they’re lighter and more comfortable than conventional hard shell versions but predominantly because they offer better protection and absorb impact forces more efficiently. With a variety of gel-based materials now mixing things up and a growing number of knee pads manufacturers experimenting with different material combinations, we decided it was time for a fact check!
The best knee pad is useless if it doesn’t fit properly. And that’s why you should always try it on before buying. If a knee pad doesn’t fit the shape of your leg it can quickly turn uncomfortable and make pedalling feel like torture. But it’s not just about finding the right balance between length and circumference; seams, zips and Velcro fasteners can cause annoying and painful friction burns on your skin. In our individual knee pad reviews we reveal which problems occurred during testing–and where they were encountered.
Fit and comfort may seem inextricably linked but they’re not necessarily the same thing: a good fit will prevent the protector from slipping and provide effective protection in the event of a crash. Many brands use silicone strips and/or fastening straps to keep the knee pads in place, but not all concepts work in reality. Strapless knee pads demand a particularly snug fit in order to stay in place; this has even more relevance when it comes to the lightweighter models on test.
Internal protection is at the heart of every knee pad and guarantees its protective function. Depending on the type and model, it’s either sewn directly into the knee pad or slotted in so that it can be removed when needed. In order to carefully calculate each protector’s capacity for shock absorption we employed the expertise of a high-end lab to analyse each protector individually. Many of the protectors demonstrated the same values, and many came from the same manufacturers. Certain brands are experimenting with more exotic materials, but not all of these delivered the requisite performance in the lab. Some feature a plastic skid plate in addition to the standard foam padding; these hard shells showed a nominal advantage in the lab but their sliding characteristics proved game-changing on the trails by preventing the knee pad from catching on the ground.
Nothing really beats riding on a hot summer’s day, right? But it could turn into a real sweat-fest if you’re garbed up in stuffy, non-breathable protectors. More robust fabrics and additional layers may admittedly offer more protection against abrasions, but there’s also a time and place for ventilation so it’s important that you find a good compromise. Our intuitive star scoring method for each individual knee pad will give you an easy overview.
Like any technical baselayer, a knee pad will soak up huge amounts of sweat–but it’s also exposed to the elements so it is likely to get covered in dirt. This means you’ll have to wash it from time to time: naturally hand washing is recommended, but if you’ve got a model with removable protectors then it should comfortably survive some cycles in the washing machine.
Knee pads move and flex with every turn of the cranks, so durability should be a key concern. Visible wear-and-time is one easy marker but there’s also the chance that the foam protector could rip if you don’t take care of it properly. The protector may get damaged when bent, which means take extra care should be taken when removing it from the knee pad. The suffered this fate during testing, but we’ve encountered this issue with other pads previously.
Obviously aesthetics play an important role but we urge you not to base your decision exclusively on colour or decals. Fortunately, the bike industry knows us riders well so all the models on test would pass a style check without any problems – provided there isn’t a visible gap between your shorts and the pads!