Knee pads are fast becoming an essential piece of protective equipment, and for good reason. Gone are the days of bulky, hard plastic caps that heavily restrict your range of motion. Now knee pads are slim, flexible sleeves that routinely save you a skin graft. However, as with all mountain biking products these days, the market has become saturated with what look to be identical products. So if you’re in the market for a new set of knee protectors, here’s our rundown on three of the biggest brands on the market: Fox, Leatt, and Troy Lee Designs.
Fox is a brand that knows what it’s doing; from helmets to gloves to shoes, their products are tried and true. Fox has kept it simple, with two knee pads in their range, the Launch Pro D3O and the Launch Enduro.
The Launch Pro is Fox’s downhill/enduro knee pad. With a solid plastic cap, D3O rubber (see below to find out what’s so great about that) and wrap around protection, the Pro is great for anyone wanting to ensure they keep their knees intact after a crash. There is, however, a reason you don’t see Nino Schurter racing around with these on. With this amount of protection, you’re going to feel the heat and the weight. If you’re into all-day rides with more climbing than descending, these are probably not the ideal pads for you.
The Launch Enduro knee pads are Fox’s leaner alternative to the Pro. Designed to be less noticeable, the Enduro is lightweight and breathable but provides more than enough protection when you need it. With a pull-on design, the Enduro pads mould to the shape of your leg for a snug fit. These pads are great for preventing the damage caused by abrasions, but they don’t have the impact resistant D30 rubber that comes with the chunkier downhill pads, meaning they aren’t so crash hot if you’re hurtling into rocks at high speeds.
2018 is only Leatt’s second year at making knee pads, but don’t let that dissuade you – this is a company with some serious products. Ridden by the likes of Danny Hart, Bernard Kerr and Ed Masters, this South African brand is worth a second look.
Leatt has two knee pads in their 2018 range.
The 3DF 5.0 is Leatt’s downhill knee pad, designed with maximum protection in mind. With a thick anterior foam impact pad which, like the Fox Pro, instantly hardens on impact. With silicon anti-slip cuffs and a low profile velcro strap, these knee pads are designed to stay put over rough terrain. The 5.0 is Leatt’s equivalent to the Fox Pro and is designed for descending rather than all-day riding.
Brand new for 2018, the 3DF 6.0 knee guard is Leatt’s do-it-all knee guard. More streamlined than the 5.0, the 6.0 is designed to maximise protection and airflow. With impact hardening foam and anti-abrasive plastic caps, this knee pad is designed for the ever-expanding enduro market. Bulkier than the Fox Enduro, this knee pad is less suited to cross country riding.
Troy Lee Designs
Troy Lee Designs was the first company to make knee pads actually worth wearing, and as the oldest brand, they have one of the larger ranges. Top athletes from around the globe, from Brandon Semenuk to Brendan Fairclough to Aaron Gwin, all choose to ride TLD products, so you know they’ve been tested by the best.
The T Bone knee pads are classic Troy Lee Designs. The T Bone pads are no-nonsense impact protection. With wrap-around padding, velcro fitting straps and European trade union certification, the T bone is the knee pad for descending. Similar to the 5.0 or the Pro, it’s a heavier, less flexible knee pad designed for big impacts.
If you’re looking for something more flexible, the TLD Raid knee guard is designed for the demands of Enduro. The Raid is lighter, uses D3O rubber, is built with abrasion-resistant technology and uses a silicon gripper. Most comparable to Leatts’ 3DF 6.0, the Raid is a sleeker form of protection.
What is D3O rubber?
For those wondering about the knee pads that change their density on impact, this is possible due to what’s known as non-Newtonian fluids (NNFs). NNFs are fluids that do not follow Sir Isaac Newton’s law of viscosity which basically says that the viscosity of a fluid should increase linearly with shear stress – the rate at which NNFs increase in viscosity is dependant on the shear stress. D3O rubber contains a number of these NNFs, which means that, upon impact, or a ‘shear stress,’ the rubber increases in viscosity – it actually hardens – instantaneously, helping to your knees intact whilst maintaining flexibility.