Safety is the number one priority of mountain biking. If it isn’t yours, it should be. If you have a nasty spill without proper protection in place, it will be going forward.
Arguably no bit of protection is more vital in mountain biking than a set of pads to guard your knees. While it’s important to protect your elbows with pads, knees tend to take precedent over the arm joints because you don’t pedal with your arms.
What are the best rated mountain bike pads on the market?
Before we get to that, there are a few things you must consider before walking into your local sporting goods store or bike shop. Below, we’ll jump into our recommendations and illustrate everything you need to know about each one.
In a hurry? The test winner after 16 hours of research:
Fox Racing Launch Pro MTB Knee Guard
Why is it better?
Last Updated: January 2, 2019
By Max Shumpert: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding knee and elbow pads available for those who are interested in their protection while riding bicycles.. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best knee and elbow pads currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
Fox Racing Launch Pro MTB Knee Guard
JBM BMX Bike Knee Pads and Elbow Pads
Mongoose BMX Bike Gel Knee and Elbow Pad Set
Alpinestars Paragon Knee Guard
Fox Racing Launch Pro MTB Knee/Shin Guard
Best Bike Knee and Elbow Pad set
It’s not uncommon to see a set of knee pads being sold in tandem with elbow pads. This is a good thing. After all, elbow pads will give you the same level of protection for your main arm joints – something that could be crucial should you take a nasty spill.
Here are our choices for the best bike knee and elbow pad combos on the market.
1. Mongoose BMX Bike Gel Knee and Elbow Pad Set
Designed for smaller riders, this combination pad set is cost-effective – a pair will just set you back about $16. They represent a fantastic value, as the level of technology that goes into these pads makes them much more valuable than what their price tag may indicate.
First off, these pads are stylish. If you’re planning to get this set to your child, they won’t complain about how “lame” they look.
More importantly, they won’t mind wearing them when they hop on their cycle.
This set’s tough outer shell combines with soft internal gel padding to establish a solid protective barrier. The gel in the padding is designed to add additional shock absorption in case of a spill. It also makes wearing the pads substantially more comfortable – another element that will encourage them to wear the gear.
The outer shell also goes a long way in protecting your little rider from any minor scrapes and bruises should they take a tumble. If your child is a bit of a daredevil when it comes to riding around in the neighborhood, this level of durability will help you feel at ease whenever they go for a ride on their own.
The pads are also easy to put on and take off, thanks to the pads’ Velcro straps. These straps are completely adjustable and easy to use, so your child will be able to strap in for a proper, comfortable fit in no time at all.
2. JBM BMX Knee Pads and Elbow Pads with Wrist Guards
Perfect for older kids or adults, this adjustable knee and elbow pad combination costs between $18 and $22. The pricing is competitive even though they offer something other elbow pads don’t – wrist guards.
These pads are specifically built for the hardcore bike rider in mind; one that doesn’t mind pushing the limits of their cycling through aggressive maneuvers and difficult pathways. The wrist guards offer proof of this. Once strapped, they will offer your wrists an extra layer of protection in the event of a particularly nasty spill.
The pads themselves are made of durable PE and PP materials to provide toughness. They also feature breathable polyester sleeves to allow an extra measure of comfort, even as it protects.
The gear’s adjustable straps also offer plenty of room for flexibility. This is an important factor to consider depending on the type of ride you’re planning to enjoy. If you’re going for a serious mountain trek, you can make them tight for ultimate protection. You can make them a little looser if you’re just biking around the block.
The adjustability also makes them a true "one size fits all" option. This is especially important if these are being bought for a teenage cyclist that hasn't stopped growing quite yet.
The pads’ neutral color scheme will also make it easy to match with any other gear you have. This includes helmets, jerseys, and shorts. This adds an extra layer of comfort to the riding experience.
What’s more, these pads are versatile in the sense that their effectiveness isn’t just limited to cycling. If you also enjoy rollerblading, skateboarding, or other “extreme” sports, these pads can easily be used for those pursuits, too.
Best Bike Knee Pads
1. Fox Racing Launch Pro MTB Knee Guard
Fox has developed a loyal following for its equipment over the years.
With a price tag ranging between $50 and $107, you may be a bit concerned about running into a “buying for the logo” situation. This is not the case here – these are high-quality kneepads.
The pad’s perforated neoprene chassis provides comfortable, durable protection that can withstand all sorts of punishment – both from the rigors of cycling and the elements that you may encounter during a ride.
The pads are ergonomically designed to protect the knee during the full range of pedaling motion. More importantly, they are shaped to help keep your knee stabilized as you cycle, further protecting you from the scourge of injury.
You won’t have to worry about them sliding around your knee, either. The combination of elastic strapping on the top and bottom of the pad and the silicone gripper behind the knee will keep this piece of equipment firmly in place.
While these pads don’t feature “one-size-fits-all” adjustability, they do make a set of knee pads for children. This is good news for families that enjoy the occasional outing down mountain trails.
2. Fox Racing Launch Pro MTB Knee/Shin Guard
Sometimes, you want a little extra protection. If so, Fox is ready to help you scratch that itch.
This knee/shin guard combination will cost between $65 and $130 based on various size metrics. Like their MTB knee pad, this knee/shin guard is worth every penny.
The equipment consists the same perforated neoprene design as the knee pad, giving you a level of breathability you may expect from a soft-shell pad.
Yet this is no cream puff – the sleeve’s Kevlar front knee panel covers a flexible plastic knee cup, offering you optimal protection even in the nastiest of falls.
The knee pad/shin guard hybrid is also ergonomically designed. This means that the guard will keep your entire lower leg stable, regardless of how rough the terrain of your road may be. Coupled with the material’s breathability, you won’t feel like your leg is engulfed in fabric.
The sleeve will remain locked in place with relative ease, as well. Elastic strapping at the sleeve’s top and bottom will keep the pad in place, as will the silicone gripper that’s located behind the knee.
Before you go out and buy a pair, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with Fox’s size chart. Some people have reported inconsistencies with the equipment’s size in relation to their size. If you don’t get to know the size chart, you may run into similar problems.
3. Alpinestars Paragon Knee Guard
If you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Alpinestars Paragon Knee Guard will fit your need rather well.
Typically, these pads will only set you back between $33 and $66, depending on various metrics. But don’t misconstrue their affordability with being cheap.
First off, these knee pads are extremely lightweight, making them one of the best pad options out there for the casual cyclist.
This doesn’t mean it’s wimpy. It has some serious durability, too.
The pad’s mix of polyester, polyurethane, and spandex combine with a breathable stretch mesh knee sock, collectively creating a fit that’s close, yet extremely comfortable.
It also features a pre-shaped ergonomic design that helps keep your knee stable regardless of the level of cycling you perform. This also will help protect your knee from going a bit wonky should you hit a rough spot on the road.
The pad is built to slip on your knee, which makes putting the device on more efficient. At the same time, elasticated cuffs and silicone printing provide reinforced stabilization once the pad is set in place. You won’t have to worry about this pad slipping off your knee at all.
Some people have noted that Alpinestars size guide is just a little bit off. The consensus is if you find your knee to be in between two sizes, your best bet is to opt for the smaller size for a more agreeable fit.
What Are Knee Pads?
Let’s start with the obvious.
Knee pads are pieces of protective gear designed to protect your knees from serious injury in the event of a fall. While they won’t totally absolve you from feeling the impact of a tumble should your bike lock and hurtle you over the handlebars, they’re designed to lessen the blow.
They're also built to absorb as much as the strike to the knee as possible. This absorption property can go a long way in preventing serious injury or truncating recovery time if an injury does take place.
Why Are Protective Knee Pads So Important?
To fully grasp why the importance of protective knee pads, it’s vital to consider what the pad is protecting. Essentially, the protected element is critical to our day to day lifestyle, on or off the bike.
The knee joint is the largest joint in your body. It’s also one of the most intricate, complex joints.
When you mountain bike, the demands you put on this system goes beyond the realm of mere rigorousness.
The best way to consider the functionality of your knee when biking is to view it as a piston in a car. It’s consistent up-and-down motion – not unlike a piston – is the element in play as you push on your pedals and give your bike motion.
If you ride your bike consistently, you're putting your knees' piston-like proficiency to extreme usage. For instance, if you go on a two-hour ride at an average of 80 rpm, your knee will bend roughly 10,000 times during the journey. That's a lot of bends. If your knee is even slightly hurt, biking could result in massive pain.
While knee pads will obviously protect your knees from absorbing the brunt of a fall, the joint’s constant motion correlates to the secondary reason knee pads are essential. A knee injury doesn’t have to occur because of a fall. Hitting a hard bump in the middle of a rocky mountain trail can create a world of hurt.
Knee injuries are huge disruptors, and not just because they threaten to keep you off the bike for weeks or months. They could also make it very difficult to exercise in general, since knee function is key to other basic forms of activity, such as jogging or walking. As such, it’s safe to say knee pads will help keep you moving.
The Different Types of Knee Pads
When you get ready to buy knee pads, you’ll find a surprising array of options to choose from. These options could be a little overwhelming if you’re not expecting them. However, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help you parse through all the choices.
The first thing to take note of is the shell. There are two types of shells to consider:
The two shell types have some shared features that work toward the same goal of protection. Both pads have some sort of soft, flexible sleeve and padding to protect the knee and the area surrounding the joint. These are where the similarities end.
As the name suggests, a hard-shell mountain bike knee pad will be encased in a hard, plastic shell. The shell itself is either riveted or Velcro-ed on to the front of the knee. The shell provides a greater level of protection, and it particularly enhances protection from rocks, trees, and other such foreign objects.
The soft-shell knee pad is small and lighter, making it more comfortable than your typical knee pad. While it doesn’t provide the level of protection that’s afforded by a hard-shell pad, it will have an abrasion-resistant panel for protective purposes. It should be noted that soft pads aren’t as durable as hard pads.
There is a third option available to cyclists; one made from advanced protective materials like VPD or d30. This advanced pad is a hybrid between the soft and hard pads. These materials start off as soft and pliable, yet instantly stiffen during an impact. While they’re hard to get now, this may not be the case in a few years.
You also need to consider the type of closure offered by the knee pads. Again, you have two widespread options to consider:
Butterfly closures wrap around the knee and are fastened behind the knee. This makes it possible to put them on or take them off without removing your shoes. You’ll typically see this design corresponding with hard shell pads.
Slip-on pads do indeed slip on – they slide up the leg up to your knee. These are typically associated with soft shell knee pads. They tend to be more affordable mountain bike knee pads compared to their butterfly cousins, which may make them the best option for the budget-conscious.
The design of a knee pad is perhaps the biggest factor to determine because its usage is somewhat predicated on the kind of cycling you plan to enjoy.
The three types of design are:
Lightweight pads are obviously light, but they also tend to be well-ventilated and comfortable. The weight of these pads is designed to allow cyclists to nearly forget their wearing protection. While these provide the utmost in comfort, their downside is that they aren’t optimal when it comes to protection.
Trail knee pads have come a long way in the last few years. While they aren’t anywhere near as svelte as a lightweight pad, they aren’t as big and bulky as they used to be. As such, these pads have become more popular with trail riders of late.
These pads provide solid protection against the hazards of mountain biking, from bumpy roads to foreign objects ready to lay down the law on your knees. These types of pads are the styles most likely to carry the soft/hard shell hybrid technology.
Heavy duty knee pads are big and bulky, so they’re not pretty to look at.
But what they lack in aesthetics they more than make up for in protection. These are still used by racers and those that attack their mountain biking with great vigor. If you’re new to them, be forewarned: they take a while to get used to.
Why Should You Choose Your Knee Pads Carefully?
The main point of getting knee pads is to protect your knee from getting injured as best as possible. However, this does not mean you should solely use protection as your knee-pad buying metric.
The big factor here is comfort.
Your knees act like pistons on a bike, and they’re going to be in a heavy state of stress. Adding extra poundage to your knees may cause a measure of discomfort you may not want to deal with. In turn, this may make you a bit reluctant to hop on the bike and go.
Other Elements to Pay Attention to When Choosing Knee Pads
Determining the overarching metrics of safety and comfort is a bit like a puzzle. You need the right pieces in place to make them fit for you. In the world of bike pads, these pieces take the form of many elements you should pay close attention to when you need to buy a set.
The biggest piece here is determining your purpose in cycling. This boils down into figuring out the type of riding you’re going to be doing, and where you plan on riding your bike on a routine basis.
Sometimes, these elements can be one in the same. For instance, if you’re into mountain biking, you’re probably going to spend a decent amount of time seeking out rocky pathways with various inclines and grades. Yet there is enough variance in between the two categories that warrant individual scrutiny.
Your cycling purpose is going to help you figure out what pads to wear – or in some cases, what you may be able to get away with wearing. If you’re cycling for light exercise or as an alternative, environmentally-friendly means to get about town, investing in heavy duty pads is a waste of money.
However, light pads may not be the best choice if you’re planning on racing competitively or going on long-distance journeys. In either scenario, fatigue may encroach, which may leave you more susceptible to making a wrong turn or a poor choice. A thicker, heavier pad provides extra insurance if things go south.
Also, if you’re planning on cycling through the neighborhood on flat surfaces, or even through a community park with relatively flat paths, soft shells or lightweight pads will do just fine. These pads probably won’t fly too well with you if you’re planning on making routine treks up rugged roads.
If you’re planning on doing a mix of casual and rugged riding, your best bet may be to get different pairs of knee pads and adjust based on the type of cycling you’re planning on doing. If you don’t want different sets of pads, however, you’d be wise to skew toward the heavier pads for safety’s sake.
The size of your knee pads is also a very critical thing to consider. If they are too large, they will slip off of your knees, ultimately leaving your knees unwittingly exposed. If they're too small, they'll constrict your knees and cause you substantial discomfort.
Figuring out the size that's right is not a simple process. A symbiosis of sorts must be achieved between the rider and the knee pad before the purchase. There are a few somewhat complex steps involved in this endeavor.
The first thing you need to do is measure your knee area. This is where the first bit of trickiness comes in, as not all manufacturers will use the same place on the knee to take measurements. As such, it’s important to measure your knee at a few different places.
The first place – and one of the more common measuring metrics – is the center of your calf. While this isn’t anywhere near your knee per se, it’s around where the bottom of your knee pad will be. To get this measurement, simply wrap a tape measure around your calf.
The other place you’ll want to measure is at the top of your calf. This is where a lot of the fluctuation takes place. Some manufacturers will have you measure two inches above the knee, while others will have you measure four, six, or even eight inches above the knee.
Because of this, it’s wise to measure at each spot and have the data at the ready when it’s time to purchase a pad. To get these measurements, you’ll want to place the edge of your tape measure at the center of your kneecap, mark the desired measurement with your finger, and then wrap the tape around that mark.
When you're making these measurements, you want to be careful not to pull it too tightly. Doing so will not give you an accurate number to work with. However, you will want to ensure the tape is snug.
If you don’t have a tape measure available, you can always use a sturdy piece of string. Wrap the string around your desired area, note where the string makes a full revolution, and carefully remove the string from the knee, being mindful to keep the length of the revolution. Measure this length against a level or ruler.
Once you know the size you’re targeting, you’ll next want to determine the material of the pad. There is an abundance of options at your disposal here, including:
Some of these materials you’ll find, such as cotton, are base materials that offer support rather than protection. They’ll provide the surface area to hold various protective materials, such as gel or foam, in place.
Each material has their own benefits that should be considered before making a concrete judgment. For examples, neoprene's rubber-like qualities make them resistant to water and provide greater flexibility. Plastic, on the other hand, tends to possess better absorption properties during contact.
Determining your purpose and style of cycling will go a long way in helping you to determine what material is better suited for you. As such, you should figure out the impetus of your cycling routine before you reach this step.
Finally, the style of knee pads should be considered. As you peruse your sporting goods store, you’ll find items that fit the look of the traditional knee pads, but you will also encounter knee pad/shin guard hybrids.
The knee shin pad combination provides the lower half of your leg extra protection from bumps during a crash as well as debris flying up from the road. Again, determining if these are good fits largely depend on the style of riding you enjoy. A mountain biker will have much more reason to own these than a non-mountain biker.
If you’re a rider that likes to do both, don’t fret. Some manufacturers make compatible yet separate knee pads and shin pads, making it possible to enjoy the best of both worlds. If you decide to buy separate pieces, it is advisable that you purchase products from the same manufacturer.
How Tight Should New Mountain Bike Knee Pads Be?
When you get a new set of knee pads, you may find them to be a little more constrictive than you may anticipate. This is normal. Like a lot of equipment, there is a bit of a “breaking in” period as the materials get used to the contours of your knee.
Over time, the tightness should dissipate, leaving you with pads that are snug enough to fit properly, but not overtly tight. If the feeling does not let up after a few rides, you may consider getting pads of a different size.
Protecting your knees deserves to be a high priority. Failure to do so can cause significant pain, but it can also threaten to mess with your head. If you have a bum knee, not only will you not be able to ride, you may have difficulty moving in general. This can lead to feelings of frustration and anxiety.
It should be noted that buying a set of knee pads does not guarantee that you won’t get hurt. Accidents do happen, and sometimes even the best equipment can only do so much. Still, investing in a high-quality knee pad will help mitigate the potential for catastrophe in a significant manner.
This alone should be enough to inspire a purchase.
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