PROTECTION GEAR SHOOTOUT
There are quite a lot of knee and elbow protection combo options on the market. They are intended to be pedal-friendly while being ridden in all day without causing discomfort. In order to design a protective product to meet these needs, we typically see the option on the market that uses a sleeve design with a main pad sewn in. The main pad usually consists of that brand’s preferred impact material. We realize that finding proper protection that fits your individual body can be a hassle and a bit subjective.
While we all have some set preferences depending on our riding style for local weather conditions, our wrecking crew has taken the time to do the real-life research. We set off by gathering up four brands that each produce a performance-oriented knee/elbow guard for a shootout.
7IDP SAM HILL KNEE AND SAM HILL LITE ELBOW PADS
Right off the bat there’s this product developed with Sam Hill, the Enduro World Series champion of 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Sam Hill series designed by 7 Protection (7iDP) comes in higher certified versions that are simply called Sam Hill knee and elbow. They also produce Sam Hill Lite versions that have a more lightweight padding and are CE Level 1 rather than CE Level 2 certified. These certifications were originally intended for moto apparel, but the mountain bike industry uses the same tests for protection products. These pads have a compression sleeve design with a mesh backing for airflow, silicone on the cuff for grip, with a pre-curved shape for ultimate comfort. For our testing, we preferred the fit of the Sam Hill Lite elbow pads paired with the Sam Hill knee pads.
The material of the 7iDP feels smoother than any other option that was in our lineup. The fit is right on target for the Sam Hill series, with the sizing chart listed on the website. Not only was the fit comfortable out of the box, but the protection remained supportive after numerous removals of the inner padding for cleaning. The regular Sam Hill knee pad has more coverage than the Lite, but to our main test rider, the fit and shin coverage was confidence-inspiring on the bike. At the elbow, the Lite pads offered a little less protection, but they are remarkably lightweight and easy to roll up with a sewn-on elastic loop. These pads from 7iDP were easy to keep on all day with no slips or slides. Pedaling, trail working or even the drive home, they are comfortable to have on.
Size tested: Small
Certification: CE Level 1 and CE Level 2
Price: $84.99, knee; $64.99, elbow
G-FORM E-LINE KNEE AND ELBOW GUARDS
G-Form launched the E-Line guards aimed at aggressive riders that launch over technical terrain and undertake long journeys in the mountains. Although this brings to mind an enduro racer with a need to pedal fast and far, G-Form outlines that they could be used for an e-bike adventure or even a moto trip. They are also packed with tech! The E-Line series features SmartFlex, a padding that is designed to stiffen up on impact yet remain flexible when riding. Unlike the knee options in our lineup that are a sleeve fit, the E-Line has a top and bottom adjustable strap for a customized fit. If that wasn’t enough, a zipper is also utilized for easy on/off. Other features include G-form’s Rugged Armotex. This is a Kevlar blend that is a thin, hard, rigid protection that sits underneath the anti-friction shell and in front of the SmartFlex padding. Having a mix of soft with more rigid additives, the E-Line guards have been put through countless hours of riding with one of our test riders.
G-Form veered towards having an unparalleled fit with next-level protection, comfort and breathability. As our rider put it simply, everything works and it meets these demands. While the E-Line runs about $20 more than G-Form’s Pro-Rugged series, the extra cash mixes hard and soft protection for a bit more support. While you would think the extra support might hinder pedaling, we’ve spent big four- to five-hour days in the saddle with this extra support never leaving. However, if the rider desires, the zipper allows the E-Line to easily be taken off and placed in a pack until you hit the top of the climb. This is a huge highlight to an already feature-packed set of protection. Although a standout option, these were not our usual grab when heading out for a trail ride.
Size tested: Large
Certification: CE Level 1
Price: $109.99, knee; $99.99, elbow
POC VPD SYSTEM LITE KNEE AND ELBOW PROTECTION
POC’s VPD System Lite is stamped with “our most ventilated protection yet.” For a max airflow pad system, POC used a 3D-molded protector that is flexible while offering impact absorbency. The material is then cut with ventilation ports that breathe through the mesh fabric sleeve of the protection. To give some idea, the sleeve is very similar to how soft the 7iDP material feels, yet the molded protector will combat sharper objects more effectively. The sleeve and highly ventilated outer protection are meant to support movement in the event of a crash to help decrease the amount of energy inflicted to a rider’s body. Slipping them on, we hit the dirt to test the big claims of the VPD System Lite being a highly ventilated, molded shell combined with a material that will contour and flex for a formed fit.
While the claims are true that this pad is extremely well-ventilated, it sadly was not the most form-fitting for our test riders in comparison to the design of the other contenders. The System Lite pads were a bit bulky to pedal with, so we typically left them at our ankles or had the elbow protection stowed in a pack until some technical downhill started. However cumbersome they felt while pedaling, the ventilation is impressive, as air can channel in quickly through the cutouts and soft fabric sleeves. When pointed down and not pedaling a climb, the pads stay in a great position while feeling supportive.
A good note to anyone looking to buy online is that the small size of the POC pads ran a bit larger than what was recommended for a proper fit on their website. Be that as it may, this was the highest price option in our shootout that all of our test riders expected more from.
Size tested: Small
Certification: CE Level 1
Price: $130, knee; $110, elbow
PEARL IZUMI SUMMIT ELBOW AND KNEE GUARDS
Our last contender recognizes some of the challenges that come with making great apparel for riding while staying comfortable with any movement. Pearl Izumi’s Summit series uses a lightweight, four-way-stretch Cordura fabric to create pads that fit well while allowing for sudden body movement. The idea is to have a material that can handle shifting weight through corners or maneuvering over rocky terrain. From there, the pads use a D3O viscoelastic material within the sleeve construction to offer impact protection while cutting weight and preserving flexibility. The Summit series set that we tested is intended for trail riders who want a bit of protection but don’t want a cumbersome fit to slow them down.
The Summit elbow and knee guards are easy to pack away as a set; however, they can easily be kept on while tackling a climb to the top. The cut out on the knee guards keeps the sleeve from bunching up at the back of the knee while also allowing free movement during each pedal stroke. We felt that the Cordura fabric, almost fishnet-like, was a bit more abrasive than the soft materials we tested among the other three options in this get-together. Although a bit rough, there is a huge amount of airflow through the mesh fabric of the Summit pads. With Pearl’s arm-warmer-inspired fit design that incorporates elastic grippers and a silicone interior, the guards stay in place no matter the terrain. We have to say that the Summit set has been one of our go-tos this last year, but there is one option that goes beyond this that we could always rely on.
Size tested: Small
Certification: CE Level 1
Price: $85, knee; $65, elbow
Most of the time, selecting the best ride protection is determined by the fit. The material and cut on the Sam Hill knee and Sam Hill Lite elbow pads from 7iDP won over our test riders. There was a particular photoshoot where these pads were worn on and off the bike for over eight hours without a hiccup. Unique to our other competitors, we also think it was clever of 7iDP to have the guard be removable from the sleeve in order to properly clean the material without damaging the integrity of the pad. Also unlike the lineup involved, the Sam Hill pads have a higher CE Level 2 certification. No doubt that fit, breathability and comfort can be important. This is evident with the POC VPD System Lite pads, but the 7iDP comes in at a much cheaper cost for higher-rated protection, more precisely cut fit and a similar range of breathability.
The E-Line guards from G-Form are certainly the best for taking on/off while not removing your shoes and can be used for downhill laps to dirt-jump sessions. Nevertheless, the extra amount of padding and tech features make the E-Lines a bit bulky to pack up if you do not want to pedal with them on. All around, the 7iDP Sam Hill knee and Sam Hill Lite elbow checked the boxes for a solid level of protection and coverage while still remaining user-friendly for whatever the next ride may throw your way.
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