After a helmet, knee pads are probably the most commonly used pieces of protection. Unless you’re churning out very mellow miles, we’d definitely recommend wearing a pair, even if there’s only a small chance of coming off.
There are now pads that offer a certain amount of protection while being so lightweight and comfortable that there’s almost no penalty for wearing them. Others we’ve tested are a little bulkier, but offer serious piece of mind and proven protection in the event of a crash. For gravity focussed, technical riding, this is the kind of pad I’d recommend.
I’ve tested a broad spectrum here. I’ve taken them on enough big rides to weed out any issues with fit, chafing and sweatiness, as well as subjecting them to the occasional off.
Crucially, I tested them back-to-back against one another, often wearing one on each knee to achieve the fairest and most direct comparisons. It’s not a great look, but it’s worth it to get the best testing data.
For reference, I’ve got a 39cm calf and 51cm thigh measurement, which puts me right in the middle of a size large for most kneepad manufacturers. My findings were blended with feedback from a wide range of experienced testers.
What to look for
Protection: The European standard for protection involves dropping weights onto the pads and measuring the force transmitted. Those that transmit a low enough force are given the benchmark EN 1621 accreditation.
Coverage: The protection accreditation is only half the story — it doesn’t take coverage into account — so also look for pads that extend above and below the kneecap as well as round the sides.
Fit: Highly concave, cupped knees allow the pads to stay in place more securely, while elasticated or Velcro straps grip the upper calf and lower thigh. These can make or break the fit and comfort of the pad.
Materials: Some knee pads use hard plastic outer shells to add protection, but the pads here are at the lighter end of the protection spectrum, and so use a mixture of composite foam. The hot ticket material is D30, which hardens on impact.
Comfort: A knee pad is no good to you if it’s so uncomfortable you don’t wear it. It mustn’t be restrictive or move around during pedalling, which can lead to chafing. Also look for something well ventilated to prevent sweat and overheating.
7IDP Transition Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Price: £60 / $70 / AU$TBC
The Transitions strike a great balance of comfort and protection. The stiff and highly concave knee area feels uncomfortable when pulling them up, and it can dig into the shin slightly when standing with straight legs or walking.
When pedalling, though, i almost forgot I was wearing them. That pre-curved pad keeps them firmly in place on the bike and is well-shaped for pedalling. As the size chart suggested, the size large set fitted me like a glove, and the elastic thigh gripper sits high up the leg and stayed up better than most non-adjustable ones I’ve tested.
During big days in the saddle and the occasional off, they stayed in place really well, with multiple testers echoing this. They pass the crucial EN standard for kneepads, and the sturdy knee-cover certainly offers a good deal of protection when crashing.
Side protection is limited, but they extend well down the shin. They’re impressively light and breathable as well as comfy when pedalling, making them a top option for anything on the mellower side of downhill.
Verdict: Lightweight pads that stay in place well, offering decent protection and great comfort.
Troy Lee Designs Raid
Troy Lee Designs Raid Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Price: £110 / $115 / AU$220
The Raids are probably the most protective pads here. Substantial D30 padding covers a large part of the knee area and extends reassuringly far down the shin.
Foam pads add protection along both sides of the knee as well as just above the kneecap, making them feel very safe on dicey terrain.
Despite this, the fit is extremely comfortable whether standing up straight or pedalling for long rides and this feedback is echoed by several testers.
They stay up exceptionally well thanks to a pre-curved knee cup and a strap that sits above (not below) the thickest part of the calf. The Velcro strap above the knee allows the tightness to be tailored to the rider and stops it moving around.
They’re not light, and they’re a bit warm, but given the level of protection on offer I think this is easy to forgive. They’re comfortable enough for long rides and protective enough for gnarly bike park laps on the black run.
If you’re after big-terrain security without the comfort penalty, they have the versatility to justify the hefty price tag.
Verdict: Great coverage, comfort and fit. Ideal for aggro riders with deep pockets.
Scott Soldier 2
Scott Soldier 2 Steve Behr / Immediate Media
• Weight: 345g
• Price: £55 / $70 / AU$NA
The Soldier 2 is Scott’s all mountain/enduro kneepad, aimed at the gentler end of the spectrum than the much-loved Grenade. The D3O pad feels remarkably supple and unobtrusive, yet the material hardens on impact to offer an impressive level of protection in a crash.
They come pretty far round the sides, and there’s a little tab on the inside of the knee to stave off those top tube taps. Like with the Alpinestars Paragon, I found the upper elastic cuff on my size large fitted too loosely on my thighs, even though the lower cuff was spot-on and Scott’s sizing guide suggests it would be too small for me. This caused the cuff to fall down easily, and the kneepad to move around a little at the top of the pad during pedalling, which caused a little chafing.
The gently pre-curved pad held it up OK though, and other testers with big thighs found the fit spot-on, so consider down-sizing.
They’re well ventilated and comfy otherwise, with a particularly unobtrusive pedalling feel, so if you get the sizing right they’re definitely worth considering.
Verdict: Odd fit can cause problems, but otherwise a comfy, supple pad with good protection.
IXS Carve Steve Behr / Immediate Media
Price: £70 / $96 / AU$130
The Carve pads offer a high degree of protection and great coverage, but at a comfort cost. They tick the European safety standards box, and more than that, provide really comprehensive coverage.
The main pad extends a fair way down the shin, and covers the kneecap completely. There’s also foam padding above the kneecap and around the sides of the knee — handy if you clout your knee off your top tube.
My size large pads came up a bit smaller than most, and fitted a little tightly, so consider going up a size. The Velcro straps keep them in place well in a crash or a long pedalling session, but they tend to sit pretty low, revealing that awkward thigh-gap below the shorts.
I also found them to chafe a little around the back of the knee on long rides, especially as I had to do the Velcro straps up quite tight to keep them secure. Also, despite a strip of mesh up the back, they get hot and sweaty easier than anything else here.
They’re not cheap either, especially considering the comfort sacrifices you make.
Verdict: Good protection and coverage but they’re sweaty, with fit and chafing issues.
661 Recon Steve Behr / Immediate Media
With minimal padding, these are the lightest pads on test, but they are the least protective. They don’t pass the benchmark EN standard for impact absorption, but do have a decent coverage from just above the top of the kneecap to well below it, but the padding is thin and provides little protection in a serious crash. It does offer piece of mind against scrapes and scratches, though.
The lightweight, breathable construction makes them well suited to long, hot rides where the chances of injury are low. However, the upper cuff is very short, meaning the thigh gripper sits around the tapered part of the thigh just above the knee. This caused the upper cuff to slip down, despite it feeling tighter than its peers.
Some testers also found they chafe a little around the thigh gripper as it slips down.
They’re cool, light and unrestrictive when pedalling, but if you’re after something with minimal protection and good comfort, I think there are better options. Specifically, I think the Bliss Minimalist offers similar levels of protection with better fit and less discomfort.
Verdict: Lightweight and cool, though protection is minimal and they have some fit issues.
Alpinestars Paragon Steve Behr / Immediate Media
These are the cheapest and lightest kneepads on test that still meet the all-important EN safety standards for knee protection. While they’re promising on paper, I had some issues in practice.
The Large were a little on the tight side at first, but they soon loosened up. I also tried the Extra Large, which fitted well initially, but became far too baggy after a few washes.
The elastic upper cuff sits a little low on the knee, which doesn’t look great with shorter shorts, and it slips down quite easily too. Several testers found that while the lower cuff fits well for the size, the upper cuff is relatively loose, so they may fit someone with big thighs and skinny calves, but otherwise you may find they slip down.
There isn’t much pre-curve to the kneepad itself, so they don’t stay in place very well in a crash, and while coverage is OK they could extend slightly further below the knee.
They’re relatively cool on long, hot rides and pretty comfortable for pedalling in, which is enough to make them worth considering at this price. Just be aware of the odd fit and stretchy sizing.
Verdict: Cool and comfy, with decent protection, but the fit is odd and they’re prone to fall down.