Decided that since my knees are already fragile from years of riding BMX and Mountain Bikes, I would be well served by wearing knee pads while riding MTB.
The problem was, I thought knee pads interfered with pedaling. I decided to research which knee pads would offer the best combination of pedaling freedom and protection. I decided to test the G-Forms, TLD KG5400 and Fox Launch PRO. Bought all 3 from Jenson (no affiliation with those guys, I just like them for the deals and the service) with the intent of keeping the best one and returning the other 2.
Most of my riding is on the North Carolina coast (believe it or not, we have singletrack) the piedmont (central NC) and ultimately, Western NC (one of the best places in the USA for MTB riding).
My home trails on the coast, which I ride on my 6 inch travel GT Force- are virtually flat and sandy- which require constant spinning if you want to go fast. The lack of downhills means that if you want to feel like Sebastian Loeb on a gravel road, you have to spin a lot. Kneepads could potentially cause a whole lot of discomfort with all that spinning.
The mountains have epic descents, most of them littered with jagged rocks and super fast sections. Pisgah in my opinion embodies all that AM riding is. I live for it and get up there as much as I can. I'd live there if i didn't like surfing so much.
The piedmont, which I ride occasionally is a mix of the constant spinning of the coast and the flow of the mountains. Lots of rocks there as well. All of the above regions also contain tight, winding singletrack through trees, so the potential for hitting your knee on a pine tree while going 25mph + is very real.
Second, I tried the G-forms. Those also offered great protection for direct hits to the knee cap, actually more shock absorbent than the TLD's. It also offered a little side protection but not enough in my opinion.
Third, I tried the FOX launch pros. I had been skeptical of those pads as they seemed too bulky and good for shuttle runs only. I was mistaken. The difference in comfort between the TLD's, the G-Forms and the Fox was almost negligible! I will go as far as saying that, as counter intuitive as this sounds, the FOX just fit me like a glove. They bent better when my leg was spinning the pedals. They were bigger but did not feel much bulkier. Protection from the FOX's were exponentially greater. I just felt so much more confident, not only doing jumps but also flowing down groomed singletrack. I went on a ride without them and felt as if I were not wearing a helmet. My knees felt naked and vulnerable.
I have ridden in the mountains and have ridden my weekly 14 mile loop here in Wilmington NC with the FOX's. They rubbed me raw the first 3 weeks but got progressively better. This past Thursday I was able to complete the 14 mile loop spinning fast the whole time and did not get any hot spots or raw areas. If you stick with them and let the back of your knees get used to it, they will break in, much like dentures (I don't wear them, I make them:) or Chaco sandals.
All knee pads are going to be hot. You do get used to them. I have ridden in 90 degree heat with 80 percent humidity and did not feel any hotter than without the pads. I think that since the extra padding was on my legs and not my arms or core, the increase in heat was negligible. I did not ride any slower because of the pads.
I have heard of people placing lycra behind the knees or wearing knee warmers underneath to prevent rashes but I'm a minimalist and prefer not having to deal with those things.
In conclusion, I highly recommend the FOX launch pros, I have been wearing them on XC rides as well as pump track and AM rides in Pisgah National Forest.
My latest mountain ride was at DuPont in Brevard, NC two weeks ago.
Eastern Slickrock (granite) all the way up and some of the way down. I did not fall so did not get to actually "test" the pads. What I did do was go down that mountain with more confidence, speed and above all, flow. I was able to do cross ups off of the jumps where normally, I just jump straight. I was more relaxed on the rockgardens and I finished the ride with a bigger smile and safer knees!
The Lauch pro's on the way up..
And on the way down...video does not reflect true steepness and sketch factor of this section but gives you an idea..