Leatt AirFlex Knees NSMB AndrewM (6).JPG
REVIEW | EDITORIAL

The Leatt Airflex Pro v. Your Best Non-Newtonian Knee Warmers

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Jun 22, 2020
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Better Than Nothing Knee Pads

I gave up on better-than-nothing knee pads ages ago. After trying a tonne of different options of non-newtonian knee warmers, I decided it was hard-shells or nothing. Usually nothing. It's not that I don't understand that the materials continued to develop as options beyond D3O-brand have permeated the market. The dynamic doughs now respond faster to impacts, are less susceptible to stiffening in cold weather, and companies have become much better at shaping the material compared when they first came on the scene. No doubts. But, knee pads are not a new product category by any means and I think there's a strong argument that good fits have been available for a long, long time. Even the most instant change in armour gel viscosity doesn't offer the same protection to sharp-pointed impacts as a hardshell pad.

Flipped, even the best hardshell pads are not dreamy to pedal in. I usually climb with mine around my ankles and then pull them up for descents. Actually, I usually leave them at home but for riding trails where there's a decent guarantee that I'm going to bail or the odd time I'm riding a chairlift or shuttling. In other words, it has been years and years since I regularly wore armour besides gloves and a helmet.

This brings me to the Leatt Airflex Pro knees. Just given our uncertain times I have been trying to ride in knee pads a lot more; trying - I can't always bring myself to do it - and my hard shell pads of choice have long been Leatt. So, when the green & orange armour arrived at NSMB, I figured I would at least put them on. Then I went for a short pedal. Then I went for a long pedal. And wouldn't you bloody know it, I can ride for hours with these pads in place and they are really, really comfortable. Annoyingly comfortable. No real excuse not to wear them, comfortable. I would prefer not to wear them but have barely done a ride without them since, comfortable. Argh.

Leatt DBX 4 Shorts NSMB AndrewM (14).JPG

My Leatt experiences have been legend lately. There is no single garment I wear more in a week than my DBX 4.0 shorts.

Leatt AirFlex Knees NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

Cheers! This would not have ever been a colour scheme I'd choose. But Fern Green and Bourbon Blood Orange have really grown on me.

Leatt AirFlex Knees NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

Way warmer than wearing nothing but impressively comfortable even under my Royal Racing DH pants on a sweaty night ride.

Now to be clear, they are a whole bunch warmer than wearing nothing. I know that isn't a big shock to anyone. They do breathe better than many, most, even all other knees I've tried. But, I still make a grumpy face when I pull them up on a hot day and think about all the additional sweating I'll be doing.

And when I'm alone in the dark on a rainy night, find myself suddenly swimming through the air, and then land on some wet-weather-approved rock armouring, I am much more aware of the impact than wearing a hardshell. And that's hitting the deck on a relatively smooth surface. In fact, I have a certain thought ritual I go through each time I'm picking myself up off the forest floor. What would be different if I was wearing my Leatt Enduro knees? What would be different if I was wearing nothing?

In many ways, I wish I had never put them on. The damn things are even unnoticeably nice to pedal in, for hours, in the pissing rain, when I'm riding in pants. I've even started wearing them for Shore-XC loops on hot days because I really have no excuse not to. I actually feel a bit guilty, in a 'what if?' kind of way, if I leave them at home. Even as they have started to bag out a bit with use it's rare that I have to adjust them on the trail even after repeated climbs or hike-a-bike sections.

When Leatt says that 3D molded gel, which they call AirFlex, and the rest of the pad are pre-curved, I think it's worth noting that they are not over-shaped. I've spent plenty of hours spinning gears and standing and mashing my one-speed and climbing is comfortable - both seated and standing. Other pre-curved pads I've tried feel like they are resisting against some standing pedaling motions.

Leatt AirFlex Knees NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

There are the first gel-style knee pads I have worn in a few years and if I leave home without them it's from habit rather than hatred.

Leatt AirFlex Knees NSMB AndrewM (5).JPG

I haven't worn my hardshell Leatt Enduro (for clarity, that's the 3DF 6.0 Pad - Ed.) pads since I started using the AirFlex Pro but I 'm confident they will still be my choice for shuttle or park laps.

Leatt DBX 4 NSMB AndrewM.JPG

I feel like the inner knee bumpers save me the most pain as they protect me against my own top tube during moments of exciting body English.


Then I went for a long pedal. And wouldn't you bloody know it, I can ride for hours with these pads in place and they are really, really comfortable. Annoyingly comfortable. No real excuse not to wear them, comfortable. I would prefer not to wear them but have barely done a ride without them since, comfortable.

Unicorns? Get your unicorns‽ Leatt has been making knee pads for quite a while now, and I do quite like my hardshell pads but I wouldn't put them above other hardshell pads I have used in the past that fit well. Including the distant past. Though I do love that they don't use Velcro.

The AirFlex Pro is a bizarrely different experience which I can't explain. Is it just straight up lucky that they happen to fit me really well or have impact-hardening materials, and shaping them, improved that much in the last couple of years? They're slim, light, and nicely contoured. I'm suddenly interested in checking out other D3O-style options like Cam's beloved polymer-dough pads, from Slytech.

If you're in the same boat as me in thinking knee pads are a good idea but not having found something that's comfortable to pedal in all day, I would absolutely check out 80 USD AirFlex Pro. Now that I've apparently committed to wearing armour every ride, if you have a favourite better-than-nothing non-Newtonian knee warmer that's great for all-day pedaling, I'd love to hear.

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Comments

AlanB
+2 Andrew Major Paul Lindsay
AlanB  - June 21, 2020, 10:31 p.m.

The triangular holes look great for collecting soil samples on your way downhill. Are they easy to clean? Hose down

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AndrewMajor
+1 AlanB
Andrew Major  - June 21, 2020, 11:42 p.m.

Great point. I don't find that they collect that much gunk while riding, even on really mucky days. That is unless if I go down into mud in which case they swallow quite a bit. I just wash them in my shop sink or hit them with the hose and they clean up well. 

I've also been riding in pants a lot when it's actively precipitating. Makes cleanup a lot nicer when I get back to HQ.

Reply

Goatslurpee
0
Goatslurpee  - June 22, 2020, 2:11 p.m.

Out of curiosity, what have your pants of choice been lately?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 3:05 p.m.

It's a long (and pending) story of how I arrived there but I've ditched 'weather proof' and 'weather resistant' pants for mountain biking and I just rock a pair of DH pants any time it's pissing rain.

I've been wearing a pair of Royal DH pants which have been awesome with one small caveat. That is that the tiny breathing holes are obviously positioned with someone wearing lycra/chamois in mind and I ride in boxers. I have one pair that are long enough to extend down and cover my legs. The cut is phenomenal in terms of making room for pads and aggressive tapering to the lower leg. They do fit a touch tight-to-size for those of us packing a bit of lunch muscle.

I would also really like to try the Leatt DBX 4.0 pants. The shorts are my daily drivers such that I assume the pants are equally awesome.

Reply

rolly
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman
rolly  - June 23, 2020, 9:09 p.m.

I'm trying to wrap my head around riding in boxers.  I can't even ride in a slightly bagged out chamois!  My equipment needs to be securely stowed or I'm in trouble.  Am I missing something here???

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AndrewMajor
+1 Pete Roggeman
Andrew Major  - June 24, 2020, 1:37 a.m.

Short answer - Yes; Saxx.

Long answer - you really want to hit my DBX 4.0 Shorts review and check out the comments. Lots of interesting discussion (and straight-up chamois hating) going on in that thread. In retrospect, all the comments may actually be about underpants.

pete@nsmb.com
+1 Andrew Major
Pete Roggeman  - June 24, 2020, 8:38 a.m.

Not so much boxers, though - boxer-length briefs, meaning tight, with a pouch.

Saxx, BN3TH, and 2UNDR all make a great selection of high quality ginch that works for riding, but there are others as well. And each also makes 'sport' versions, which usually have a compression fit and might be a more breathable material. Not necessary, but better for longer rides.

If you haven't tried 'em, you definitely should - buy some you'll like to use under street clothes, and try them on a short ride, then go longer. They work for most people, and many are surprised that they prefer them to chamois, even for long rides.

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 24, 2020, 8:58 a.m.

Last night was worst case conditions for ditching the diaper. It was so humid I was chewing the air on the climb and when I got home I thought about sending my friends “greetings from Ontario” post cards.

Pedaled two+ hours in my own sauce in boxers, these knee pads, and my DH pants (because I was sure it was going to piss rain again and drop five degrees - idiot) and I still wouldn’t go back and put a chamois on. 

I’ve tossed all mine now except my amazing Ibex wool bib-knickers I used to ride in in the winter all the time and I’ve been thinking of having the pad removed.

maxc
+4 Andrew Major werewolflotion Tjaard Breeuwer Heinous
maxc  - June 22, 2020, 12:58 a.m.

To answer your last question: IXS Flow provide all day comfort and absorb impacts nicely. Also great when kneeling to tie laces. A benefit similar to dropping a post when reaching a gate. Who knew?

Reply

Brigham_Rupp
+2 Andrew Major werewolflotion
Brigham_Rupp  - June 22, 2020, 6:41 a.m.

I’m using the IXS Flows and have been loving them so far.

Reply

mammal
+2 Andrew Major werewolflotion
Mammal  - June 22, 2020, 7:32 a.m.

+1 for loving the Flow! I have the Flow Zip, while I also bought the regular Flows for my GF. We both absolutely love them, but my ability to put the Zip-version on at the trail head without touching my footwear is awesome.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 8:26 a.m.

Leatt does a zip option as well although it’s for their hard shell. It’s intriguing but I don’t know where I’d put them when not in use. Strapped to top tube or bar? 

Could strap them outside my hip back but I’ve been wearing a true full face helmet for solo night rides and the cheek pads clip out and strap there for climbs. 

I just wear the AirFlex in place as they’re all day pedalable but with hardshells the idea of easily removing them / installing them without removing my shoes in intriguing v. just sliding them down around my ankles.

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mammal
+1 Andrew Major
Mammal  - June 22, 2020, 9:39 a.m.

When I've got a pack (60%), I put them in there. When I'm bum bagging it, I have two simple straps and tuck them around the bar, where they're surprisingly stable. I've never liked the pad-on-ankles move in warmer weather, so I appreciate the zips to no end.

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Heinous
+1 Andrew Major
Heinous  - June 22, 2020, 8:02 p.m.

I've always found the Flow really great until IXS downspec'd the fabric on the outside about 2 years ago. I've found the new ones far less durable which is really annoying when they should be designed to hit the ground. 

They're still the comfiest I've tried but I'm actively looking for something that's more durable.

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martn
+2 Andrew Major Hbar
Martn  - June 22, 2020, 4:33 a.m.

I've had the Airflex Pros for almost two years now and they are great. Looked at quite a few other options but most lack protection on the sides, where I want my knees to be protected.

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AndrewMajor
+1 Martn
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 8:28 a.m.

This. I recently received another pair of pads for testing and there is a lot of interesting stuff going on (and they’re super comfy as well) but the lack of little side-of-knee nubbins has already been painfully noted.

Reply

Hbar
+1 Andrew Major
Hbar  - June 22, 2020, 10:02 a.m.

I've had the previous version of the Airflex Pros for 2-3 years, and ride with them most days. They're comfortable. The side padding was what made me choose them over others at the time, and has mitigated several top tube/stem/ground impacts pretty well (though I hit between the little pads once, of course). 

The main knee pad area is just starting to show little cracks like old plastic does, so this may be their last season.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 10:44 a.m.

Would you buy again or planning to look at what else is available first?

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Hbar
+1 Andrew Major
Hbar  - June 22, 2020, 2:58 p.m.

Functionally they're really good--they stay up, breathe pretty okayish for all day summer riding, and no weird gripper-induced hotspots (for me). The only reason I'd try another is to get some that extend a bit further down my shin (because I am bad at riding)

Reply

GladePlayboy
+1 Andrew Major
Rob Gretchen  - June 22, 2020, 6:23 a.m.

I can also highly recommend these.. also the POC VPD System Knees are another great "not there" option...

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 8:32 a.m.

My brother loves his POC VPD knees and they’ve held up great. They got their hands on enough of my money early on (v. other people that loved their first D3O pads) that I’m wary that maybe their stuff just doesn’t fit me.

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JBV
+1 Andrew Major
James Vasilyev  - June 22, 2020, 8:45 a.m.

their System line up is intriguing. complex design and i think, the most expensive PPE on the market. very hard to find these days as well. i suspect something has changed in their distribution channel because POC is no longer available at a number of their previous dealers.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 10:48 a.m.

Cam had a really positive review experience. I hadn’t noticed they are literally double the price of the AirFlex until now. It’s like Dainese back in the day.

Previous dealers may just not have clientele willing to front that much capital?

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JBV
0
James Vasilyev  - June 23, 2020, 10:02 a.m.

yeah it could be price related. they were very prominent at a nice shop in Squeamish a couple yrs back, now they don't even stock them. they are premium price brand in a crowded and fickle market place. having said that i'm on my VPD lite knees 5 yrs in and they are only slightly worn. my buddy still rocks his original VPD knees and they are about 8 yrs old. premium price, premium quality.

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andrewbikeguide
+1 Andrew Major
AndrewR  - June 23, 2020, 6:34 p.m.

VPD System knees are amazing and a significant step up in comfort on the VPD 2.0 (and VPD Air which were light but oddly shaped and less comfortable to wear) but they are expensive. 

That said the new Chromag Rheon just launched at $135 which is hardly small change (they are sublimely comfortable though).

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 24, 2020, 1:35 a.m.

The Chromag pads do look great; I hadn't looked at the price.

andyf
+1 Andrew Major
andyf  - June 22, 2020, 10:11 a.m.

I forced the "knee pads every ride" habit on myself a couple of years ago. I have a pair of Fox Enduro D30 pads that I can put on and forget but, like the Leatt Airflex, they only offer EN1621 level 1 protection. It may be a futile effort, but i've been hoping to find something with similar comfort/airflow that offers level 2 protection. And maybe even a plastic skidplate over the kneecap? Candidates tested so far include 7idp Sam Hill and Project Knee, and Sweet Protection Knee Guard. The Sam Hills are workable for a long trail ride but definitely warmer and more noticeable than the lighter Fox pads. The back of the knee cutout of the Project Knee didn't work for me but I otherwise like those. The Sweet Protection Guards need to go to someone who rides in much colder weather than I.

For 90+% of my rides, I look at the Sam Hills for a moment, let the thoughts of needing added protection pass, and grab the lightweight, airy Fox pads.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 10:55 a.m.

I’m having a really great experience with a pad fit 7iDP helmet (review pending) that has certainly made me curious about their other gear. I was wondering about the Sam Hills.

I doubt such a Gruffalo exists as a hardshell knee pad that breathes and pedals as nice as the AirFlex but has the added protection but I would go a degree or two warmer for the hardshell if they were equally all-day pedalable. Certainly my Leatt Enduros are seeing no use right now but that may change if I take a hard knee through the AirFlex.

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Wile_E.
+1 Andrew Major
Wile_E.  - June 22, 2020, 2:54 p.m.

Sam Hills are awesome, but I was put in a pair of Projects after a warranty claim and like them better.  Just as comfortable, a little better front protection (hard cap), a little less side protection

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andyf
+1 Andrew Major
andyf  - June 23, 2020, 3:06 p.m.

I'd rate the Projects over the Sam Hills for the materials, the upper thigh strap, and the knee cap but the cutout at the back of the knee shifts on me and ends up rubbing my skin raw. I corresponded with Jeremy at 7Protection/Royal about it and he said a few people have that problem with the Projects. He offered me 50% off on the Sam Hills, so I jumped at it.

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oldmanbike
+1 Andrew Major
OldManBike  - June 22, 2020, 1:13 p.m.

The Kali Strike pads are similar too. I've happily worn them on all but the hottest rides for the past year or two. They have velcro on top which I rarely adjust but I'm glad is there for wearing over longjohns in the cold. I very much prefer the subtler branding of the Kali pads vs these Leatt pads, but to each their own.

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AndrewMajor
+1 OldManBike
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 3:09 p.m.

The Kali pads look great. I know Kali does the design on Leatt's helmets so I wouldn't be surprised at all if the similarities here are also related. If I was choosing I would have gone black-on-black for the Leatt's although as I said the Fern & Blood Orange Beer look is growing on me a bit!

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
+1 Andrew Major
Tjaard Breeuwer  - June 22, 2020, 2:06 p.m.

I suspect that a big part of knee pads comes down to fit. Tight enough to stay in place, but not binding anywhere.

I have been using the Dainese trail skins for my trail riding. Like the Leat, they have the lattice pad for venting and some side protection as well. 

I like that they have a velcro strap top and bottom. So many lightweight pads don't. Even if the pad fits well when new, over time the sleeve will stretch a bit, so I like to be able to adjust that.

What I don't like about my (older) Trailskins, is that the fabric between the top of the pad, and the top of the sleeve is a bit loose and stretchy. Great for pedaling, but I do worry if they might slide down a bit if I crashed. This might be fit dependant.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 3:12 p.m.

These have certainly bagged out over time (and after a bit of washing) but not as much as I may have suspected. I hate Velcro but certainly if the sizing changed that much I would like to have some kind of tightening system. 

Trail Skins look good. In terms of the side protection I can't tell from photos Left v. Right. Is there a pad on the upper inside knee? That's where I bang myself on my top tube.

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danimaniac
0
danimaniac  - June 30, 2020, 2:30 a.m.

So when you say they bagged out a bit and Leatt won't really answer: I am just over the sizing of XL on the upper part, but 3cm shy of XXL on the lower part.  XXL will slip.. 

How'd you judge the flex? Flexy enough to still fit a rather big thigh with "normal" lower leg?

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AndrewMajor
+1 danimaniac
Andrew Major  - June 30, 2020, 2:01 p.m.

Do you have the option to buy them at your local shop so you can try them on? 

I mean if a size is going to fit it sounds like it will be XL. But it also wouldn’t be the last time with soft goods that there simply wasn’t a fit that worked. 

I’m not a betting man, but if I was I’d guess the XL will be comfortable.

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danimaniac
0
danimaniac  - June 30, 2020, 10:56 p.m.

no one is stocking them around here. I've just palced an order online and will see and find out. I was more into the Chromag pads that recently showed up, but thsoe don't even seem to have it made across the pond :D

I'll let y'all know about it...  :D

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
0
Tjaard Breeuwer  - June 22, 2020, 2:10 p.m.

How did you find the size vs the sizing chart? I have really poor experiences with sizing pads (especially for kids).

In other words, this size seems to fit you well. If you measure according to their chart, is this the size you end up at?

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 3:14 p.m.

I was true to size with shorts and knee pads using Leatt's sizing chart (that's the only process I went through in terms of guesstimating sizing). I've been all over the place with other brands so it could just be raw luck.

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Wile_E.
+2 Andrew Major Hbar
Wile_E.  - June 22, 2020, 2:53 p.m.

I find my pads so comfortable and comforting that I rarely ride without them... even wearing them when I'm taking my daughter on beginner trails.  It's kind of like a seatbelt in a car for me where it is less restrictive without one, but it just feels wrong to drive without being buckled in.

My current pads are the 7idp Project which puts a hard cap over the super dough.  Not sure how much extra protection it really gives, but I do find the sliding surface reduces damage - I've had other pads pull up or down or the ground wears through the fabric and then into me. 

Leatt make great stuff, and I especially appreciate that they and 7idp make things that fit bigger riders.  There are a lot of great rated gear that I simply can't fit, but the brands with the moto backgrounds seem to be more friendly to bigger riders.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 22, 2020, 3:15 p.m.

With the 7iDP Project knees do you pedal up with them in position, around your ankles, strapped to your frame or?

Interesting that they have a hard cap.

No extra inner knee bumpers though for rider v. frame action?

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Wile_E.
+1 Andrew Major
Wile_E.  - June 22, 2020, 4:30 p.m.

I leave them on all the time. If I'm driving from Vancouver to Squamish, it's 50/50 that I'd put them on at home. Whistler I put them on there. All my rides around the Tri-Cities, I put them on at home so I'm not fussing with shoes at the start of the ride.

They do have the inner and outer bumpers, but not as pronounced as the Sam Hill's. For some reason the Sam Hill has more padding on the sides but no skid plate, the Projects have the skid plate but less side padding.

The Projects have a really nice fabric as well that is more durable than most of the spandex type material that most pads have. I should correct, though, not exactly a "hard cap," more of a skid plate... 7idp calls it a soft hardshell outer. Flexible plastic of some sort.

I find with every pad I've tried I can get an abrasion where the edge of the dough digs in when (not if) I crash.

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AJ_Barlas
+1 Andrew Major
AJ Barlas  - June 23, 2020, 8:11 a.m.

I second the always riding with Projects and Sam Hill pads in place. But I reckon that’s a personal thing as some folks can’t stand it, even with the same pads. Still, the 7iDP pads are real comfortable. My reviews from a couple of years ago remain true today and I’m still using both (spent all day Sunday in Projects). Leatt pads I’ve worn have been great also. There’s a good selection of quality pads available these days. 

Sam Hill Pad Review / Project Pad Review

Reply

bumVSmtn
+1 Andrew Major
bumVSmtn  - June 22, 2020, 10:03 p.m.

Big fan of better-than-nothing pads for nearly all of my riding. 

Had a pair of Specialized Atlas knee pads that I rode for three years and misplaced recently. 

Been riding a G-Form again this year and while the style kills me, the packability and extra protection is worth it. 

Fox Launch with the D30 and rubber plate have been my go to for a number of years on days without pedaling involved.

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dbozman
+1 Andrew Major
dbozman  - June 23, 2020, 5:38 a.m.

I LOVE the Leatt pads. On my second pair. The first lasted roughly 18 months or so. Still usable, but the backs were starting to shred.

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Ganderson
+1 Andrew Major
Greg Anderson  - June 23, 2020, 5:50 a.m.

I love my Airflex Pro's. They are so comfortable that I wear them on almost every ride here in central TX, they have also held up better than any other pads I've used and though they have gotten holey and ragged they still function (but really need replacement).

My biggest complaint is that they tend stick to the ground on impact rather than sliding and this causes them to more often than not be ripped out of position during a crash... sometimes causing additional injury in the form of scrapes and abrasions.

I was hoping the updated version would be a little more "slidey" but from the looks of that mesh pattern on the knee polymer these will be worse. Bummer.

Reply

truckymctruckerton
+1 Andrew Major
truckymctruckerton  - June 24, 2020, 6:28 a.m.

Fyi the leatt dbx 4.0 pants are awesome. I have 2 pairs and I could honestly wear them every day they're so comfortable.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 24, 2020, 9:03 a.m.

Have you tried on the shorts? Curious if the fit is very similar. Love the 4.0 shorts.

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jitenshakun
0
Jitensha Kun  - June 24, 2020, 12:14 p.m.

I bought a set of these before seeing this ad and I can say they are the real deal.  They are actually cooler on the knees than around the ankles and fit better than any soft pads I've had in the last 10 years.

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