Race Face & Pearl Izumi Kids Armour NSMB AndrewM.JPG

A Tale Of Two (Kids') Pad Sets

Photos Andrew Major
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Crashing v. Riding

The stable of test-writers here at NSMB can be a persnickety bunch, sans doubt. I certainly don't have to look any further than myself for an endless litany of examples. Still, I can quite honestly state that Cam & Pete have never had to bribe me with an ice cream sundae, with chocolate sauce and nuts, just to get me to try on some knee pads and so began this review experience.

Suffice it to say, what was intended to be a mano-a-mano review of two premium D3O options for kids' protective gear started with two flat tires and never recovered from there. My six-year-old took one look at Pearl Izumi's Summit Knee Pads and then gave me a full blast of the exasperated facial expression that usually accompanies requests to tidy her room.

To paraphrase our subsequent conversation, there was simply no way she was intending to go out crashing on North Shore trails wearing those. Particularly when the other option, in the form of Race Face's Sendy knees, has at least twice the padding.

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Buying armour for kids is no different than buying armour for adults. Looking for a bit of breezy parole for the very odd case of a little dust-up with the ground? There are lightly protective knee & arm sleeves for that.

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Real technical progression, at age 6 or age 60, is going to involve hitting the deck on a semi-regular basis - or every ride in my kid's case - and suddenly double-thick padding that stays put is worth the sweat investment.

It's a bit bizarre to me because the Pearl Izumi pads I've tested feature plenty of non-Newtonian protective material for the speeds at which my grom is crashing. I should know, until recently she was using my Elevate elbow pads, with a wrap of hockey tape, as knee protection and getting great results. In fact, and I'm getting ahead of myself here if she could change one thing about Race Face's Sendy knees it would be to get another couple inches of extension down her shins to cover the most common pedal-bites the Elevate elbows protected her from.

The Pearl pads look to be of great quality, in line with other P.I. products I've tested. I think if your local version of mountain biking consists of longer, smoother, single-track miles then they could be a fantastic option. Here on the North Shore, whether you're aged 6 or aged 60, any kind of real technical progression is going to involve hitting the deck hard on occasion, combined with more regular minor bails, and better-than-nothing knee warmers are not going to cut it.

I'd know. I have some actual goals to improve my riding this year - you could say I'm inspired by watching my kid - and if I could find a pair of elbow pads that are remotely comfortable to wear and offer decent protection there are certain trails where I'd have them on every ride.

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If your kid isn't crashing regularly or is crashing on tamer terrain, the breathability of the Pearl Izumi Summit knees is obviously better than most armour. It's armour for riding in.

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It's where the rubber regularly meets the rocks that they stop being an option that I could think to recommend. If Pearl had kid-sized their Elevate pads instead it would be a different story.

Get Sendy

Whether it's an awkward stall followed by some Princess-Bride action down a steep embankment on the Bridal Path or a full-speed-ahead bucking on John Deer, my grom has gotten these Sendy pads dirty more times than I care to admit. The simple fact is that 20" wheels don't roll over roots or rocks all that well and the angle of attack leads to some very awkward stalls on climbs and some unexpected yard sales on descents.

I don't want to over-attribute increases in confidence to the Race Face armour. That is, I don't want to take away from my kid's accomplishments uphill or downhill. But I think it's fair to say that mountain biking has become more fun since most meetings with the ground have become less painful.

All mountain biking - climbing and descending - has been happening in the Sendy armour since it arrived and, to date, we haven't had to make a single adjustment on the trail. It does take a bit longer to install than other armour my kid has used but we'd both agree it's worth it for the performance. Now, I should be clear. If Race Face could come up with a way to create the same level of retention and comfort while making it easier for miss independent to put on her own pads that would garner four thumbs up from this duo.

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Sendy knees and elbows attach using the same system. First tighten the large velcro sleeve - so there's velcro-on-skin contact, and then the smaller strap.

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We've had zero issues with pads coming loose or needing to be adjusted on the trail. Hard efforts and hot days they absolutely do get sweaty. Armour is always a trade-off.

Anyone outfitting kids for mountain biking will tell you that it can be an expensive activity. Check out my choice 3.5 upgrades for your grom if you want to follow my thinking. This is especially true if your grom is going to ride year-round in North Vancouver, where greasy trails and wet & cold weather necessitate rain gear and good brakes and tires.

I jumped on that particular tangent because relative to Chromag pedals, 50 CAD seat post quick releases, and kid-bike tubeless conversions I imagine that spending on good protective gear is a much easier pill for most parents to swallow. These Sendy pads run 64 USD | 85 CAD for the knees and 52 USD | 70 CAD for the elbows and we're working hard to get that down to pennies a ride not to mention the value they deliver in terms of confidence.

For comparison's sake, the Pearl Izumi Summit pads run 50 USD | 80 CAD and the elbows are 40 USD | 65 CAD. I'll note again the P.I. has done a great job in terms of the quality of their pads and if your grom isn't crashing onto rocks and roots every time you turn your head or riding in a particularly hot climate, then these could absolutely be a winning armour choice. In my kid's case, for where we're riding, they would have been a poor investment, followed up by expenditure on an additional set of armor.

I do hope that, once the world is back on its regular axis, we can head down to Bellingham for an exciting day dodging an electric orchestra of stinging nettles, checking out the wildflowers, and enjoying some all-day singletrack riding and I absolutely envision taking the Summit pads along for the event.

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Uphill crashes. Downhill crashes. Crashes I see coming. Crashes where I'm more surprised than she is, and crashes where she glares at her bike as if to ask "why?" Sendy pads have been great for all sorts of hard interfaces with the ground.

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And frankly, even on the hottest days we've had so far this season they've been great for pedaling up, single-track climbs too. I'd wager my grom is in the running for most bails-per-ride on both Penny Lane & Good Sir Martin.

Is Sendy the only great pad setup for groms? Surely not. Most brands of mountain bicycle armour have a kids line and, anecdotally for sure, most parents seem to match their groms in terms of the brands they're wearing.

Other than adding a bit of length to the knees and maybe making them a touch easier for self-install my wee one has zero complaints about the Race Face armour and I'll back that up. She's certainly spending a lot more time sliding on the ground than I have in any armour I've tested and I admit that I'm suddenly more than a little curious about the Race Face Roam knees, which use a similar retention setup, for myself.

For the kids' armour-curious, there's more information on the Sendy knees and elbows at RaceFace and on the Summit kids' lineup at Pearl Izumi. Armour is highly personal but at the end of the day it's there to keep us riding and perhaps to instill confidence that will help us progress. That's no different for kids than it is for adults. I'd love to hear what works for your kid(s) in the comments below.

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+1 Andrew Major

Just moved over to Leatt from IXS (based mostly on local availability).  The knee guards are getting a thumbs up both for ease of putting on and overall level of protection.  The elbow guards are a bit of fight to get on but then do seem to stay on so a "maybe". I'd say the elbows are also halfway between the RF and PI in terms of protection whilst the knees are much more robust.  

This is size "mini" for a tall but skinny 7 year old.  The junior definitely looks to be for just pre-teen.



I've had very good Leatt Airflex knees experiences myself. I'd say it's still the best overall protection v. flexibility v. breathability that I've tried. Haven't checked out their kids' stuff at all but that's great to know!


+1 Andrew Major

In terms of comfortable elbows that offer good protection, I rather like the POC VPD Air pads.



Love the knees! I’ll give ‘em a try-on.



+1 Andrew Major

My girls both ended up with Leatt elbows. Regular models, not the grid stuff. Lots of coverage and good fit. Like all kids pads, the size chart is worthless.

For knees they both have IXS, two different models, again, chosen after trying on multiple sizes and models. They have the higher end ones, with the impact hardening foam, and good coverage.



The IXS knees look really good. Versus the size chart did you end up going up or down?



Sorry, I can’t remember. I know on their elbows we went up. They have had them for 3 and 2 years now I think.

The youngest got hers first, the Evo+ , the model with extended protection partway down the shin.

Later, I let the oldest try some on, and she tried the Evo+ too, but preferred  the shorter model. I think it’s the Carve. Just goes to show how important trying on is.

Also, letting them try a few different ones, and picking their favorite, helps combat future “I don’t want to wear my pads” arguments.


+1 Andrew Major

@Andrew Major, I would suggest checking the coverage of that Bell Super helmet. 

A few years ago my oldest wore mine for a day, crashed, and put a gash underneath her lower lip. Nothing to serious, but still has a bit of scar tissue sticking out, ~3 years later. She was a lot bigger than your girl at the time too.

What we found out after the fact was that, despite fitting well around her head, the chinbar sat quite low, and was easily pushed even lower. Combined with the large facial opening, this meant there was almost no protection for her face.

We ended up buying about 6 different helmets in her head size, and trying them on. We then checked  how easy the chinbar pushed down.

Then we did a comparison by using different sized balls,  to see which helmet stopped the smallest radius ball (pointiest rock) from contacting her face: basketball, soccer ball, kids soccer ball, softball.

There was a huge difference! Despite all helmets fitting wel around the top of her head.

We ended up with the IXS Xult.


+1 Tjaard Breeuwer

This helmet was the right protection, for the right price, for the Shore-XC riding that we're doing. There's always a balance of breathability to coverage especially as she always rides with the chin bar on when we're on singletrack. She's put the helmet into the ground a few times and it's been great.

I've seen all kinds of detritus enter all kinds of helmets so for me it's like any min-maxing situation where you are mitigating the risk based on your best assessment.

For example, I always wear a full-face descending on my mountain bike these days - a bargain that we struck - and it's usually a Leatt DBX 3.0. I'm confident in the helmet for lower speed unexpected meetings with the ground in jank where I never used to wear a chin bar, but if I'm pushing then I always grab my proper full-face helmet because the Leatt just isn't built to take a real smack. Totally cool with that. 

I do appreciate you sharing your experience. When we go up to the next wheel size and a suspension fork (sometime in the fall I'm guessing) and the speeds increase I'll absolutely be doing a reassessment of protective gear.



Just to be clear: what I am talking about is not so much the trade off of protection vs weight/breathability, or something like that.

What I meant is that it seems that kids heads are likely shaped a bit different than adult heads, even if the upper circumference is within the size guide of the helmet.

Until this (low speed) crash, I had never really thought to check the ‘face protection factor’ and when I did, I was surprised in the variation I found between helmets, even when all of them fit well in the upper head.

So just wanted to share that, and have others (especially parents), check this. I don’t want to tell others what protection to wear or not.

It was just that I suspect there are many people out there, who (like me) thought they (their kids) were better protected than they actually were.

Do the ‘ball to face test’ and then take that factor into all your other considerations when choosing protective gear.


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