Years ago, I received some unsolicited advice from an older and much wiser rider: "Dress for the crash not the ride." Admittedly, I don't often wear protection outside of a helmet and eyewear (well, a chamois too, of course–I'm wreckless not masochistic). However, to this day my friend's shrewd statement rattles around in the back of my mind when I suit up for a quick shred or while stuffing a gear bag for a weekend at the bike park. Everyone knows the benefit of protective gear, but for ages much of it was uncomfortable, distracting and awkward. Leave it to the Italians, who like going fast on two wheels and looking good while doing so, to raise the bar on knee-pad comfort.
Dainese’s Trail Skin 2 knee pads ($84.99) are designed to be reasonably lightweight and breathable, while providing proper protection for aggressive cross-country riding. To get it done, Dainese employs its Pro Armor protection, which promises to disperse impact energy while being more ventilated than typical plastic knee cups. The exoskeleton-ish Pro Armor is also ergonomically pre-bent for the pedaling position. My size medium set of Trail Skin 2 knee pads weighs just about 300 grams.
For the longest time I would judge knee pad comfort in relation to other knee pads. Meaning, when graded on the "knee pad comfort curve" I'd rationalize one miserably uncomfortable pair being slightly more tolerable than another. And then, the Trail Skin 2 pads arrived at my house. The first time I slipped into them I didn't feel any sharp edges, nor flesh-chewing seams, and thankfully no rogue Velcro bits to unintentionally hoist my shorts so far above my knee even Larry Bird would point and laugh.
Hook-and-loop straps combine with silicone gripper material help keep the pads in place, doing a fine job until I actually started riding. Like most knee pads, the Trail Skins will shift and slide a bit when you're on the bike, but once they've settled into place they're nearly unnoticeable. It's worth mentioning the straps that hold the pads in place are very thin and are comparable in size to closures found on gloves. Initially, I was concerned these straps could snap by simply putting the pads on. But they've proven more durable than expected, and have held up well over the last couple months. I am curious how the straps would handle a big-time, high-speed impact, though.
The 700-gram weight is certainly heftier than other trail-genre-oriented knee pads, yet most of those offerings don't offer hard plastic outer protection. For having such a capable plastic impact zone, the Trail Skins are remarkably well-ventilated. Although, if (er, when) you take a digger, dirt may get lodged into the crisscrossing plastic Pro Armor construction. My pair has survived a couple of slideouts and numerous wash cycles, yet still look like new.
There aren't tags indicating whether a pad should be worn left or right knee, but I run them with the red Dainese logos on the outside. This configuration puts one additional pad on the inside of the upper knee area, which I find protects against impacts with the top tube. The Trail Skins are also very low profile, and I had good results wearing them underneath downhill pants. They don't offer the impact protection of downhill-specific equipment, but riders looking for a sleek, unintrusive knee pad to be worn under any type of pant might want to put them on their radar. The all-new Trail Skins 2 provide an interesting combination of knee-warmer-like softness with the protection of a hard-shelled knee pad, making dressing for the crash a lot more comfortable.
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