Crashes happen whether you're sending it in a bike park or cruising around the local trails after work. I've learned that lesson a few too many times, and now on most rides I'll wear a lightweight set of pads if things go rubber side up. Some pads work better than others, but it always comes down to two factors that make or break the pad in the lightweight class: impact protection and comfort. There are lots of pads that are so comfortable you barely notice you're wearing them, but when you crash in them it continues to feel like you don't have pads on. Pads that strike a good balance are hard to find.
I picked up a pair of POC Joint VPD Air pads, which retail for about $80. The Joint VPD Airs are POC’s solution to the all-day ride pad that still has enough protection to save you some skin in a crash. POC uses the VPD compound, which is soft and pliable but then hardens on impact. The VPD material is lightweight, and even on the hottest of rides I wasn't tempted to pull the pads down to my ankles. There was no chafing, and there were no tight spot as my leg moved through the pedal stroke. The back of the pads didn't bunch up or crease, even though it's unbroken material the entire length of the pad. I often have issues with chafing in the back of the knees from creases, and it was a pleasant surprise that I didn’t experience any discomfort with the Joint VPD Airs.
The POCs also use Polygiene's anti-odorant treatment, which helps keep that fermented kneepad smell to a minimum. That being said, after a couple months of riding the pads have acquired a fragrant aroma, but then again, who actually smells their knees on a ride?
There's only one adjustment strap around the top cuff; the lower cuff is elastic. Using POCs sizing chart, I fall right in between the medium and large sizes. The pads I tested were size large, which might account for some minor slippage I experienced. There are large silicone strips in the cuffs that help prevent the pad from sliding, however I did notice that I'd occasionally reach down to re-adjust while on an extended climb. Interestingly, the pads only slipped while pedaling, and never on descents or during a crash.
Most of the pads I've worn that score as well in the pedaling comfort category as the VPD Airs don't handle encounters with Mother Earth very well. However, after a full speed OTB crash in a rock garden, my knees were the only part of my body that didn't hurt. I landed at an oblique angle on my knees and then slid on my chest, a type of crash that has caused many other pads to slide down and off my knees. Not the POCs though, which stayed put throughout the fiasco. The VPD material worked as promised, hardening on impact and offering plenty of protection.
One point to note is that in colder weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius), the VPD material is rigid. After a few minutes of riding, though, body heat softens the pad back to normal.
The POC Joint VPD Airs are some of the most comfortable pads I've ever worn. It adds another level of enjoyment to my rides to have a pad that I can confidently charge with in the gnar, but then not have to deal with overheating, chafing knees on the next climb. I wouldn't go as far to say that these are pads I'd wear for a day in the bike park, but for all-day trail rides where I'm going to encounter some serious descents, the VPDs have become my go-to pad.
To learn more about the Joint VPD Air knee pads, visit the POC website.