Tested: Race Face Charge Leg Guards
By Vernon Felton
I used to think body armor was for park rats and professional freeriders. I wouldn’t be caught in the stuff anywhere outside of a lift-accessed resort. Sporting pads on a trail ride? It was, to my way of thinking, a bit like slapping a “Tap Out” mixed martial arts bumper sticker on your pick up or, getting "No Fear" tattooed on your neck or riding a unicycle in public—all just desperate cries for attention. I’d mountain biked for 20 years while wearing nothing more protective than a Lycra sausage suit and I’d lived through it all just fine. Who really needs pads on a normal ride anyway?
But then I left Northern California and moved up to the Pacific Northwest and I began crashing and mangling myself in earnest. The trails up here are, simply put, a lot tougher, a lot wetter and a lot less forgiving when you wreck. Think log rides, covered in brown slime and fall-zones littered with pongee sticks. It was like riding in one giant, slippery Burmese Tiger Trap. A couple trips to the emergency room ($500 just to walk in the door) made it clear that I could easily buy a new fork every year with the money I was spending each year on a couple rounds of stitches.
Suddenly, I began to see the light. I wear pads without fail now. And, no, I don’t hit the bike park more than once or twice a year. I’m now that guy who wears pads out on the trail. Daily.
While this makes me the object of some scorn, I'd rather ride with a bruised ego than a broken (you can insert your favorite body part here…I'm partial to all of them).
Which brings me to the Race Face Charge guards. The Charge is really less armor and more a leg warmer on steroids. You're looking at a lightweight mesh sleeve, with a smidge of foam around the kneecap and shin, covered by a thin layer of Kevlar. They truly look, at first glance, like ordinary leg warmers. If you hate the idea of being "that guy" with the body armor, these are probably right up your alley.
Me? I wasn't so sure. I want more padding, I've pedaled long days in big, bulky armor, I don't give a f*ck about being the kook who shows up to the XC ride on a 29er and in knee pads.
Normally, I'd have skipped right over the Race Face Charge, except my favorite set of knee pads wound up wearing a decent hole in my leg during one of my 25 or so laps on the Bible of Bike Tests all-mountain loop in Sedona.
Anyhooo…..there I was, big chafe burns all over my knees and legs and a good dozen more laps to go on a course that fairly bristled with sharp, pointy things that wanted to do me serious harm. It's the desert—every life form that exists there is pissed off and throwing sucker punches at every other living thing.
Suddenly those Race Face "leg warmers" started looking real good. I slapped them on and, lo and behold, crazy comfort ensued. Wearing the Charge leg guards is like wearing nothing at all, but gaining some protection. I've wrecked a few times with these things and, no, they don't do a ton to soften the actual blow (I'm talking about the literal number of joules transmitted to your knee), but the Charge guards kept me from ripping open my knees and grinding GodKnowsWhat into my kneecaps, which is pretty cool.
I wound up trying both the Medium and, eventually, the Large sized pads. The Large wound up fitting better, though I wound up stretching them out a bit. I'd say they fit perfectly and resisted sagging and slipping for about 40 rides. Not bad; I've had plenty of leg warmers that stretched out in fewer rides than that, but you know, I'd like to see improvement on that score.
Race Face equips the Charge with silicone grippers along the tops of the leggings and a silicone patch on the shin—both of which are intended to eliminate slippage. They certainly help reduce slipping, but they're a long ways from flat out "eliminating" the problem.
The Charge largely works as advertised. If you are riding in seriously technical terrain, are heading to the bike park or just plan on spazzing out and eating lots and lots of shit, these probably aren't for you. There are countless pads that'll offer a greater degree of impact protection. On the other hand, these things are great for light-duty protection. I'd never buy another pair of normal leg warmers again—I'd opt for these every time. Why not? You get the extra warmth with a bit of protection at no real cost in comfort. That's a pretty good deal.