By Seb Kemp
Troy Lee Designs 5400 Knee Guards
There used to be some sniggering when one member of the Bike Magazine staff wore knee pads on a "cross-country ride". I might have joined in the giggling a little too. But then something happened, I started wearing knee pads on every ride too.
I'm not sure what prompted it. It might have been seeing enough split knees to start a gore factory. It might have been when I saw the photo of the rider that had a patella perfectly cleaved in half. It might be that what we would have considered cross-country bikes five years ago are more capable than ever, and with that capability comes more comfort. More comfort will indubitably lead to the limits being explored once more. More limits explored results in more danger and speed. More danger and speed equals more risk. More risk equals…well, more sore knees.
So that's the justification for why I wear kneepads on every ride now. However, I probably still wouldn't be as comfortable wearing kneepads if I hadn't found the Troy Lee Designs 5400 knee guards.
These slim fitting slide-on pads have a stiff knee cap inside them for impacts as well as being covered in a tough aramid material to resist abrasions. Whereas some minimal pads don't have a full-cap insert (and therefore being nothing more than bulky knee warmers) the TLD guards do actually provide protection from direct hits as well as from lacerations.
But there are lots of really great options for knee protection out there. In fact, why not go for a full pad like the TLD T-Bones or Lopes knee/shin guard? Well, the answer is that while this offerings might provide even more protection they don't offer the same comfort and breathability over a long time. The 5400 is very minimal around the back, and a mesh construction provides airflow as well as keeping the weight down. I now wear these on every ride, including long summer time missions.
Before trying them I didn't expect them to be so versatile. I thought they would act as a perfect double act in the winter - knee warmers and protection - but come the summer would probably be relegated to being worn around my ankles on long, hot climbs. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find they never needed to leave my knees.
The pads are strapless (they are a tapered elastic sleeve with Lycra low-compression zones) so getting the right fit is essential. I had to buy a set of XS in order to get the right snugness that gave me confidence that they would stay up and not sag out. I'm more of a medium so this was interesting to discover. Riders with no calves or beanpole legs should really experiment before buying.
That said, once I did find the right size they have never slipped or fallen down. While they might not provide as much leg-clamping grip as kneepads with straps, getting the right fit and the internal no-slip gripper does help. However, in a high-speed wash out these don't stay in place as well as a full pad. If you want full coverage and confidence in situations where crashes are inevitable (downhilling) then go for a full pad. If you are using these as a last resort (trail riding) then have a close look at these. All-day comfort, that will last more than one season and save you trouble of getting your knees stitched up. Kneepads are not just for freeriders and downhillers, elderly kooks and aging worriers can have peace of mind too.