Group test: five knee pads ridden and reviewed


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Sep 26, 2023

Group test: five knee pads ridden and reviewed

Thanks to advances in material design, especially polymers like D30 and Rheon

Thanks to advances in material design, especially polymers like D30 and Rheon that are light, flexible and offer impact protection, there are more options for knee protection than ever before. You can get ultra-minimalist pads that are light enough for all-day rides or burly, tough pads that provide full protection.

We rode and tested five different knee pad options for this review. They cover a wide range of styles and levels of protection. Check out our impressions below and see which one works best for you.

While Chromag is now a global brand, it is based out of Whistler, B.C. Those roots show through in the Rift pads, designed for the distinctive combination of extended steep climbs and rowdy descents the brand's hometown is known for. A Rheon Labs insert is flexible while riding but hardens on impact. That's covered in a durable tear-resistant aramid fabric and held in place by a combination of silicon grippers and an elastic calf gusset. Chromag adds smaller pads on either side of the kneecap for additional protection.

On the trail, these strike an excellent balance between protection and comfort. They’re light and flexible enough for hours of riding, will fit easily under pants without putting pressure on the knees, and still provide real coverage. The gripper is wider than most, except Rapha's, spreading out pressure while maintaining excellent grip. They’ve stood up to six months of very regular use and, while they need another wash, are no worse for wear. Chromag has a reputation for making quality bike parts. The Rift pads carry on this tradition into protective wear.

Chromag Rift pads come in five sizes from XS-XL.

Race Face makes all kinds of knee pads, covering your knees for everything from full-on downhill and freeride to the minimalist Covert Knee. Using the new D3O Ghost pad and a highly breathable sleeve, the Covert Knees add just enough protection to keep you safe without adding bulk or overheating for long days pedaling. Perfect for rides where you really don't want to wear pads but know you should. Or just that little bit of added security on the bike.

On the bike, the Coverts are, as you would expect, very comfortable to pedal in. The thin profile means they’ll fit under the tightest riding pants, while the mesh sleeve and gripper band keep them in place securely. They’re not as cool as wearing nothing, but they’re about as close as you’re going to get while still wearing a knee pad.

Race Face Covert pads come in six sizes from XS-XXL.

We were very impressed with Rapha's first, and only knee pad when it first dropped. After a year of riding, we’re still fans. Built for trail riding, and with lots of pedaling in mind, Rapha uses a longer sleeve and wide upper grip band to make the Trail knee one of the most comfortable pads we’ve worn. The Rheon Labs active polymer is the same material used in Chromag's pads, but in a different shape and covered by Rapha's durable and slippery SuperFabric.

Coming from Rapha, the Trail Knee places a high priority on pedaling comfort. Wide grippers and the pad shape make the Trail knee pads nearly disappear while riding, while the breathable four-way mesh keeps them cool. Backed by the Rheon pad, these mix comfort with real protection. They don't offer quite the side coverage that Chromag Rift pads do, but the wider gripper is more comfortable.

Rapha Trail pads come in five sizes XS-XL.

Fuse is known primarily as a BMX brand but is working to extend its line of protective gear into mountain bikes. That means a slightly different approach than the pads from most standard mountain bike brands. The Omega Pocket knee pad is a new lightweight option from Fuse. It uses an ultralight SAS-TEC Viscoelastic foam cap for the main pad, like several other brands. But Fuse backs that with more softer padding between the pad and the knee and EVA foam padding more protection from side impacts. It's all held together by a tight, compressive lycra sleeve. The pads weigh 160 grams and can be rolled up to take up less space while traveling.

The Omega Pocket knee pads have a very different feel than all the other pads on this list. There's more soft cushioning between the pad and the knee, though this doesn't create the pressure or discomfort you’d expect while pedaling. The added material does make them warmer than some other brands, though. They’re great if you want a bit more cushioning and a softer feel, but aren't planning on multi-hour epics in hot weather.

A note on sizing: the Omega Pockets fit smaller than most other pads on this list. A M/L size set fit on the tighter end of medium.

Fuse Omega Pocket knee pads come in four sizes (S/M, M/L, L/XL, XL/XXL).

For more aggressive riding, Fuse offers the Echo line. The Echo 75 knee/shin combo sits in the middle of the line, which ranges from knee pads to full knee-ankle pad options. Far from minimalist, the Echo 75's uses Rip Stop 1100 D Cordura and Duratex outer layer to survive frequent crashes. That combined with a softer inner lining for comfort. Between those layers, a mix of SAS-TEC padding, hard plastic ankle guards, and more side-impact protection provides full coverage. Substantial lower straps provide additional calf/Achilles protection while an upper strap helps keep the Echo 75s securely in place.

These are noticeably bulkier than the other pads on this list, which makes sense considering how much more protection they provide. It does mean they’re a tight fit under some of the tighter riding pants that are fashionable right now, though. When they did fit under pants, they were comfortable and didn't restrict movement in any way. They were warm even on an otherwise cold day of shuttle laps. But anyone who knows the pain of a slipped pedal will appreciate the added protection around the shin and calves. And if you’re shuttling or riding a chairlift anyway, the extra warmth isn't too much of an issue. They may not be light or cool, but if you’re looking for more coverage, and aren't planning on big pedals, Fuse Echo 75 are durable and comfortable.

Fuse Echo 75 knee/shin combo comes in in seven sizes: Youth XS-S, Youth M-L, and adult S-XXL.