When it comes to leg armor, having a set of pads that stay in place upon impact with the ground is the main concern for most while doing their shopping. Fortunately, there are a lot of options available out there. The drawback is that unless you are able to try them on, it can be hard to find something that works for you. (Unless you don’t mind swapping sweaty pads with your buddy to determine fit) When it comes to checking out the selection at the local bike shop, the two most commonly stocked brands in protection are Fox and 661. Both offer a good selection of product, at reasonable price points.
My personal favorite type of knee protection for riding is a slip over kneepad. In my personal experience they tend to move less, fit better, and are not only more comfortable, but because they cover less, offer more ventilation by design. Unfortunately, I’ve had a rash of good shin slaps on my pedals in the last year, and this has had me looking to go back to a shin/ knee combo type pad.
My requirements are pretty minimal: be light and offer ample protection, and it better f*cking stay in place when I hit the ground. (and yes, I have owned more than a few pieces that left me torn up after a crash- complete and utter FAIL)
Enter the System Leg Armor. I remember seeing the original version of this armor in motorcycle shops years ago. It was light weight and barebones as it gets, essentially consisting of a few plastic plates and some padding, with two velcro straps. There wasn’t much to it. Apparently it was designed to slip under moto leathers, which presumably would hold them into place. My riding buddy had a set of them and used them for racing downhill, and they seemed to work alright, but he had to always wear something over them to keep them in place. If I look really hard, I could probably even find a picture of him rocking these, with lycra tights pulled over the pads.
Years later, the Fox released these in conjunction with a knee gasket that was designed to do the exact same thing: hold the things in place. They were already selling a lightweight padded slip over knee pad that was popular with some of the locals- it was essentially a padded knee warmer. However, when a nylon piece was stitched to the top, and you folded it over the knee/shin plate, it would hold it in place. It seemed brilliant- two mediocre products added together made a good one.
We picked a pair of the smalls up, and they were quickly appropriated by Inga for riding in. They became her main knee pad, and it seemed a great match for her. The under knee gasket was lightweight and comfortable enough to wear on the pedal up while carrying the knee/shin plate in a pack. On the way down, she would strap on the hard shell, and things were golden.
I’ve taken to wearing my own set of the leg armor as well, and for the most part, it has treated me well. A good crash on the pads has left parts of the nylon section of the gasket slightly shredded, but for the most part they stay in place. I’ve had the best luck running them with knickers or shorts though- for some reason combining them with Carhart work jeans had them slipping on me. After a season of use, they are just now starting to stretch, and I’m noticing they tend to move a bit more than they once did. These days I’m playing a game with running the bottom strap less tensioned, and the top one tighter, as the slip-over nylon is starting to loosen. That said, I’m finding that most of my knee armor tends to perform well for about a season, and then I want to start keeping my eye out for something new. Even when pads hold up (like these have) they have a tendency to wear and stretch after numerous machine washings. For $50 though, it is hard to complain. These simple pads have done their job.
I’ve also taken to running the knee gasket by itself for days where I’m doing less aggro riding, and just want to have some light knee protection. It’s like wearing a knee warmer you can crash on. Bonus!
They’re a solid set of pads, and have a nice streamlined look to them. They don’t offer 100% shin protection, but are lightweight and do what they are supposed to do. They look great with a red jersey and/ or helmet. If you aren’t into red, you may wish to pass on these. For 2010, Fox has discontinued packaging the two as a pair, thought the System Leg Knee sleeve is still available separately for use with any of their current knee/shin guards.
The System Leg Armor has an MSRP of $49.99, but since it is discontinued as a set, there are some great deals to be found. The Knee gasket can be found for about $35.