Mail: Choosing knee guards

Hey Lee

A quick question. I noticed that you just wear knee pads and not full knee shin armor. Is there a reason why you just use knee pads? I’m trying to decide what to get after a fall involving some leaves last weekend. I’m only doing small drops 3-4 feet and I don’t want to use too much body armor nor leave myself not well enough protected. Any recommendations between the two types. I like the new website.


Level 1: The loamy, leafy Santa Cruz forest.

Hey Kevin.

I really like the Fox Radius pads. These neoprene sleeves are easy to wear, they keep your knees warm and they take the edge off crashes. I’ve had a run of good luck lately, and I’ve taken to riding aggressive XC and dirt jumping in just the Radii. But burlier situations call for burlier protection.

Here is my order of escalation:

Level 1 – XC, Super D, pump track, “mellow” dirt jumping – Fox Radius pads. I basically wear these every day. I feel completely comfortable in them, and they take the edge off minor impacts. Bummer: It looks like Fox isn’t offering them anymore. The 661 Veggie Wrap looks great (661’s armor looks great in general).

Level 2: Left Hand Canyon OHV area. This is really Level 3, but we hiked to the top.

Level 2 – ultra aggressive trail riding, aggressive dirt jumping – Fox Raptor knee/shin guards + some old Fox 911 elbow guards. For turbo love, I put Radii under the Raptors; the Velcro on the Radii make the Raptors stay put even better than usual. I ran this setup for DH in most of 2004, and it was excellent. If you’re going to crash on rocks, you need hard protection.

Level 3 – downhill, moto or anything scary – Full Dainese suit (for which I paid full retail on the way to the 2004 DH worlds). I’m discovering the knees aren’t burly enough for moto, so I’m looking into fortifying them.

You can’t go wrong with lots of armor, but there’s definitely a balance. Too much armor restricts you, can mess with your confidence (it works both ways, depending on your disposition) and can make you feel like a dork. Too little armor gets you hurt. If you don’t feel good about your armor, you don’t use it, and then you get extra hurt.

So buy protection that you’ll actually wear. In order of importance:

Level 3: 2004 Mammoth national DH course.

1. Type of protection. Soft pads protect against scuffs and cuts on smooth ground. For rocks you need smooth plastic. For vertical impacts you need a hard shell with tons of padding.

2. Fit. Every manufacturer models their pads after a different shape, and everyone’s shaped differently. The most important strap is the one below your knee. Make sure it wraps above the meaty part of your calve — this holds the pad in place. Also, make sure the knee cup doesn’t slide down or open up when you crash. Useless!

Look for knee guards with multiple hinges, like the made-for-moto Fox Raptors. These mimic your knees’ motion. In my experience, pads with simple hinges tend to slip down and move when you crash. If you run simple pads, make sure they fit perfectly, or hold them in place with Lycra leg warmers.

3. Fastening. I dig strap-on pads, rather than slip-ons. Why? Because you can climb without ’em and descend with ’em. The easier they are to carry and don, the more likely you’ll use them.

Gee, that’s a lot of info. I hope it helps.

— Lee

10 replies
  1. leelikesbikes says:

    The Asterisk braces look awesome. I’ll try to get my mitts on some — should be great for moto, downhill MTB and alpine skiing.

  2. jason smith says:

    the asterisk are life savers for moto crashes. I have had 40 mph get off on a fireroad and walked away to talk about it after wearing the asterisk. I think they are a bit bulky and restrictive for dh mt biking I used them for a race at northstar and had issues peddaling. Lee I probably have and old set your welcome to try out if you like. They are beat up however you can try them before you go out and spend dollars on them. I usually have 4 rules to doing moto must wear helmet,goggles and boots, and braces. I assure you if I listened to my own rules I would be walking this turkey day. However due to not wearing braces and boots my recent breaking of the tibia and fibia is a slow recovery. ALL riders beware always wear as much saftey gear as possible. When you least expect it something can bite you and ruin your day.

  3. Antonio Acosta says:

    i’ve ordered the Dainese Bibs, but i can still change it, would you use the braces instead of the Bibs? I’ve never had a thigh injury, maybe a couple of bruises on the hips. So that means that maybe all that protection would be more than i really need, but i’ve been hiting my knees a lot, most of the times i finish hobbling, im worried cause when i get older most of this injuries will make my life suck… maybe a bullet proof protection is the way to go for a long term healthy life…

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    My Dainese bibs have worked awesome for DH. The knee pads aren’t the burliest, but I really dig the hip and femur pads. So far that’s my hot tip for DH. The 661s look good too.

    But the Asterisk knee braces look fantastic. I’ll post a writeup as soon as I get to ride in ’em.

  5. brett gilbert says:

    HI Lee, Good info here as recommended body armor isn’t really covered in your book (which is THE BEST mountain bike book ever and really has helped me get started). I’m totally new to the “mountain” side of biking and as I gain more confidence and start to go faster (especially downhill), my fear of crashing is holding back my progress. I had a tri-mal ankle fracture last year that had me off the bike for 4 months (and that happened on the road!).

    I plan on getting some 661 4x4s and 2x4s (the new ’06 version), but the helmet decision is much more difficult. I hate the idea of wearing a full face helmet for a 3 hour trail ride, but don’t know how common it is to “smash your face” when you take a fall. I don’t do any hard-core DH for sure, but would like to start taking some drops and maybe even trying some dirt jumps at a freeride park. Any recommended helmet that provides the most protection short of a full face/DH helmet. I was thinking maybe something like a Giro Xen.
    Thanks again for creating such an awesome book!

  6. leelikesbikes says:


    It isn’t very common to land on your face, but when you do it really sucks! For XC and even most dirt jumping I run a standard XC helmet. Whenever things get hectic, I rock the full face.

    For general trail riding an “enhanced” XC helmet like the Xen is a good way to go.

    If your ride has looooong climbs and gnarly descents, you can strap your full-face helmet to your pack or handlebars for the climbs, then descend with your face covered. That’s a pretty safe bet. Bummer: Other trail users assume you’re a maniac.

  7. Omar says:

    Hi, really love your write out. I guess you could give me some advice.

    Im a XC rider and is looking for some knee protection, I want my knee guard to be able to pedal uphill and still give me enough protection while going downhill. Some of the jamboree ride that I go has a lot of rocks and since you said for rocks you need smooth plastic. Any knee guard recommendation that allows me to cycle uphill with comfort?

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