Leatt's Airflex kneepads weigh a mere 105 grams each and have no straps. Jon Desabris photo.
With enduro racing making wearing kneepads cool for everyday people, I suppose mothers and safety protection manufacturers can rejoice that people who aren’t World Cup downhillers are wearing more protection while biking–saving knees, mom’s anxiety, and kneepad makers’ bottom lines in the process. We suspect surgeons are less excited.
Kneepads have come a long way since the industrial-grade plastic tombs of yore, which went overkill on blunt force protection while making your legs sweat as if you were playing hockey outside, in July. The Leatt 3DF Airflex kneepads are about as far away from that older generation as you can get, weighing just 105 grams each and featuring a single, soft, moldable knee pad stitched onto a paper-thin, moisture-wicking fabric with no straps.
A paper-thin mesh backing keeps overheating in check. Jon Desabris photo.
They are, literally, the first knee pads I’ve owned that I’ve not had to adjust mid-ride, and are good enough in the set-it-and-forget-it department that I now wear them almost anytime I’m not doing true cross-country, since they’re so easy to deal with, breathable, and minimalistic. For pure downhill, they don’t have the all-round protection you want, but for most other riding, they provide that little bit of extra security with almost no penalty when it comes to comfort.
The Airflexes center around the Armogel kneecap guard, Armogel being a softer, rubber-like material that flexes plenty while you pedal, walk, and otherwise move around, but then locks up and hardens when faced with a severe impact. Many lighter-duty kneepads, including the POC VPD 2.0’s we reviewed earlier this summer, feature similar gel padding.
The Airflexes' Armogel padding stays soft and flexible for pedaling and cornering, but firms up on impact. Jon Desabris photo.
The Airflexes are the most flexible I’ve tried, though, no doubt in part to how minimalist they are; they don’t cover the sides of the knee too much, and really focus their protection on frontal impacts to the kneecap and the top of the shin bone. While I didn’t take any spills hard enough in the course of this review to warrant serious consideration of the Armogel’s limits, it’s worth noting that they’re the first lightweight pad to be CE certified for EN1621-1 impact protection–a Euro motorcycle standard that basically means these things can take a serious beating and still protect the wearer properly. Just keep in mind that, outside of the Armogel pad, there is literally no protection at all.
Amateur boost testing the Leatts at the Jackson Hole Bike Park. Jon Desabris photo.
The Armogel padding is stitched into a spandex sleeve that features an annoying amount of Leatt logos, silicon gel strips around the top, bottom, and knee to keep the pads in place without straps, and a more breathable section of moisture-wicking fabric on the back with a hole on the back of the knee for added breathability. The fabric reaches up onto your quad, many time pulling over the end of my chamois. You really could not notice that you had these on, or feel them as you pedaled.
Be conscious of the fit when you order (Leatt has a specific sizing chart you’ll really want to follow) and you’ll likely feel the same. I have medium-sized quads and hamstrings and pencil-thin calves, so I ordered a pair of smalls and have been plenty happy with the fit. Over this summer of riding, they’ve only stretched a small amount.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Enjoying a breathable, comfortable, and low-maintenance relationship with the Leatts at Jackson Hole Bike Park. Jon Desabris photo.
Having functioning knee protection that you literally cannot notice while you ride, and which doesn’t move around or need readjusting, comes at a price, though. Specifically, $100 a pair. That’s at the very high end of the price scale compared to other lighter-duty pads that might retail for closer to $70.
But those who absolutely detest fiddling with pads on long rides, or who can’t stand to be hot and bothered on the trail with bulky pads, that investment gets you protection you’ll never feel the need to touch, change out of, or adjust once you start pedaling. I now wear the Airflexes on almost all the non pure-DH rides I go on–previously, I would have either gone without, or saved the pads for only the rowdiest trail or two in town. You’re welcome, Mom!