Last year, I bought two pairs of riding pants–one is a textile mesh and the other is a kevlar jean. Both came with knee armor. Neither actually protects my knees. The armor pads slip into a pocket sewn on the inside of the pants. That’s fine, except pants move around as you move, and so does the armor. When I’m on the bike, the knee pad or cup either slides around to the inside of my knee or rides up above my knee where it offers zero protection.
I was very frustrated with the ill-fitting knee armor in my riding pants both last year and this year, so I decided to look for a better fitting armored pant. After trying on several pairs in my local Cycle Gear and buying and returning a few from online stores, I’ve realized that knee armor in pants just plain sucks across the board.
A Different Solution
I took the knee armor out of my pants since it was doing me no good, but I didn’t like the idea of riding around with no impact protection. So I thought, what about off-road armor? I’ve read in many forums that off-road armor doesn’t offer enough protection for street riding. But this just doesn’t seem completely right to me. I understand off-road armor is built with low-speed dirt falls in mind, so it makes sense that it wouldn’t withstand high-speed crashes onto hard pavement. But I don’t do any interstate riding, the speed limits around here are between 35 and 50 mph, and I generally stay away from very busy areas. Surely anything would be better than armor that slides around or no armor at all, right? Well, that was my line of thinking anyway.
So I hunted around for a study-looking pair of knee guards that I could afford. During my search I came across this article from WebBikeWorld, and decided that for $15 I could give the Shift Enforcer Knee Guards a try. I figured, if they don’t work out, at the very least I can wear them when I’m kneeling in the driveway changing the oil in my bike or burning ants with a magnifying glass (juuuuust kidding…I use a blow torch).
Shift Enforcer Knee/Shin Guards ($15, Amazon)
According to the Shift Racing product page, the knee guards feature:
- High-impact plastic shell
- Two-piece pivoting design
- Ventilated foam padded backing with abrasion resistant binding
- Dual elastic adjustment straps with hook and loop closures
When they arrived, I stuck them on my knees and before I even secured the velcro I felt 10 times safer than I ever did with the floaty foam armor. Still, the warnings I had heard stayed with me, so I decided to do a “drop test” comparing the two armor types. I strapped the motocross knee guards on my left leg and put the foam armor in the right leg pocket of my riding pants. Then, I let myself fall onto my knees on my hardwood floor. Guess which side felt better?
Yep, the leg with the motocross guard. I hardly felt the drop in my left knee. In my right knee, however, I absolutely felt it. In fact, the knee pad actually shifted toward the inside of my knee during my controlled descent of a mere two feet. I ended up landing on the side of it instead of the middle, so part of my knee hit the floor resulting in a tender spot and (I later discovered) a bruise.
So, I pulled out the “street” armor, and strapped the other guard onto my right leg; then I did another drop test, and another, and another, and guess what? I wasn’t hurt! I did feel the jolt of suddenly hitting the floor, of course, but the hard plastic and the cushion in the guards protected my knee caps from pain. And, no bruises!
I imagine this is how Marie Curie must have felt when she discovered x-rays.
Test Ride: Fit, Comfort, and Airflow
After my in no way scientific discovery, I was feeling confident enough to try wearing the knee guards out on a real ride. Since there’s no strap on the top knee cup, it just kind of flaps around. I figured that with the wind whipping by me the guard would end up flapping against my knee which would be at best annoying and at worst not protective (and possibly painful). So, I decided I would need to wear them under my pants. Problem solved.
Except when I strapped them on I realized the material the straps are made of is too scratchy against my skin. (I’ve been told I have sensitive skin.) Rawr. Okay, next idea: Wear them on top of my lightest-weight pants (some cheapo chinos from Old Navy), strap the knee guards over them, then wear my mesh riding pants over everything to keep the knee cup from flapping around. Voila! Problem solved. Again.
I planned to make my test ride a short one because it was 80-something degrees and humid, and I anticipated my knees would be really hot and sweaty and gross under those guards and two pairs of pants–even if one pair was nearly all mesh. I got on my bike and moved my leg on and off the footpeg, and the guard seemed to stay in place. I felt mildly optimistic. So off I went, barreling through the hot, drippy air, wearing motocross knee guards and two pairs of pants. (Plus helmet, jacket, and gloves!)
Throughout my ride, the guards stayed in place pretty well. They did slide down a smidge, but they were still covering my knees and shins. Even in the sauna-like weather, my knees and legs didn’t seem overly hot. Air managed to find its way through my mesh pants and the knee guard to keep my legs cool. By “cool,” of course, I mean warm–but not sweaty. Let’s not kid ourselves here, you’ll never just forget your wearing gear in the summertime. But it can be tolerable, and this was tolerable.
To give you an idea of how tolerable–three hours later I pulled into my driveway. I slid my very sore butt off my bike (do they make “butt guards”? lol) and went inside to the sweet, wonderful air conditioning. I took off my mesh riding pants, and saw that the knee guards were in almost the same position as when I put them on. I unstrapped the guards and did feel a nice airy relief of having them off. I checked the knee area of my cheapo chinos, front and back, and they weren’t even damp. I rolled up my pant legs and checked my skin. It was a little pinkish, but definitely no sign of heat rash or irritation.
Since that initial ride, I’ve ridden with the guards on a dozen other times in warm weather (always over lightweight chinos or jeans and under my mesh riding pants), and honestly, I don’t notice them anymore than I do the elbow armor in my jacket. In fact, since they flex at the knee cap, they’re comfortable enough to keep on while off the bike, too, for a short time (like stopping for lunch, in the air conditioning).
Now, I have three complaints about the Shift Enforcer Knee Guards. First, they’re not available in enough colors unless all of your favorite colors are black. Second, the strap material is too scratchy against bare skin. If you were a crafty sort of individual, you could probably find some felt and make a little “wrap” for the straps so they would be more comfortable against your skin. Since I am not a crafty sort of individual, I will just wear them over some lightweight pants. Third, these guards would really benefit from just one more strap on the kneecap part of the guard. That would really let you position them exactly where you want them. If it annoys me or worries me enough, I might try to add a strap myself, but, so far, it’s been good enough.
Overall, I think these Shift Enforcer Knee Guards rock! For costing only $15, I was impressed at the build quality. They’re reasonably comfortable and easy enough to put on and take off. Most importantly, they STAY PUT, so I feel much more confident that my knees and shins will be protected in some capacity in the event of an off.