Rapha is still quite new to the whole mountain bike thing, the road wear brand only launched its first line of MTB clothing summer of last year. While this wasn’t too much of a departure for a brand that has been making cycling kit for almost two decades, the release of the Trail Knee Pad at the start of the year certainly was.
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Knee pads are tricky to get right but Rapha seems to have nailed it on the first go. Excellent comfort, great ventilation, and decent protection make the Trail Knee Pads one of the best mountain bike knee pads we have ever used.
Construction and fit
Rather than mess around with straps or cutouts, Rapha has gone for a full-sleeve construction using a four-way stretch recycled nylon and elastane material. The sleeve is pretty long with the top sitting halfway up the thigh and quite far down our calves. The cuffs feature plenty of silicone grippers which help hold the pads in place. I found the height meant they competed with short liner legs but had no problems running the pad against the skin and the liner leg over the top. The pads are left and right specific, using an asymmetric design to better fit the shape of the knee.
Rapha has used an 'active polymer' from Rheon Labs which performs like D30 and other non-Newtonian or 'shear-thickening' substances, becoming rigid under sudden impacts. Rapha states that the pads are the ‘highest certified level of protection found in a pair of lightweight knee pads’ and are rated to Level 2, Type B protection. When slow forces of your knees under regular pedaling are applied, the polymer remains flexible and unintrusive. This isn’t new tech, D30 is used in the likes of Endura’s MT500 pads and Viscoelastic in the 7 Protection Sam Hill and Sweet Protection Knee Pad, all of which have proved to be very effective.
The Rheon Labs insert is covered in a material that Rapha calls SuperFabric, a woven synthetic textile that has a ceramic polymer print that has been added for durability and abrasion resistance. The inserts are removable so that the Trail Knee Pads are machine washable, due to their flexibility it's a simple process to pull them out and put them back in too.
While the primary focus of knee pads is protection, the make or break of all knee pads is fit. If a knee pad isn’t comfortable or stays in place during a crash then it's not going to offer as much protection or you won’t wear them.
I found the Rapha Trail knee pads to be some of the best fitting pads I have used, there's no bunching behind the knee, and the pads remained in position with no need to re-adjust, even after big days of climbing and descending. The fact they didn’t have Velcro straps to tailor the tightness wasn’t an issue, with the deep top cuff held in place without being overly tight.
Ventilation is also very impressive, there's plenty of airflow through the pad itself and the light sleeve material means there are no thicker strapped sections where heat can build up. Even with one of the hottest summers ever here in the UK, the Trail Knee Pads had very little sweat build-up and no points of irritation.
The great fit is further helped by the malleable nature of the knee pad itself, which sits close and moves with the knee giving an unrestricted range of movement. The slimline shape means they fit well under the close-fitting legs that are used on the best MTB pants. When paired with shorts, the subtle graphics look great as well.
I have had a couple of tumbles in the Rapha Trail Knee Pads and they seem to have done their job, although this is purely anecdotal. The Rheon Labs pads do seem to offer a good level of cushioning though, especially considering their thickness, and even after a good bit of sliding/rolling down the trail, they were still in place.
Our only real criticism is that there isn’t any protection around the side of the knee which leaves some vulnerability in really rowdy situations, although considering the Trail Knee Pad makes no secret of their trail intentions, I wasn’t expecting them to offer as comprehensive protection as you would find in a gravity specific pad.
Rapha has dialed the fit of the Trail Knee Pad and combined with the flexibility of the Rheon Labs insert makes the Trail Knee pad one of the most comfortable knee pads I have used. Proper forget your wearing them all-day comfort makes them ideal for big trail days and backcountry adventures. While they might not have as much side coverage as a full gravity-orientated pad, the Trail Knee Pads have still been my enduro go-to over summer too.
Tech Specs: Rapha Trail Knee Pad
- Price: $110 / £80
- Weight: 372g (medium)
- Sizes: XS-XL