Back in the not so distant past, if you were to wear protection other than a helmet and gloves out on the trail, you could almost be guaranteed to be on the receiving end of snide comments about looking like a Stormtrooper or being all-the-gear-and-no-idea. It is a curious facet of human behaviour that we feel the need to challenge things that are new or different as being worthy of ridicule and contempt in the face of the evidence that they may bring positive benefits.
Fast forward to the present day, and the nay saying idiots have been (mostly) left behind. Knee guards have become almost standard issue for a large number of riders who value their knees and being able to shrug off the occasional off without any adverse effects.
As an early adopter of body armour, I happily include myself among them and have long been an advocate of their benefits. However, finding knee guards that were comfortable to wear all day without being unduly restrictive or bulky proved to be something more of a challenge. Having tried a fair few over the years, I was interested to learn what POC could bring to the party with its VPD Air knee pads.
POC describe its VPD Air as a light duty knee pad for cyclists who want enhanced flexibility, ventilation and freedom of movement. If your riding is of a more downhill bent then POC make knee pads that offer a greater degree of protection. However, for XC duties and big mountain days out for which I have been using these, they appear to fit the bill.
As you would probably expect for a design with lightweight XC aspirations, a hard shell is dropped in favour of a flexible, impact absorbing VPD compound material. So what is VPD? Well it stands for Visco-elastic Polymer Dough, thank you for asking! In simple terms, the protective insert hardens upon impact, can withstand multiple impacts while being sufficiently flexible that it conforms to the shape of your knees. As someone who has experienced the annoyance that can be hard shell knee pads, this is a gold plated good thing in my book.
Fit is taken care of by a single elasticated Velcro strap above the knee while on the inside neoprene fabric and textured rubber are employed in order to increase the level of grip between the pad and your knee thus reducing the likelihood of the pad rotating on impact which could potentially reduce the level of protection afforded.
Rounding things off, the pads are treated with Polygiene. Now this is clever stuff and for once, actually does what it says on the tin. By incorporating silver chloride into the fabric used to make the pads, bacterial and fungal growth from sweat are inhibited. Less of these means less stinky smells. The science is appealing but does it work in the real world? So far, it most assuredly does. I’ve worn the pads on a lot of sweaty summer rides and the absence of stench with only an occasional cold water hose down rinse to clean off the dirt is astonishing. My previous pads used to stink to high Heaven, the POC VPD Air pads don’t. Win! I just wish someone would figure out how to create a DWR treatment for waterproof jackets that is just as effective and long lasting.
Fit and feel
Fit wise, I opted for a large pair. I don’t pretend to have thighs like Chris Hoy and found that the size large hit the sweet spot of being comfortable without being unduly restrictive. Wearing pads only for descents is fine but it doesn’t give a great indication of all day comfort. For regular XC rides, I found that the low profile nature of the pads meant that they didn’t rub against my frame while the combination of flexible VPD material and stretch fabric behind my knee made for a garment that I was happy to pedal in or wear for extended periods of hike a bike without them feeling uncomfortable or overly hot. Air could flow freely above my knee while the stretch material did a good job of wicking away sweat.
Protection on tap
Of course, the real test comes with an off so how did they fare? Pretty much as I hoped they would. Laying down my knee at speed onto loose rocks when my confidence exceeded my abilities, the pads didn’t twist round on impact meaning that I was able to dust myself down and get back on my bike. Although thin, the pads protected me more than adequately. On another occasion, my foot slipped on a hike-a-bike climb causing my knee to rattle off a rather large rock. Again, the incident passed without fuss.
On reflection, where the VPD Air pads score highly from my perspective is that they are sufficiently comfortable that I am happy to wear them all day long. Even though I may not need their protective capabilities every ride, it’s good to be able to wear them without the normal downsides associated with knee pads. On cold weather rides, I now find myself wearing them instead of knee pads although with the temperatures now getting close to zero as winter approaches, the VPD material feels just that little bit stiffer than on warm days. However, this is only an aside and doesn’t appear to impact upon their level of comfort.
So who should buy these? If you are an XC rider who likes the idea of always having a bit of protection for your knees but doesn’t like hard shell pads, these could well be the pads you are looking for. They are genuinely all-day comfortable. If I was to change one thing, I would love it if they were designed such that they could be fitted and taken off without having to take your shoes off. However, given their excellent fit, there is no real good reason not to wear them all ride long.
Light, day long comfort with proven levels of protection. They are at the upper end of the price bracket for pads which may be off putting if you are on a budget but they have succeeded in changing my attitude to wearing knee pads all day long.
|Product:||VPD Air Knee Pads|
|Tested:||by David "Sanny" Gould for Four months|