Review by Evan Turpen
Leatt, a company driven by safety, was first known for their innovative neck braces for bicycle, motorcycle and powersports. Having gradually expanded their line to include numerous other forms of protection, they now offer body armor, gloves, knee pads, elbow pads and even hydration packs with integrated back protection. Given the opportunity to try out their new 3DF Hybrid knee pads, we put them to the test and report our findings below.
3DF Hybrid Knee Pad Highlights
- CE tested and certified as impact protection: Knee EN1621-2
- Hybrid combination (hard shell deflecting and sliding upper shin with 3DF impact absorbing knee)
- New MoistureCool and AirMesh fabrics that are wicking and anti-microbial
- Silicone printed adjustable non-slip cuffs
- Weight: 550g // 1.2 lbs (pair)
- MSRP: $89 USD
The Leatt 3DF Hybrid knee pads are a thing of beauty. Available in three different colorways (blue, lime and white), the styling is impeccable. These pads look great and their construction quality is top-notch. The materials ooze quality and everything from the seams to the Velcro straps and the printed graphics have been holding up extremely well. The fit is also spot-on for our tester and the sizing is in-line with most other leading knee pad manufacturers. So where does "Hybrid" come in? Leatt's referencing the fact that two entirely different materials are used for protection in the kneecap and the shin areas - a hard, plastic shell for the shin and the soft, flexible impact-hardening "3DF" material for the kneecap. The 3DF soft-style knee cup is similar to D3O material, in that it hardens upon impact offering high-levels of protection while still providing excellent flexibility. The 3DF material conforms well to your kneecap for a very secure and snug fit. There were no snags or skin irritation from the seams or Velcro, either. Overall, we believed these pads would do their job if and when the time came.
On The Trail
The majority of our ride time with these pads was spent in bike parks doing lift-accessed downhill riding. Once we put the pads on, we don't recall ever having to adjust them or reach down to pull them up; they simply stayed put and did their job. This is most likely due to the exceptional fit and grippy "silicone printed adjustable non-slip cuffs," which is basically a grippy strip that runs around the inner circumference of the upper portion of the pad. The lower hard plastic partial shinguard is very rigid and ensured that no rock or pedal will be able to upset your shin, as long as it hits the pad.
The overall fit of these pads is great and they never felt bulky while riding down the trail, they seemed to disappear. That was, until we tried using them for rides with extended pedaling. When things got flat or pointed up, the pads became a bit uncomfortable due to a stiff knee/shin hinge (especially if your seat is low and the angle of your knee joint is tight). Even if we slid them down around our ankles (like you see the enduro guys doing), they were still rather uncomfortable. In our opinion, the pads were just too stiff and large for that riding that required significant pedaling.
The 3DF pads are good, but not great, in terms of breath-ability. Perhaps durability was more of a concern during the design process. Either way, they seem to strike a good balance between durability, protection and ventilation, with durability and protection being their strong suits. We've ridden other pads where safety levels felt a bit compromised due to excessive venting or ultra-lightweight construction techniques and it's nice to know that Leatt thinks safety first with the Hybrids. That said, these knee pads wouldn't be our first choice of padding for long rides with extended pedaling in hot climates.
Fit aside, how do these pads do when you hit the deck? Despite our best efforts, we've only had a few minor crashes and one major crash during the testing of these pads (an abrupt swap-out in a high-speed berm) and we're happy to report that they did their job well when we hit the ground - staying put and protecting our knees. Since the fit is superior, the straps and Velcro are all holding up exceptionally. We're confident the pads will maintain their secure feel and stay in place should we have further, less-than-graceful exits off our bike.
Things That Could Be Improved
Pedaling: Our largest complaint with these pads is how they perform for extended pedaling. We wouldn't really use these for enduro racing unless the stages were almost entirely DH-oriented with limited pedaling and we were willing to carry a hydration pack to stash them for the climbs. Perhaps a redesign of the knee/shin hinge or creating some independence of movement between the 3DF and plastic shin area, similar to a floating knee-cup, would help.
Above-Knee Protection: Directly above the kneecap there is practically zero protection - only a thin piece of neoprene with a Velcro strap. It would be nice to see additional and more robust padding in this area, as it is highly susceptible to impacts such as kneeing the bars, stem, or top tube in a crash. This would help bring the level of protection up a step further and would add to the overall excellent knee padding that already exists.
Long Term Durability
The Leatt 3DF Hybrid knee pads are some of the best-put-together pads we've ever seen. Throughout our test there were no signs of premature wear, even after being machine-washed multiple times. Even the Velcro straps showed no signs of stretching or losing their attachment strength. There is no doubt in our mind that these pads are in it for the long-haul. Definitely a high-quality piece of kit.
What’s The Bottom Line?
The Leatt 3DF Hybrid knee pads offer an overall fit, feel and construction that is class-leading. That said, if you're trail riding or doing any kind of extended pedaling, you might want to try out a slimmer pad with more flexibility, like Leatt's AirFlex and AirFlex Proofferings. However, if you are looking for a very comfortable and effective pad to ride lift-accessed bike parks, downhill or wear during shuttle runs, the Leatt 3DF Hybrid is an excellent choice. And, with the minor changes we mentioned above, these could very well be some of the best pads on the market. Fingers crossed Leatt is listening and updates these pads in the future. If they do, they will have a true winner of a knee pad worthy of a 5-star rating.
For more info, visit leatt.com.
About The Reviewer
Evan Turpen has been racing mountain bikes for over 14 years. He raced downhill as a pro for the last nine years with his career highlight being selected to represent the U.S. in the 2006 World Championships. More recently he can be found competing in enduro races and having a blast with it. He is an aggressive yet smooth rider who loves to flick the bike around to put it on the fastest line or to smooth out the rough sections. Fast flowy trails and long technical descents (Garbanzo style) are his favorite. With an extensive knowledge of the mountain bike industry and its technologies, Evan is able to take all things in to perspective during a review. He has helped design, develop, and test products for multiple major mountain bike companies and has an attention to detail well above most.