by Mihai Moga
It’s a great time to be a mountain biker. Recent innovations in the sport are simply amazing, and they’ve come in almost every facet, including body protection. There are several companies making body armor these days so finding suitable protective gear shouldn't be a problem. If you want something more advanced than the run of the mill gear, though, then the new Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads might be the right ones for you.
Dainese has been around for a long time, and they have a strong reputation for making some of the best protective gear for MotoGP racers and street bikes. Drawing on their experience in these areas, they also made some of the highest quality protective gear for mountain bikers. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, during the era of Nico Vouilloz’s domination, Dainese was hands down the most popular brand amongst downhill racers, and for good reason. The gear they made was innovative.
Now in 2012, the company is innovating once again. Dainese went farther then most when creating their new Oak Pro Knee Pads. The pads are soft-shelled and feature a multi-impact shock-absorbing material derived from F1 applications. That’s not new in the protective gear world, though. What is new, and the thing that is most innovative and unique that really sets the Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads apart is the retention system. Dainese uses the Boa Lacing System, which is essentially a small cable lacing system that is tightened with a ratcheting mechanism. Originally developed for use on snowboard boots, the Boa System is also on many high-end cycling shoes. Imagine no velcro straps to get snagged on the lining of your pants or shorts, no elastic that will eventually stretch, and virtually infinite adjustment by simply turning a round dial to tighten or loosen the straps for a perfect fit. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well then, you'll want to meet the new Dainese Oak Pro Knee Pads.
At first glance the pads look, and feel, expensive. After a close inspection of the details on the pads, it is definitely apparent that much thought and a great deal of work went into creating them. All the materials are very high quality, they feel soft to the touch and are comfortable, the stitching looks great, the seams are flawless, and the Boa System’s steel wiring seems well placed and secure.
The pads slide over the leg, so shoes have to be off in order to pull the pads into place. Sliding the pads up the leg is a bit sticky, but not too difficult, which turns out to be a good thing - when the pads are in place they feel very secure, even without tightening the Boa System. That said, the straps need to be tightened before riding. As the straps are tightened down by simply tuning the Boa System’s ratcheting dial that is placed on the front of the pads, you feel the pads wrap around your leg in a very secure fashion with no obvious pressure points. For those wondering, the Boa System’s control knob never got in the way or snagged, even while wearing pants.
On The Trail
Does all this equal safety and comfort on the bike? Let’s go ride and see. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for testing purposes, we never crashed while wearing the pads. However, based on Dainese’s reputation and experience, and our attempts to move the pads while stationary, we feel that the pads will provide adequate knee protection in the event of a crash. Coverage is more than adequate, and rubber grippers inside the pads help keep them in place. The pads come about half way down the shin and several inches above the knee.
The first thing we noticed on the bike is that they hinder movement quite a bit, more than expected. The pads feel like they have too much material around the knee area, which seems to resist movement of the knee. When the leg is bent and close to 90-degrees, the pads bunch up on the sides of the knee. They also bunch in front of the knee when the leg is close to fully extended. This did not change with more use, and made the pads uncomfortable to walk in. At first we didn’t think this was a big deal, and it would be something that we could get used to, but the pads became uncomfortable to wear. They simply felt too stiff and bulky as a result.
Do they stay put? They don’t slide much while riding, but they do slide a little when walking. We found that they require a few seconds of readjusting before a downhill run, especially after hiking up to the start. This movement while walking could be aided by using less of the shock-absorbing pad material, and by making the pads slightly lower profile in the front and sides of the knee. That said, we firmly believe that the pads will not slide during a crash - arguably the most important aspect of any knee guard.
Are they breathable? Not as much as we’d like. While Dainese has definitely considered the breathability aspect of the pads with the hollow hexagonal shapes on the front, they are still very hot when you’re really getting after it.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Like most innovations that are not perfect on the first go-around, with a little refinement and willingness to see what needs improved, the Dainese Oak Pro Pads could be great - and they should be with a price tag of $149.95. Through the use of the Boa Lacing System and the high standard of quality Dainese is known for, they are well on the way to making the best, most secure, and most comfortable knee pad on the market. We just wish the breathability and fit was improved, especially while riding.
For more information about these pads or the rest of Dainese's lineup, visit www.dainese.com.