by Noah Sears
To pad or not to pad, that is the question. All-mountain riders seem to come in three varieties in terms of safety equipment; those who (except for a helmet) forego it altogether, full-time knee-padders, and fully-armored warriors ready for battle or perhaps expecting to hit the dirt at some point on their ride. I'm the in the first camp, unless I'm at a resort, I'm largely unprotected.
Given my preference for pad-free riding (a preference that admittedly bites me in the ass from time to time), when the conditions do call for knee pads I'm pretty picky about what I strap on. I want something that doesn't interfere with pedaling, doesn't chafe, and doesn't migrate down my leg. I like a knee pad that doesn't leave an unsightly gap, exposing my pale white quads to potentially blind unsuspecting riders.Additionally, I prefer a low-profileaesthetic, I don't want to look like an 1980's vert skater.
I've yet to find the perfect set and with several enduro races now making kneepads compulsory, I've been on the hunt. The One Industries Conflict are the latest I've tried, and while they're a decent bit of kit they don't quite make the grade.
Upon they're arrival I was already a bit bummed - they were considerably bulkier than I had pictured. They consist of a neoprene sleeve with a stitched on cordura-like kneecap that houses molded CE foam. Elastic straps top and bottom handle the fit duties and the whole unit has been pre-curved to minimize bunching. The last few pairs of pads I've used had much more pliable padding or impact-sensitive materials in the kneecaps, and I much prefer that style. Compared to those, the Conflict's kneecap is quite firm and seemingly oversized. The hard kneecap and sleeve don't seem to fit together cohesively - with leg extended the cap has a tendency to pull the bottom portion of the sleeve and elastic strap up, and with leg bent it pulls the top portion and elastic strap down. This creates a bunching-effect which pushes the pads knee cap out leads to chafing on the back of the leg.
Fit issues aside, I can't fault the construction or material quality of the Conflict. The ventilated neoprene keeps your knees from becoming too swampy. The tips of the elastic straps are covered in molded rubber which help them keep their shape and should reduce fraying over time. The pads also feature some nice foam side padding which helps with knee-to-toptube contact. Having taken a few whacks while wearing the pads, I can say the padding is more than sufficient - even a major knee-bonk on the stem was hardly noticeable.
Considering their bulk, and the fit and chafing issues, I can't recommend the the Conflict as an everyday pad set - unless your days feature minimal pedaling. Compared with pads that feature impact-sensitive materials like VPD (POC) and D3O (SixSixOne and others), these seem like a step backwards in kneepad evolution - although those pads do come with a substantially higher price tag.