by Nick Zuzelski
A common dilemma facing many riders is the pad situation when throwing a leg over their all-mountain bike. Who wants to run heavy, bulky downhill pads while they grind to the top of a fun descent? Then again, who wants to deal with cut up knees/elbows if things get a little too crazy on the way down? As a solution to the dilemma, Race Face has introduced the Charge Leg and Charge Arm Guards. They took a very minimalist approach with the guards by offering a thin layer of defense while maintaining maximum comfort and flexibility.
Charge Guard Highlights
- Stretch mesh sleeve with second skin, minimal fit with targeted coverage
- Foam panel impact zone with stretch Kevlar cover for shred proof durability
- Silicone gripper along inner top opening ensures 'stay-put' fit
- Silicone patch on shin of leg guard eliminates slippage
- Flatlock comfort seam finish
- Sizes XS through XXL, ensuring a perfect fit for everyone
- Black color only
- MSRP $53.99 (Legs) and $36.99 (Arms)
On The Trail
Using the Race Face fit chart as a guide, my leg and arm measurements landed right in between two sizes. Given that these are meant to fit snuggly and stretch over the knee and elbow, I decided to size down. This ended up being a good choice since these guards are designed to stay in place using the tension of the material, so getting a size too big would basically render the guards much less useful. The smaller option seemed to fit like a glove with more of a compression sleeve type of fit.
Once on, the overall comfort was very noticeable. Flexibility was still 100%, the material felt great, and I could hardly tell that there was any stitching internally.
As advertised, "second skin" is the best way to describe the padding - they're quite minimalist, especially when compared to your usual knee and elbow pads. The Leg Guards feature an approximately 1/8-inch thin foam insert that covers your knee and extends down to your mid to upper shin, providing quite a bit of coverage. The mesh extends a few inches up to your lower quad (almost to your riding chamois). The Arm Guards feature the same thin insert around your elbow area. Both guards have a durable Kevlar material over the top of the padded area, and it seems like it's made for the long haul. The surrounding mesh material breathes quite well, although you are still going to be warmer than if you were riding without them. Nevertheless, these are a big step closer to all-day comfort compared to your typical downhill pads. They rarely bunch behind the knee, and if they do it doesn't cut off circulation unlike many alternatives currently on the market.With the help of the silicon anti-slip treatment around the openings, they've stayed in place and I haven't had any issues with the guards slipping down.
While very thin, the guards do seem to take the edge off. Although I've had no proper rag dolling or huge get offs while wearing these guards yet (and hope to keep it that way), there were a few instances where having the Charge Guards on helped - mostly little impacts on pedals, branches, handlebars, etc. That "second skin" seemed to give enough of an extra buffer to prevent any minor injuries. That said, don't count on them to prevent major injuries should things go really wrong - they simply aren't thick enough, nor did Race Face intend for them to take any big hits. For someone that previously rarely wanted to wear pads of any variety while on my trail bike, though, they fit the bill well.
As an added benefit, I've found these to be awesome when temperatures drop. On colder days I find myself purposely grabbing the Charge Guards for more warmth on the legs. They are extremely comfortable while pedaling and offer more warmth to those tendons and ligaments when the temperatures outside are less than ideal.
What's The Bottom Line?
If you're looking for a little bit of protection on your trail and all-mountain rides, the Race Face Charge Guards are a great solution. They fit well, are comfortable, breathe well, don't restrict movement, and stay put - all necessary qualities for a good set of knee guards made to pedal in. They also offer a little extra warmth on cold days. We all push it just a bit too hard sometimes and the Charge Guards will help keep you from getting scratched up.
For more details, visit www.raceface.com.
About The Reviewer
Nick Zuzelski began riding motocross at a young age, a sport that would eventually lead him to the world of downhill. As a Colorado native, racing downhill, dual slalom, or a chill dirt jump session was never far away, and he eventually worked his way up the ranks to the Pro level. Now residing in Eastern Pennsylvania, he recently changed it up from the Rocky Mountain dust to East Coast loam, world class dirt jumps, and rocks... lots of rocks. If a trail has fast flow and some fun gaps, he is grinning ear to ear and getting after it. Living by the assumption that basically everything feels better with a short stem and wide bars, you can count on him keeping it real with a laid back attitude and flat pedals most of the time. Mechanical Engineer by trade, rider by heart, he enjoys riding it, finding out how it works, and making it better.