by Andy Holloway
The Race Face Flank Leg Guards aren't new on the scene, they were first introduced back in 2010 and three years later the same basic design is still going strong. With a few years of feedback under their belt, the Race Face crew have made further improvements to material and construction for 2013. The core concept remains the same, with open-back construction for ease of removal and D3O pads for protection, in a full-length design that extends well down onto the shins. We were eager to get these on the trail to see what the improvements would bring to an already successful design.
Flank Leg Guard Highlights
- D3O™ high performance shock absorbing foam
- Additional foam extension saves shins from pedal bite
- Open-back construction; no shoe removal necessary
- Perforated Neoprene for enhanced venting and moisture control
- Terry lined for wicking and comfort
- Foam padded side walls offer additional coverage
- Branded rubber grab tabs
- MSRP: $115.99
Out of the box, the Flank guards appear very well put together, with a general impression of quality and attention to detail. First design point of note, before you ever get on the trail you'll be treated to a nice feature: the open-back construction makes putting these guards on a breeze. No more taking your shoes off and then stripping down to your skinnies in the parking lot! It was never really a feature that I considered a must have, but after having used them I don't think I'll ever want to switch back.
The second important point regarding the design is the choice of D3O material for the main kneepad. For those not familiar with D3O, it is a soft and malleable material featuring molecules that lock together to dissipate impact energy during hard hits. For the skeptics out there, we have tested this aspect on many occasions in different products, and apart from on very sharp objects, the ability of D3O pads to absorb impact are pretty much on par with hardshell guards.
The overall construction is sturdy, notably the heavy-duty nylon used on the front panels appears extremely strong (which we were to later prove in testing).
On The Trail
On the trail the Flanks have a barely-there feel and bend surprisingly easily - not once did I notice them hampering my range of motion or sliding into the wrong position. If you're a dirt jumper or just like getting loose on the bike, you'll appreciate the padded inner sides, which saved a number of inner leg slaps from tail whips gone wrong. Additionally, the straps used to close up the open-back construction aren't all horizontal - which pulls the pads in a more natural direction to fit your leg comfortably. The previous Flank designs didn't have this feature, which would cause the pads to slide around more often on your leg.
As previously mentioned, the open-back design is really convenient, not just for putting the pads on and taking them off at the end of the ride. If you like to remove your pads for climbing, you'll truly appreciate just how much easier that is to do when you no longer have to remove your shoes each time. Note that if you are after the same open-back design and features but don't want the full shin coverage, these exist in a shorter version called the Ambush.
Things That Could Be Improved
After a few months of use, the only real issue I have found is that while wearing the guards under jeans they do slide down your leg. While this isn't a deal breaker, you will have to re-adjust every now and then. With shorts this was never a problem and I suspect that the larger D30 pad over the knee gets pulled down by the jeans while pedaling and moving around on the bike.
Long Term Durability
Having a couple of friends of mine still riding the 2010 Flanks goes to show Race Face has had durability in mind for a while now. Out on the trail, I took a few forceful pedal slaps to the shin where the pedal also slid down my leg, and the stitching held up just fine with no ripping in the material either. Based on evidence from the testing period, these things could take years of abuse it seems.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Race Face Flank Leg Guards offer a good deal of protection without feeling burdensome. I honestly forgot about wearing them once I put them on and only had to re-adjust the pads a few times after an impact. Being able to put them on and remove them again without taking off my shoes proved to be way more valuable than I originally would have thought. If you enjoy throwing yourself legs first into razor-sharp rockgardens on a regular basis, you might want to consider a hardshell pad, but for all other use, between the cleverly placed straps and the D3O material, these guards are some of the most comfortable, functional, and durable I've ever used.
For more details, check out www.raceface.com.
About The Reviewer
Andy Holloway has been riding bikes ever since seeing New World Disorder 3 back in 2003. Inspired, he immediately began sculpting dirt jumps and pump tracks that have a unique and technical style while keeping it flowy. After competing in a handful of professional level slopestyle events and a blown up knee in 2007, he decided to switch gears and focus on having fun while being the behind-the-scenes guy sculpting dirt and covering the Colorado scene over at 970Biking.com. Dirt sculpting highlights include the construction of Boulder's Valmont Bike Park, Rhyolite Bike Park and a host of private pump tracks. Recently, he has discovered the adventure and sense of accomplishment from trail riding and is one of those riders who will choose the jump-transfer over the faster line - after all, it's all about keeping it fun.