First Ride: 2018 iXS Knee and Upper Body Protection

If it’s protection you need, you can be pretty sure that iXS has you covered. They’ve been making a wide range of different types of apparel and body armor for mountain biking since the Swiss brand was created in 2001, but that’s never a reason to rest on one’s laurels. For 2018, iXS has introduced several key updates to the Flow and Carve lines of product, so we decided to take a closer look.

iXS Carve EVO+ Knee Guard Highlights

  • Xmatter™ protection foam (exchangeable) 
  • AeroMesh™, light, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, added structural strength, high level of comfort
  • LoopLock™ closings
  • Silicon stopper
  • EN1621-1:1997 certified
  • Sizes: Kids S to L, Adult XS to XL
  • MSRP: $99.99 USD

iXS Flow EVO+ Knee Guard Highlights

  • Xmatter™ protection foam (exchangeable)
  • AeroMesh™, light, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, added structural strength, high level of comfort
  • LoopLock™ closings
  • Silicon stopper
  • EN1621-1:1997 certified
  • MSRP: $79.90 USD

iXS Flow Zip Knee Guard Highlights

  • Xmatter™ protection foam (exchangeable)
  • FlexZip™, stretchable zipper
  • AeroMesh™, light, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-bacterial, added structural strength, high level of comfort
  • LoopLock™ closings
  • Silicon stopper
  • EN1621-1:1997 certified
  • MSRP: $99.90

iXS Trigger Upper Body Protector Highlights

  • Xmatter™ protective foam at back, shoulders, and elbow (removable)
  • NockOut™ absorbent padding at chest and ribs
  • Lightweight, compact, moisture-wicking and breathable
  • FlexZip™, stretchable YKK zipper for increased ergonomic comfort
  • Sizes: Kids S to L, Adult XSS to XXL
  • MSRP: $229 USD

Initial Impressions

EVO+, that sounds like more better, right? And that is exactly what iXS looked for when they decided to update their Carve and Flow range of knee guards for 2018. Aeromesh fabric is lightweight, moisture-wicking and anti-microbial, and it features a tighter weave to help the pad avoid stretching over time. The Xmatter pad material can now be easily removed for washing the pads. The Carve EVO+ guard gets more padding on the sides. And there are two brand new models in the line-up, the Flow Zip knee guard and the Trigger upper body protector.

The Carve kneepad is iXS’s answer for those looking for a sturdy kneepad that is up for all but the heaviest of abuse. It relies on Xmatter for the main kneecap protection, a visco-elastic material that stiffens up on impact to help distribute forces away from your knee. For this all-new EVO+ version, iXS went to an Aeromesh construction, which is said to help combat both odors and undue material stretching.  Additionally, small foam pads were added to offer extra protection on each side of the knee. The Carve uses two hook-and-loop straps to make sure it does not move around when in use or during a crash. This guard is meant to offer enough protection for rowdy trails while still being comfortable enough for all day pedaling. In other words, a perfect enduro pad.

The Flow pad, originally developed with all-time legend Hans Rey, is a lightweight pad meant to offer peace of mind on mellower rides and longer days on the hill. For this new EVO+ version, iXS went to the same Aeromesh construction as on the Carve EVO+. This simple slip-on design also features silicone grippers to help it stay up, and a single strap over the calf area to keep it secure.

The all-new Flow Zip pad builds on the Flow EVO+ and adds a convenient zippered opening to allow you to put on and take off the pads without removing your shoes. The zipper is a special “flex zip” construction which means it can stretch and move around with the fabric, without causing the pad to bunch up or become stiff. There is a small “zipper garage” at the bottom of the pad with an added security strap to make sure the zipper does not come undone in action.

The Trigger upper body protector, brand new for 2018, is an evolution of the Carve protector, with added elbow pads. This elaborate yet low profile upper body protector is ideal for those looking for complete protection without the bulk of a hardshell pressure suit. The Trigger once again relies on iXS’s Xmatter pads to protect all the critical areas, with added foam pads around the chest and rib area. There are no adjustable straps to hold the pads in place, but iXS added silicone strips to crucial areas to provide the different pads with a bit more stability. Other than that, the fabric itself is what holds everything in place. All the Xmatter pads can be removed for washing the protector.

On The Trail

The devil is in the details, and iXS didn’t cut any corners when it came to improving on its line of soft-shell protectors. Even the seemingly simple Flow pad is elaborately designed. For example, rather than let the Xmatter pad come too close to the skin, there is an extra layer of foam in between, for comfort and breathability. The hook-and-loop material chosen ("LoopLock") is one of the best we have ever come across: the “hook” side of the strap feels almost soft to the touch, and it doesn’t hook onto any fabric other than its “loop” counterpart on the other side of the strap. That means all your other gear is safe from its teeth, but don’t let this mellow side confuse you – once the strap is closed onto itself, the hold is as strong as anything else we’ve tested.

The rear of the pad is made with a very lightweight and extra breathable mesh material, which is super soft to the touch. It helps keep these pads chafe-free even for all-day rides. As for stability, these lightweight pads are a bit less confidence-inspiring than their more heavy-duty brethren, especially since they lack any kind of extra padding on the side, but that is not to say they left us feeling unprotected. As always, it’s a matter of trade-off: ultimate pedaling comfort or max protection, pick your poison.

If you feel like even a lightweight pad is still too much on those long climbs, or you just want the most convenient experience possible, the all-new Flow Zip is for you. It takes the design of the Flow EVO+ and adds a zippered opening to allow you to put it on and remove it without removing your shoes. We are always a little apprehensive of adding zippers to a kneepad, as it looks like something that might scrape the skin or be otherwise painful in a crash, but iXS used a special flexible zipper to make sure this is not the case. There is also a flap of material behind the zip, and a zipper garage secured with an extra hook-and-loop strap. All in all, we did not feel like the zipper made the pad any less comfortable or secure, and we certainly came to appreciate the convenience of being able to put them on and remove them so easily.

The Carve EVO+ steps up the game with a more pronounced cut, and more padding. The Xmatter pad covers more of the shin, and the guard features an extra strip of thick foam above the main kneecap pad to help protect against nailing your knee on your handlebars, always a painful experience. The foam pads on the side of knee are triangle-shaped to help avoid bunching up when the knee bends, which helps create a snug and secure fit. Much like on the Flow pad, there is a silicone strip inside the top of the pad to help it avoid slipping, but on the Carve there are also two straps of that same awesome hook-and-loop material for extra stability.

On the trail, all of these new kneepads are very comfortable. The Carve EVO+ is a bit stiffer overall, which goes with the territory for a more heavy-duty pad. We’ve still used these for very long days on the bike with good results. This tester often gets a bit chafed around the back of the knee, especially when using pads that are new and not yet broken in, but the discomfort with the Carve pad was minimal. On the flipside, the stability is exemplary and we’ve never had to pull the pads up or otherwise adjust them while riding or walking around. We have yet to take any major diggers while testing these pads, but a couple of slide-outs and some basic tests like hitting our knee with a rock or jumping down to our knees leave us with little doubt as to their efficiency (we have also crashed a lot both with previous versions of these pads as well as other similar products).

X marks the spot.

In terms of protection, the visco-elastic Xmatter pad does a great job of absorbing impacts, but do not think this makes it particularly comfortable to crash on. The guards tested here do not offer any extra padding beyond the thin layer of foam between the Xmatter and the knee, and as a result they end up feeling fairly harsh when you land on them. That stuff gets stiff in a hurry. On the other hand, this construction keeps these pads from becoming too warm and stuffy, which on balance might be a design choice that you agree with in this category of pads. In terms of protection, you may want to look at a hardshell pad if all you ride is park (or DJ/street), but for anything else, this type of softshell guard is our go-to design. 

For those riders who want upper body protection in addition to kneepads, the new Trigger protector offers a streamlined way to add Xmatter pads to other critical areas of the body. The Aeromesh fabric coupled with a thin foam layer in between the large spine pad and the body creates a very comfortable piece of equipment, among the more breathable and comfortable items that we have tried in this category. As with all the items featured in this test, the Trigger is CE-certified (both the back plate and the elbow pads, specifically) so you know it’ll do the job if you should go for a little dirt nap.

When it comes to fit, no two body types are equal, which is why we often favor a more adjustable approach to full upper body protectors. However, the elastic nature and tight fit of the Trigger makes it inherently adjustable, and we think iXS has done an excellent job on the cut. All the pads sit in the right place, and none of them move around while you ride. Even the tall and wide back plate does not make itself known in action. 

Things That Could Be Improved

As we alluded to in the previous section already, there is not a lot of soft padding present in any of the knee guards tested here, and because the Xmatter stiffens up considerably under impact, landing straight on these pads can feel a bit rough. We understand the trade-off with regards to the overall pad profile and heat management, but we still think a little bit extra “fluff” could be a nice addition, even in this category of protection.

Regarding the Trigger upper body protector, the elbow and shoulder pads are a little bit on the small side. Once again, this category of protection is not meant for full-on DH abuse, if that is your jam and you crash a lot, the hardshell-based “Cleaver” jacket might be a better choice. As it stands, the pads of the Trigger will protect the crucial parts of your shoulders and elbows, but they don’t fully wrap around the shoulder area nor do they extend very far down the forearm.

A word on pricing: there are cheaper options out there, both when it comes to knee guards and upper body protectors, but iXS are also far from the most expensive. We certainly feel like you get top-tier features and a level of finish that more than warrant the price tag here. 

Long Term Durability

Since this is only a First Ride type of review, we won’t be able to offer any actual longevity observations at this time. The fit and finish of all the items are impeccable, leaving us quite impressed with the level of workmanship on display. Specifically, all the seams appear very well finished off, with double or flatlock stitching used throughout, and the level of construction is generally elaborate. The front of the kneepads are made from a thicker, reinforced fabric, which bodes well for longevity.

What’s The Bottom Line?

There is no shortage of good protection out there today, but iXS made sure to pay particular attention both to the cut and the finish of their new goods, which leaves them in a good spot. The Flow knee guards are very comfortable and highly suitable for all-day adventures on the bike, with the Carve guards reporting for duty when things get a little rowdier. The all-new Trigger upper body protector is ideal for those looking for full body padding without the bulk, as it knows to make itself pretty much invisible under a jersey while still offering adequate protection in all critical areas. All the items reviewed here are CE certified to the appropriate level.

More information at: bike.ixs.com.


About The Reviewer

Johan Hjord - Age: 44 // Years Riding MTB: 12 // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg) // Height: 6'0" (1.84m)

Johan loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.

Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

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