Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Leatt Dual Axis Knee & Shin Guards - first impressions review

First, some context. Two seasons ago I sprang for the Olympia Motoquest suit which, although good value then, has revealed some shortcomings.  Just guessing here, but based on the Olympia marketing materials, the design intent of the Motoquest suit is not really aligned with my type of woods riding which favors dirt and technical trails on a small bike. In this application, the suit feels unbearably hot, restrictive, and bulky. It's also incompatible with a neck brace, awkward with a pressure suit, leaky in the rain, fussy when having to stop to don the separate rain layer to ensure staying dry, the pockets are poorly sized and placed... I could go on!

In its favour, the suit's materials and construction have proven reasonably durable. No worn seams or scuffing in high-abrasion areas like the seat, cuffs, waist, etc. However, the supplied armor inserts were a joke, so I replaced the knee inserts with 3DO inserts and removed all the jacket padding in favour of a Fox Titan pressure suit.

Last summer's RAP ride, which consisted of about 1200km of rough trails and fire roads over 3 days, convinced me that while my current suit was probably OK in the general scheme of DS riding, it really wasn't the best combination of protection, comfort, and ease of use. Going full MX isn't really practical for me either, so the search has been on for a new suit/protection combo that ticks all the boxes. A piece-by-piece approach allows me to tune fit/performance to my specific needs.

Here are the Motoquest pants with the upgraded D3O inserts for sizing.

For reference, I'm 6'1" (~184cm) and around 190 lbs, with most of my weight in my legs thanks to years of competitive cycling. These knee pads are the marginally larger version offered but are still pretty small relative to the pant. They don't reliably stay in place because of the looseness of the pant, yet the pant is tight enough that after sitting for a while the pads create uncomfortable pressure on my kneecaps. This discomfort grows when the vent flaps are unzipped and tucked into the pocket over the knee. This became my least tolerable gripe with the suit, so I've been looking for better knee inserts which ultimately led me to the Leatt Dual Axis model ordered from Fortnine (great services and prices) in Montreal.

On opening the shipping carton I was taken aback at how beefy and heavy the Leatts are. This is a significant chunk of armor! It was pretty clear my game plan would need to change, because I couldn't see fitting these things under the Motoquest pants given my thigh/calf size and the relatively slim fit of the pant. More about fit in a moment; let's look at the construction, because there are few details of these pads to see online. 

The guards are anatomically designed for left and right legs. Padding and straps are thoughtfully positioned and materials appear to be good quality with good finishing details. 

One strap attaches just above the knee, two below the knee. Velcro allows adjusting the fit once, then using a clip to snap each strap on and off easily. The system works well and is easy to put on and adjust. These pads are the L/XL size, which was perfect for the hard amour portion and offered just enough strap adjustments to fit around my legs. 

Protection quality is CE Level 1 for impact and CE Level 2 for abrasion. 

Trying them on, it's immediately obvious how comfortable they are over the knee: the cup barely touches the kneecap, even when bent. The double-hinge design is far superior to single-hinge designs because it allows the armor to follow your joint without dragging the pad up or down. With single-hinge designs, bending your knee either requires the pad to stretch to follow the increased length of the outside of your leg (not going to happen with solid armor), or causes the top or bottom segment to pull out of place depending on which end is more firmly attached to your leg. (Excuse the unsexy, winter-white and puffy off-season gams. It's been 8 months since shorts weather.)

Surprisingly, there was no discomfort wearing these pads inside my moto boots, although it does look silly--especially with no pants on (actually, this is how we ride in Canada when it's above -12C):


Unfortunately these guards aren't quite a home run for me yet, mainly because I need to figure out how to best incorporate these into a new riding outfit.

  • Well made, excellent coverage and CE-rated
  • Comfortable, anatomic fit and flex with good adjustability
  • Seem to stay in place
  • Reasonably good side protection, including an effective "slider" function formed by the pivots
  • Reasonable price (~$128 CAD)
  • Not the best integration with moto boots. Better suited to a short boot, which poses tradeoffs on protecting your feet/lower leg.
  • Doesn't fit under a touring pant like the Motoquest unless you don't plan to bend your knee.
  • Despite the venting, they will undoubtedly be hotter than a simple kneepad insert, because of the straps. 
Bottom line is there's no one perfect set of gear for all applications and rider body types. Since my boots need replacing anyway, maybe it's time to consider some of the new shorter options that are MX-lite but a lot easier to walk in, coupled with something like the Klim Overland pant. Then it's a slippery slope to new jacket and armor upstairs. A TekVest looks intriguing.  


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