Over the past few years there has been a trend towards lower bulk and lighter weight protection to use whilst on the bike. The rise of longer travel more versatile trail bikes has meant that as well as helping to avoid injuries, the pads must be light and breathable enough to pedal in.
Race Face offer the Ambush knee pad which features D30 technology. D30 is soft and flexible, but offers good impact absorbtion when compared to normal foam padding. We tested these knee pads for just over 2 years and covered around 3000 miles. RRP is £69.96.
The Ambush pads are very flexible and thin, especially when compared to traditional plastic knee pad cups, this makes packing them in a backpack whilst on a big climb easy.
Getting the pads on is very easy thanks to the open back design. This means that the pads can be put on and taken off without the need to take your shoes off. We found this to be very handy in the depths of winter when it wet and cold and we just wanted to get back in the warmth of the car for the drive home.
To hold the pads in place over the knees there are 5 velcro tabs. 3 of them are quite small and are just used to get them in place, and the other 2 bigger ones are used to tighten them up.
Overall we found the pads fitted very well. Obviously everyone is a different shape and size so this is subjective, but ideally we would of liked the top opening to be a little bit bigger in comparison to the lower, but this is a minor thing.
The pads always stayed in place, even in crashes. This is likely due to the large front pad which wraps round nicely over the knee cap.
Over the 2 years we've done thousands of miles in the pads, and they stayed comfortable whatever the weather. Pedalling in them was also fine, and they are the least restrictive knee pads we have used so walking and hike a bike is also perfectly tolerable.
The main centre pad covers the knee and extends part way down the shin. For flat pedal uses this can help with slipped pedals and low lying branches and trail debris. The centre pad is backed up by 2 other side pads, these are not D30 so not quite as hard but they help protect against frame impacts.
Does the D30 protect as much as a hard plastic shell? Maybe not, but we've had multiple crashes and impacts onto rocks, roots and gravel and not felt any major impacts. For us the protection it offers is more than enough, and the extra freedom the D30 provides means it's unlikely we would bother with plastic cups again.
Out of all mountain bike apparel, next to gloves, knee pads probably have the hardest life. Aside from the impacts they take, regular riding in wet muddy conditions means they are constantly rubbing against the frame and shorts in an abrasive way. We are pleased to say that the Race Faces have held up exceptionally well. Apart from some very minor abrasions they have stayed all in one piece, with no stiching coming undone. The velcro also still holds the pads in place well and we've noticed no loss in performance at all. We would expect to get another few years out of the pads even with regular use.
Whilst not the cheapest knee pads on the market, the Ambush do offer good value as they are so versitile. Enough protection for full on DH days in the alps, but pliable enough for full days out pedalling means you only need one set of pads. The only minor downside is D30 say the pads are 'wipe clean only' and as the D30 cannot be removed from the pads we hand washed them only. We highly recommend them.