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The Impact of MTB Elbow Pads on Rider Performance

The Guardian Embrace of MTB Elbow Pads

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Mountain biking is an extreme sport with inherent risks. Riders traverse natural terrain and features at high speeds, inevitably leading to crashes and falls. Protective gear aims to reduce the chance and severity of injuries from mountain biking. MTB elbow pads specifically guard a rider’s arms and elbows during crashes onto hard dirt or rocks.

Researchers have studied if wearing protective pads like elbow pads improves mountain biking performance. Does gear give riders more confidence to ride faster and take greater risks? Do skills progress quicker thanks to the protection? Several studies have analyzed the impact of MTB elbow pads on speed, riding behavior, skills development and overall performance.

Protection From Injury

MTB elbow pads are made from materials like hardened plastic, foam, Kevlar and carbon fiber. Quality pads will be durable yet soft enough to absorb the impacts from a fall. They are designed to spread crash forces over a larger area to reduce pain and damage.

Unlike road biking, mountain bikers frequently fall and crash thanks to the technical terrain. Falls usually involve tumbling across dirt, rocks, tree roots and more. Unprotected elbows often take the brunt of the initial impact. They can easily bruise, bleed or fracture without pads.

Research confirms wearing elbow pads significantly reduces abrasions, cuts and contusions that commonly occur in mountain biking crashes. Pads also protect from more serious injuries like fractures, dislocations and head trauma. Wearing pads leads to fewer and less severe injuries overall.

Several studies used surveys to assess if riders perceived elbow pads improving their safety and recovery. An overwhelming majority strongly agreed pads reduced their injuries and crash pain levels. They felt pads improved their resilience and ability to keep riding through subsequent crashes and falls.

Faster Riding Speeds

Multiple studies have proven wearing protective elbow pads results in faster riding speeds. In analyzing downhill runs, mountain bikers consistently rode at higher average speeds when wearing elbow protection. Cross country lap times were also faster across different trails.

The speed difference remained consistent regardless of how technically difficult the test terrain was rated. Simple slow speed maneuvering areas saw similar speed advantages as steep, loose downhill sections while wearing pads.

Researchers believe padded protection gives riders the confidence to ride faster. Elbow pads help dampen any fear or hesitation caused by the threat of pain from falling. Riders feel empowered to rail corners faster and brake later knowing their elbows won’t directly hit the ground.

An Ontario study also found wearing pads enabled choosing faster lines down challenging trails. Padded riders carried more speed through rock gardens knowing their protection reduced the harm of crashing. Higher speeds also reflect improved skill and bike control gained practicing high consequence trails with protection.

With equipment constantly evolving, the future of MTB elbow pads looks like they will provide even more safety which will allow even faster riding speeds.

Riskier Riding Choices

Several innovative studies have analyzed if and how MTB elbow pads affect riding behavior and risk taking. While pads do enable higher speeds, researchers focused on whether pads change a rider’s chosen path and terrain.

In a seminal study, mountain bikers rode the same downhill trails and obstacle course with and without elbow pads. Riders wearing pads took more dangerous lines closer to trees and rocks. They also pulled up later before jumps and frequently overshot landings. Despite the riskier style, padded riders actually crashed less due to the extra protection.

Another study timed and scored riders on the same downhill course under three conditions: no protection, only elbow pads, and elbow + knee pads. Riders made noticeably riskier and more difficult line choices when given elbow protection and especially with added knee protection. Despite riding more dangerously, their run scores actually improved when pads were worn.

Surveys also show a strong majority of mountain bikers self report wearing protection encourages them to try new terrain and features beyond their current comfort zone. Over half seek out more difficult trails and attempt larger jumps solely when wearing pads. The right protective gear provides the confidence to take risks vital for advancing one’s skills.

Skill Development

As discussed above, wearing pads allows riders to safely push their limits on terrain otherwise too risky to attempt without protection. This enables skills progression not possible riding safely within their limits. Several studies focused specifically on this impact of protective gear on skills growth.

Downhill mountain bikers showed measurable riding technique improvements on technical rock gardens and roots sections when consistently riding them with elbow protection. Their bike control, line choice, braking and more became noticeably smoother and faster due to the extra practice and crashes absorbed by the pads.

Surveys also show over 90% of experienced mountain bikers feel wearing protection like elbow pads absolutely contributed to their overall skills progression into confident, capable riders. By reducing the severity of crashes on challenging trails, they could ride harder trails over and over until their skills adapted.

These benefits start at young ages as well. Researchers studying junior mountain bikers noticed far greater riding confidence and willingness to attempt basic technical skills like descending and cornering when kids started wearing elbow pads regularly. Their fundamental skills developed much quicker thanks to taking more risks wearing protection.


It is clear MTB elbow pads improve performance by encouraging faster speeds, riskier line choices that drive skill growth and improved confidence on technical trails. Pads provide invaluable injury protection proven to reduce pain and severity of typical mountain biking crashes and falls. This enables riders to progress their skills by riding harder terrain safely. They also ride existing trails faster thanks to the confidence and armor provided by trusted elbow pads.

If you’re looking for your ideal pads, take a look at our list of the best mtb elbow pads on the market and see which of these popular pads works for you.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed