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Types of MTB Elbow Pads

types of mtb elbow pads

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Mountain biking can be an exciting but dangerous sport. Protecting yourself with proper safety gear, like elbow pads, is important. Elbow pads cushion your arms if you crash and help prevent broken bones or scrapes. There are a few main types to consider based on your riding style and preferences.

Hard Shell Elbow Pads

Hard shell elbow pads provide the most protection for aggressive riding over rough terrain. The hard plastic shell distributes and deflects impact force over a larger area to protect the point of impact. Underneath the outer shell is usually foam or soft padding for comfort and extra cushioning.

These elbow pads offer maximum protection for activities like downhill or enduro racing over rocks and jumps. However, the thick hard shell can feel bulky and restrictive for pedaling efficiency. Hard shells are also heavy and often hot in warmer weather. Advanced pads use innovative materials like carbon fiber shells for strength and ventilation.

Popular hard shell elbow pads include the G-Form Pro X2, with compressible pads that get rigid on impact, and the Alpinestars Moab, made of tough polyethylene with air mesh fabric for breathability.

Soft Shell Elbow Pads

Soft shell elbow pads offer protection for less aggressive riding styles. The exterior is a stretchy Lycra sleeve, instead of a hard plastic outer layer. This makes them comfier for pedaling long distances. However, they sacrifice some impact resistance versus hard shells.

The interior has molded foam or plastic cups over the elbows to disperse crash energy. Simple designs just use extra foam padding. More advanced pads may incorporate advanced materials like d3o that get rigid upon impact to better absorb force. Soft shells are also lightweight and breathable for warmer temperatures.

Popular options for soft shell pads include the G-Form Pro, using their specialized material, and the POC VPD Air, with visco-elastic pads over the elbows and stretch mesh fabric.

Sleeve-Style Elbow Pads

Sleeve-style elbow pads offer basic impact protection in a simple Lycra sleeve. They slide on like a shirt over your arms for easy on-and-off. Most sleeve pads have light foam padding or plastic cups over the elbows for some cushioning from falls.

However, they generally provide less protection than hard or soft shell alternatives. The elastic sleeve can also bunch or slide down. Sleeve pads favor flexibility and ventilation for cross-country trail and endurance riding when you still want some coverage.

Popular basic sleeve options include the G-Form Compression Elbow Sleeves and POC Joint VPD Air. Both use stretchy fabric with molded pads. More protective sleeves like the Leatt 3DF Hybrid Extremes add plastic guards and foam.

Youth Elbow Pads

Getting proper youth elbow pads is important to keep your kids safe on the trails. Children’s pads need to fit smaller arm sizes while still managing impact forces. Many adult elbow pads now offer youth sizes. There are also some pads designed just for children.

Key considerations are getting the right fit, adequate protection for the riding planned, and comfort. Look for adjustable straps and a snug but comfortable compression fit. Make sure to buy for the current size with room to grow. Ventilation and moisture wicking fabrics help avoid overheating.

Some top youth pads include youth sizes of adult models like the G-Form Pro-X and the POC VPD Air. There is also the Bell Super 3R Mips Youth, featuring a removable hard shell for versatility.

Materials Used in MTB Elbow Pads

The materials used in MTB elbow pads play a key role in managing impacts while keeping you comfortable. Hard plastic shells are common for maximum protection. Softer materials provide more flexibility but less force deflection. Advanced pads blend layers strategically.

Hard shell elbow pads typically use strong plastics like polyethylene, ABS, or carbon fiber to resist penetration on sharp impacts. Inside is foam or soft padding, maybe with molded shape designs or silicone grippers. More flexible soft shell pads have no hard exterior layer and rely on advanced interior materials for protection.

Special foams like expansion foam get more rigid upon impacts to absorb energy. Visco-elastic polymers act similarly, getting stiff when hit then softening. Manufacturers also use multi-layer foam blends and air channels suit different densities to certain impact forces.

The exterior sleeve attributes matter too for fit, breathability, moisture control and keeping pads positioned right. Materials like nylon, polyester knits, spandex blends, open mesh fabrics balance these factors. Some pads add silicone grippers to keep them from sliding down arms.

Characteristics To Compare

With different pad types and materials, it helps to break down key characteristics during your research. Compare protection levels and certifications for your style of riding. Look at fit, ventilation, moisture control and overall comfort over long days. Don’t forget weight, as extra pounds affect fatigue and pedaling dynamics. Durability and ease of cleaning also help you get more value from your purchase.

Hard shells offer maximum protection and impact resistance with some breathability trade-offs from less mesh fabric coverage. Soft shells improve comfort and airflow but have less rigid support. Sleeves maximize ventilation and freedom of movement at the expense of less cushioning. Look for pads matching your priorities.

For aggressive riding over rough terrain with jumps and high speeds, look into full featured hard shells like the G-Form Pro X2. For cross country and endurance riding, breathable soft shells like the POC VPD Air make sense over long days. Casual riding may be fine with basic sleeve pads for some protection.

History of Elbow Pad Development

Early mountain bikers didn’t use much protection besides helmets. Crashing was considered part of the sport. As riding became more extreme, injuries prompted developing protective gear like elbow pads.

Hard shell pads from companies like Fox Racing emerged in the 1980s from motocross technology using hardened plastic shells over padding. These offered the most protection for aggressive riding styles. Materials and designs improved padding breathability and flexibility over time.

In the 1990s and 2000s innovation continued around new impact absorbing foams as well as stretchier sleeves. All mountain and endurance riding grew, demanding less restrictive pads. Brands developed soft shells with integrated flexible exteriors and interior armor. Other sleeve designs focused maximum ventilation over padding alone.

Recent years saw integration of advanced materials like d3o and Koroyd to get rigid upon impact. Carbon fiber and perforated hard shells improved ventilation and breathability. Pads now come designed for women’s shapes. Youth sizes and child specific pads are easier to find as more kids ride.

Technology will further evolve pads balancing protection, flexibility, ventilation, moisture control and overall wearing comfort over long hours. Expect more integration of protector sleeves into shirt designs for upper body coverage. Custom molding pads to riders’ bodies may emerge too.

While early mountain bikers viewed crashes as inevitable, modern trails and bike handling enable safer riding. Focus on developing skills over relying on pads alone. But elbow pads provide cheap insurance against minor falls or accidental crashes affecting your whole season. Match what you feel comfortable wearing to the terrain risks and your risk tolerance. Then get out and progress your riding without compromising safety.

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