No Knee Pads for Me, Just Shin Guards Please

Photo: Leah Barber

After decades of use and abuse, my shins are pockmarked with scars. For me, pedal strikes are right up there with both the most painful and most frequent MTB injuries. On more than one occasion I was sure I snapped my tibia in half the pain was so bad. My friend Mike was recently “just riding along” downhill at moderate speed when a stick in the trail kicked up and gored him in the shin, resulting in a trip to the emergency room and a handful of stitches to show for it. That was it for me; it was time to investigate riding with shin protection.

Some brands, like Fox and POC, don’t sell shin guards by themselves; they’re only available attached to a knee protector. I’ve ridden with knee guards plenty of times and unfortunately I’ve never found any of them comfortable enough to wear regularly. Not only that, I don’t think I’ve ever so much as scraped a knee on the trail, unless you count banging into the handlebars as a result of a crash. Pokey shifter bolts do tend to leave a small puncture wound or two, but for me it’s never a full-on scraped or banged up knee.

After doing a bit of research online (and coming up short for the most part) my friend with the gored shin and newfound habit of riding with shin guards told me he picked up a pair from Shadow Conspiracy. The BMX-oriented brand sells three models of standalone shin guards (four if you count the kids version). I ordered a pair of Invsa-Lites ($35.99 at Performance Bike), essentially slip-on sleeves with lightweight, stiff padding that runs from the ankle up to about the spot where a pair of knee pads would end.

On my first ride with the guards there were jokes about heading out to play soccer, but by the second ride I was sold on shin protection for mountain biking. Flat pedal riders in particular know the pain of not just pedal strikes, but pedal pin scrapes which can be incredibly painful (and bloody). I also found shin guards do an excellent job protecting against rocks and sticks kicked up on the trail, thorny vegetation, and even against brushes with calf-high poison ivy.

The thing about shins, unlike knees, is they remain completely straight and rigid while pedaling. Knee guards get tiresome, for me anyway, because my knee is constantly moving during the ride leading to bunching, slipping, and rubbing. A well-fitted knee guard can certainly minimize these issues, though ultimately there will always be some amount of restriction at the joint. Sliding on a set of shin guards without knees is like putting on a helmet; there’s no internal debate over whether I really need to wear them for this particular ride. Aside from the risk of sweaty shins and calves on a hot day, shin guards aren’t as likely as knees to harsh my ride.

After picking up the Shadow Conspiracy shin guards a few weeks ago I’ve since found a few more options like these from G-Form and Endura. The Endura shin guards look particularly interesting because they combine shin protection with a long sock that suggests a comfortable fit.

Your turn: Do you ride with dedicated shin protection?