Knee protection has progressed significantly since the days when I borrowed my sister’s Bike brand volleyball pads to ride down logging roads. The marshmallow-shaped pillows didn’t stay in place whether crashing or pedaling, making them more of a nuisance than they were worth. The new Trail Skins Pro Kneepads from Dainese have more tech woven in than my mountain bike did twenty-some years ago, and the innovations are focused on more than just protection.
Until you hit the deck, the necessary functions for kneepads are all centered around comfort. They need to feel forgettably cozy, breathe well and expel sweat, and their top and bottom cuffs have to stay where riders put them throughout a day of pedaling. That’s a tall order, in addition to saving us from surgeries.
The Trail Skins are the most pedal-friendly pads Dainese has designed to date, with moldable and flexible padding that hardens on impact, and thin stretchy material that more closely resembles a knee-warmer than it does knee protection. Velcro straps at the thigh and calf openings allow for on-the-fly adjustment, with silicone grip strips inside the cuffs to help keep them in place. Finally, there’s a hole at the back of the knee to exhale airflow with a strap just below that holds the lateral pads tight against the leg.
The flexible main padding that Dainese calls PRO SHAPE 2.0 is made of more holes than solids, allowing a massive amount of air through for warm rides. The pad conforms to the shape of your knee, to achieve the brand’s pedal-ready objective. I have yet to crash in these pads, but the protective material feels like it will sufficiently protect my tendons and bones once I do.
Padding on either side of the knee is filled with thin pieces of foam that also feel like they will do the trick. There’s one lower pad on the outside, and two along the inner knee. Dainese says this is to protect your legs from frame strikes. I don’t often hit my legs on the frame, so I typically wear the Trail Skins Pro on the opposite knees to place that additional protection where I want it most. Regardless of what side they’re on, the padding is comfortable to pedal with and should save your skin as intended.
With the velcro straps cinched down tightly, these pads do an okay job of staying in place. I tested a size small, which seems odd as there are plenty of riders with far smaller legs than mine. Alas, the silicone grippers on the small migrate about as much as similar pads I have tested. After a long climb, they do need to be re-situated, like a lot of others. On shorter descents, they stay where I need them to. On super long descents the upper cuff tends to slide down toward the knee, no matter how tight I cinch it. In the race to stay put, the Trail Skins kneepads earn a mid pack result.
The perforated fabric that makes up much of the leg-wrapping sleeve is decidedly soft and breathable, helping them breathe well on hot rides. In cool weather, around 10-15° Celsius, they are just thick enough to provide a little warmth under pants or below shorts. With the pad situated properly over the kneecap, the top of the Trail Skins wraps the thigh roughly 3″ above the knee, while the lower cuff sits just above the mid-calf. The hole behind the knee eliminates issues of fabric bunching there while pedaling, as long as the pads remain in the desired position, which adds to the comfort factor.
Apart from the usual mid-ride adjustments, the only issue I have experienced with these knee protectors came after their first time through the washing machine. I washed them with all of my other riding gear, on the “outdoor clothing” setting that’s supposed to be kind to petroleum-based fabrics. While laying them on the drying rack I noticed several loose threads, and both the thigh and calf bands had curled up like bacon strips. The pads still work like new, but their post-wash appearance has me a little worried about their overall longevity.