Review: Alpinestars Paragon Knee and Elbow Guards, and Evolution Shorts

The Paragon Knee and Elbow Guards and the Evolution Shorts are Alpinestars’ interpretation of what the all-around trail slayer needs for protection–set it and forget it.

You should protect yourself as much as possible within the bounds of a calculated risk only you can determine. You may not need a Bionic Jacket and neck support while ripping XC trails, but bad things can still happen at 10-20 mph even on a sterile “flow trail.” Even if you have an incredibly low crash rate, it could be that one wreck this year that knocks you out for the rest of the season–or longer. Just as the days of only having a few burly body armor options are gone, so are the days when all we rode with was a roadie helmet which, in my opinion, has no business on the mountain. While I do wish prices would drop on safety equipment for the simple fact these products keep more people not dead so they can keep buying other stuff, even $300-400 for a neck brace is minuscule compared to the cost of eating through a feeding tube for the rest of your life.

Gone are also the times when armor was only reserved for a day on the lifts, was stuffed in or dangling from a pack, and made you look like an extra from Mad Max. Advances in material and construction have broadened the market for armor, making it more feasible for the everyday Joe who wants to pedal up, rally down, and rip everything in between with the added confidence and comfort, minus the inconvenience.

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PC: Nate Pfeifer. Trail: Springboard, Alsea Falls, OR

For this review, I spent some quality time in the Paragon Knee and Elbow Guards and the Evolution (under) Shorts from Alpinestars, examining not only their capabilities in the steep-and-deep, but if they could play nice in terrain where you might not historically don protective gear. Why? Because we need more protection, more of the time.

Form

Both Paragon knee and elbow pads consist of a well-stitched, fully-enclosed sock made from a lightweight-yet-durable Polyester-Spandex mesh. The closed foam polyurethane pads are preformed and perforated to match the knee’s anatomy without suffocating it.

The Evolution Shorts body is composed of moisture-wicking stretch mesh, elastic waistband, silicone printing on the inner thighs, and an integrated Noosfera Chamois. High-absorption memory foam padding is sewn in the short, covering the lateral and anterior thighs, hips, and tailbone.

Fit

Free of additional straps or similar and often cumbersome securing devices, the Paragon’s convenient sock design simply slips on and off. Once on, elasticated cuffs and interior silicone stripping stave off slippage and stabilize padding. When I first put them on, even after careful measurements using Alpinestars’ sizing guide, I was convinced I’d requested a size too big. Both knee and elbow pads felt a touch loose and likely to slide down in the slightest trail chatter.

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The ergonomically designed elbow padding extends from mid-bicep to mid-forearm and laterally cups the outer and inner aspect of the elbow. Likewise, the knee pads extend from just above the knee down to just above the calf with a similar ergonomic cut to shave weight and allow for full range of motion, while keeping bony prominences protected.

I’ve renamed the Evolution Shorts the “barely-there-shorts,” because that’s what they feel like–imperceptible. To back up a bit, I was terrified of the Evolutions before I ever put them on. I’m a Lycra man at heart, always donning the bibs under baggies, and even the thought of anything else (especially with integrated padding) gave me swass. The swass never materialized, and I am now seriously considering a full conversion from my lovable Lycra to armored under shorts.

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Function

The Alpinestars knee and elbow duo offers virtually all the protective advantages it was intended for, with practically no compromise. Sturdier, stiffer armor is often cumbersome in any terrain besides descending. Heavier-duty pads are typically slid down off the knee or strapped to a pack for pedaling and, if donned during a long enough pedal section, become uncomfortable from their stiffness, straps, or material bunching behind.

Due to the Paragon’s compression sock, contoured shape, flexibility, and weightlessness, once you slide these puppies on, their very existence seems to disappear over the course of the ride. This “second-skin” feel, as Alpinestars describes it, is no marketspeak either, and I even caught myself on a couple occasions in the car on the drive home having forgotten they were still on. The double-dermal layer is also very effective at wicking sweat while allowing for adequate ventilation. In fact, it was only after about 5 hours of ride time in 80° F that I finally felt the need to slide the elbows down for a little breather.

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Trail: Red Tape, Round Lake, WA

As far as the questionable sizing, my doubts dissolved as the sleeves only required a few micro adjustments to-and-fro (which I expect from any pads) during the Paragon’s maiden voyage on Oregon’s Alpine Trail. The sock’s elastic cuffs and silicone printing may not seem like much, but somehow manages to get the job done even during the 3,600-foot descent over 13 miles. I later had the chance to try on the smaller size, which fit too tight–confirming my decision to stay with the pair I originally ordered. The point: if you find yourself between sizes and not able to try them on, I suggest erring towards the larger fit.

Before trying the Paragon pair, I was rather selective about when and where I would use my armor, analyzing the pros and cons of protection versus the ponderous nature of beefier pads. Now, after more than a month in the lightest, most rideable protection from Alpinestars, I’m never not riding padded. Of course, there are trails you have dialed, know every line, with not so much as wince, but if you could increase the safety factor without a significant weight penalty or additional pester, why wouldn’t you?

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Trail: Family Man, Post Canyon, OR

Reluctantly, I forced myself into riding the Evolution Shorts for every ride since taking delivery and before the first trial was over, I was pretty much sold. These underoos do three things well: compress, breathe, and pad. Provided you get the sizing right, the amount of compression offered is just right thanks to the elasticity and compliance of the mesh body. I was most concerned with the shorts’ ability to keep my under-carriage cool and, to my surprise, they’re much cooler than my Lycra and somehow more comfortable, even with a chamois of inferior quality (again, compared to roadie bibs). As expected, you can feel warmer spots where the protective padding is, but due to the breathability and moisture-wicking mesh, at no time did these hot spots create sweaty run-off. With enough pedaling the stiffer anterior hip pad does rub a bit too much for my comfort, but after some investigation, I found these set of pads can be taken out.

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Slip the stiffer hip pad in for more gravity-oriented rides, and out when you’ll be pedaling more

Summary

Alpinestars’ Paragon Knee and Elbow Guards and the Evolution Shorts are for the rider who wants that little extra cushion for the pushin’, but doesn’t want to fuss with dressings and adjustments during the ride. They’re for folks whose ambitions fall short of full-on downhill, yet seek an added sense of confidence whether climbing, crushing, or just cruising. Where you draw the line in terms of how much protection you need is up to you, but the Paragon combo and Evolution hits a sweet spot for the majority of riding I (and probably you) do.

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Paragon Elbow Guards

Size: XS, S, M, L, XL

Color: Black

MSRP: $32.95

Paragon Knee Guards

Size: XS, S, M, L, XL

Color: Black

MSRP: $39.95

Evolution Shorts

Size: S, M, L, XL, 2XL

Color: Black/White/Red

MSRP: $69.95

Thanks to Alpinestars for providing this protective gear for review.

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