While incorporated in the States, Leatt is a South African based company which began with the invention of the Leatt-Brace for motorcycling. Since then Leatt have been aggressive in developing new products, including an ever growing selection of mountain biking equipment. Most of the research and development happens in their state-of-the-art lab in Cape Town.
The Leatt pads are constructed from two fabric panels: the front panel being stretchy spandex with a moisture cool wicking fabric rear panel. The flexible pad that provides protection is sewn into place on the front panel. Elastics are used on either end of the pads, these along with the spandex panel, fasten the pads in place. The upper elastic features silicone grips while the lower is simply an elastic band sewed into the hem. There are no straps or clips, so correct sizing is vital for a comfortable and secure fit.
The sock-like design of the Airflex guards means that they simply slide onto the leg or arm. The guards have circular cut outs on the inside of the joints which goes a long way in reducing friction on the skin when bending the arm or leg. There are also silicone patterns on the inside of the pads to hold them in the correct position.
The key to the flexibility and thinness of the Airflex pad is Armourgel. Armourgel is a non Newtonian gel that locks up the molecules and becomes hard on impact. In other words, the pad is supple when being ridden but should you fall and apply force to the Armourgel, it will become firm and offer more protection.
The 2016 Airflex Pro knee guard we have on test features additional protection above the knee cap and on the sides of the leg. This added protection is aimed at reducing impact when the bike and knee collide in a crash.
If you’re unsure about what level of protection you require, Leatt have their own rating system which you can use to compare the safety of each of their products.
Comfort and fit
Leatt have done an exceptional job at making the Airflex pads comfortable for all day adventures. The moisture cool wicking fabric seems to do the job, as the pads breathe well and at no point did they feel uncomfortably warm. The Airflex varies slightly to better fit each side of the body. So each pad is labelled with either left or right side. The circular cut outs were excellent for keeping the bend in the knee and elbow joint free of irritation.
My only (minor) complaint is some mild discomfort with the elasticated cuff being too tight and digging into my lower leg when pulling off the pads after a full day’s riding. The Airflex is made in different sizing, so make sure to get the size that fits best for you.
Considering the abuse that I've administered to these Airflex guards, it’s obvious that Leatt have used top quality materials. The guards feel premium throughout and, aside from an understandable tear in the spandex from a big crash at the bottom of a large drop, there is little sign to indicate the extent that they have been used. The guards are easily washed in an automatic washing machine and dry relatively quickly.
Fortunately, for the thoroughness of this review, I fell a lot while wearing the Leatt Airflex. Everything from embarrassing topple-overs, to bike and kit breaking slides along the ground.
The padded area is very flexible and there was little impact on my pedalling efficiency or manoeuvrability on or off the bike. To allow for movement, the pad is divided into segments. We've tested other guards that use the same technique and found that it can be painful if an object manages to connect in between these segments on impact. I had no such experience with the Airflex.
The Leatt pads are very capable but don’t expect them to cover your behind when riding outside of their intended use. I ended up in a substantial crash coming off an overhead sized drop. The elbow guard was ripped from its position on impact exposing me to the sandpaper-like landing. The pad and I walked away with some damage. The knee pad did surprisingly well but still left me with some friction burns.
Although a seemingly minor touch, the additional prtoection above and to the sides of the knee proved to be very useful, particularly when bashing into the frame or handlebars. Definitely worth considering this upgrade if your looking at getting a pair of Airflex guards.
In the end
The Airflex are supremely comfortable while the armourgel technology works as promised to protect the knees and elbows. The comfort and lightweight means that they will suit riders that pedal frequently and don’t usually find themselves in situations where bigger or hard shell guards would be more suitable. These guards are will suit cross-country and trail riders, I even found them suitable for South African enduro racing. The Ariflex guards are now an essential riding item in my pack whenever trail fun is the order of the day.
- Never felt too warm
- Good level of protection within boundaries of intended use
- No adjustable retention system so sizing is important
- Not the cheapest of the pedal friendly pads
- You'll want to grab something more substantial for all mountain and downhill days