I’ve crashed enough times that there’s hardly a square inch of exposed skin when I hit the trails. Thankfully, there are plenty of choices when it comes to armour. So many, in fact, that it gets a little difficult to choose at times.
Do I want shins only, hard shins and soft knees, hard shins and knees, full-wrap pads or no coverage on the back, knees only, elbows only, elbows and forearms… You get the picture.
|Roach Clothing has been in the armour business for a long time, but has undergone some changes in recent years. The most notable came when Race Face bought the company. Armour production has continued, with Race Face now selling both Roach- and Race Face-branded armour. It doesn’t take a genius, however, to see that the pads are virutually identical except for the label. Race Face ran into international distribution issues with the Roach brand because it was already available in Germany, so pads are marketed under the Race Face label in some areas to avoid nasty lawsuits. Shops often carry both and sell them interchangeably, so read the review the same way: Race Face pads = Roach pads, and vice versa. Roach / Race Face developed some new armour last year with design input from a certain local freeride demigod named Wade. There are two lines of new pads: DH (Downhill), which is built for more extreme crashing and boasts slightly thicker padding as well as a mesh backing on the leg pads, and thinner, sans mesh FR (Freeride) version. I’ve been testing the Race Face DH arm and leg pads for the last couple of months, and am quite impressed with the job they’ve done keeping my hide intact.||
The Rally DH Legs – hard plastic and a full leg wrap
|| Photo: Corey Anderson
Features and fit worth noting
The new armour features an impact-resistant plastic outer shell, 15mm-thick heat moulded inner padding, and hook-and-loop straps. The DH legs use a knee stabilization pad to stop them from squirming around and a mesh backing for added protection from pedal slips; both arm and leg pads use separate upper and lower outer shells for greater flexibility. The arm pads use Lycra instead of mesh to prevent slippage.
There are three sizes of Race Face pads: medium, large, and extra large. At 6’4″, I’m wearing the XL arms and legs, and the length is just about perfect. Coverage on the arms is what you’d expect – from mid-bicep to just above the wrist. The legs go from from the ankles to the bottom of my quads. Fit is good on both sets of pads, with five hook-and-loop straps on the legs and three on the arms keeping things secure. Once you’ve got the pads done up, everything is pretty much locked down. I’ve got relatively long, thin arms and legs, and these pads fit me better than anything else I’ve tried.
The hook-and-loop closures on the legs are incorporated into the mesh backing, so there isn’t much you can do if you find the mesh backing too hot. The only option is to break out a pair of scissors and do some home tailoring, which is kind of pointless – if you want open-backed legs, buy the FR pads.
Stacking and still going strong
This seemed to be the summer of crashing for me. I fell down with annoying regularity. There weren’t any of those rag doll, full-on yardsale moments you see on highlight shows, but I would case the landing on a drop, or wash out on a dusty corner, or bounce off a tree. And every time I did, I was thankful I had the Rallys on.
More often than not, I walked away from each of these incidents without anything more than a few minor aches and occassionally a bruise or two. The combination of the impact-resistant plastic shell and thermo-moulded padding saved my arms and legs from serious trauma.
One crash in particular would have ended up differently if I hadn’t been wearing the pads. This was in the middle of the summer, when it hadn’t rained in weeks and most of the trails in the Bike Park were about as soft as concrete. I launched off a jump while riding a demo bike that was a bit too small for me, and missed the landing.
Most of my weight came down on my right elbow, but after dusting myself off I was able to keep going. I ended up with a small scuff and a deep bone bruise, but I’m positive my elbow would have been broken quite badly if I hadn’t been wearing these pads. And that’s proof enough for me that they do their job.
The DH legs have also saved me from serious grief. The front side of the pads show noticeable wear and tear, but underneath it all my legs are fine. In a moment of pure freakishness, though, I recently stacked and had my brake lever break through the front edge of the pad, right beside the plastic. I was kind of surprised that the lever punched through the nylon outer covering, but apparently it’s possible. So watch out if you launch into the underbrush.
It’s not all gravy
I went with the XL pads because I’m tall and needed the length. But I don’t have huge arms or calves, and found that the elastic staps were a bit too long. Not a big deal, and it didn’t really compromise the fit thanks to a design that cups your legs / arms, but slightly shorter straps would have made it possible to snug things up more.
The knee retention pad worked fine on one pad and did just what it was supposed to, but on the other it seems to have a bad habit of slipping around and has done that almost from the start. That may be because I’m not lining things up properly when I put on the pads, but I don’t really want to have to think about that – I just want to throw them on and hit the trail Not literally, mind you…
There’s also some lose nylon stitching on the quad portion of one pad, and it’s starting to rub. After my last ride, I actually had a bit of an abrasion from this thread grinding against my leg. Again, not a big problem and likely a simple fix but one of those things you’d rather not have to deal with in the first place.
Thumbs up for everything else
The best thing about the new Race Face / Roach pads is that they don’t slip around. Once they’re in place, they’re all good. Other pads seem to have a nasty habit of moving out of the way at the worst possible moment. It’s almost as though they know a crash is coming and try to save themselves from contact with the dirt. Go figure. Certain brands are almost infamous for this.
Another great feature of the DH pads is the vent holes. Perforations run along the length of the hard plastic on both the arms and legs, and those holes go all the way through the pads. Get cruising and you can actually feel airflow through the pads. The thermo-moulded inner pads also minimize pad contact with your skin, unlike a lot of other pads, which will keep you cooler.
The mesh backing on the leg pads is a nice feature if you’re prone to getting a pedal in the calf. It isn’t a necessity, and it does add a bit of heat, but not as much as the full wrap on the old Roach Indy pads and it will save your flesh from most pedal slips or bails. The extra foam protection along the side of the pads – the legs in particular – means that they’ll be somewhat stiffer through the knees, but I noticed this more when I was walking around than pedalling.
The DH pads are designed to stand up to a serious beating, and they do that admirably. After more than six months of texting, I’m sold and won’t be using anything else. Wade and the folks at Race Face / Roach have put a lot of thought and effort into these babies and it shows.
If you go large and crash large, if you want the best protection available for your extremities, the Rally DH pads are the way to go – without question. And if you don’t need as much protection, check out the FR version. Either way, the new Race Face / Roach pads are the best of the best when it comes to armour and you won’t be disappointed with them.