I was riding Mammoth earlier this year and ran into a friend on the bus that kills half your riding day after a few laps to their lower trails. He had some of these Lizard Skins on, and, after staring lovingly at his legs for a few minutes, I realized these things had some pretty essential design elements addressed. I asked him how he liked them, and he said, “They’re okay. I mean, you know, their knee pads.” Not a ringing endorsement. I also noticed he didn’t have a scratch on them. He was of limited use.
The Neoprene Factor
I came into the sport at a time when Lizard Skins meant a wetsuit on your joints with no hard plastic outer plates. To me, Lizard Skins were goofy, far-too-much-fabric pads that Josh Bender polished the sides of his headtube with, making stem babies when rolling his bike off something. The lack of plastic just looked like a good way to stuff your knee into something and come to a complete stop with some pretty impressive momentum forces going into your pelvis while also whiplashing your head and shoulders into the dirt.
But there was one thing that Lizard Skins always seemed to do. They used neoprene. That stuff is hot and potentially very restrictive, but something it also does is stick like a beyotch to your skin once you get a little sweat going. There’s nothing like it, really. You ever get blisters in your wetsuit diving or surfing from the suit sliding around? I haven’t. For restricting pad slippage, I’ve seen none better. In fact, it’s the neoprene straps on the current knee/shin pads that caught my attention the most.
Rather than completely encompass the back of your leg like they’ve done with some previous pads, Lizard Skins kept the neoprene to just the top of the pad around the back of the knee, and only used two “understraps,” one on top and one above the calf. Each of those neoprene straps is covered again by two elastic straps. This means you can keep pressure on that neoprene as well as provide an overall system with more tension. I’d still like to see that calf strap be a piece of rigid webbing, but I’d given up on a completely 100% solid knee pad years ago. I still may sew one on, but so far I haven’t had reason to. Which brings me to this:
Performance When Completely Eating Shit with No Control Over Where Your Body Is Going.
I, and probably others, get a little glassy eyed when I read a helmet or pad review that has something along the lines of “I haven’t crashed with it / them yet, but I’m sure they’ll work great!” in there somewhere. I want you to know that I held off on this review until I’d had a few slams that covered a pretty comprehensive variety.
I just got back from a road trip to the PNW where it seems I’m always good for a few comedic moments, riding way too fast on trails I don’t know. The woods are dense there, and things can go wrong quickly in a way that they often don’t in the more wide open sightlines of California.
I’d worn the pads for a few weekends of lift-accessed riding, but I hadn’t really scared myself—doing cartwheels past squirrels, that sort of thing. Whistler was pretty blown out when we got there, and a berm I’d remembered being all nice and smooth and pretty on D1 wasn’t so nice and pretty. The last few years, I’ve prided myself on rolling down that line and nailing everything the first time, but you need to commit to the turns before you can see them on this trail. Yeah… there are some holes in those things right now. I lost my front wheel and went flying into the woods for quite a ways. It’s not a mellow fall line, either.
I sprained an ankle, I hit my head on a tree, and I know that I ended up on my knees more than once before I came to a stop. My ankle hurt, and I had to recite my address to myself a few times, but I didn’t notice a damn thing with my knees or shins. Looking at the pads later, I should have noticed something with my shins. The outside of my pads sure did.
The next day I followed a buddy down the lower Canadian DH segment down in the Boneyard. I cased the stepdown after the two crappy turns, and my buddy went around that right hip thing on the left, so I did, too.
Later in the day, I decided I was going to make that stepdown and hit that optional thing on the left. I overshot the stepdown and got that awesome situational pump when you lean back and hit only the last bit of a landing and accelerate like a beyotch (love that).
I came full-on drifting into that left flat tracker with my eyes on the lip. About 20 feet in front of it, I lost my back wheel. Knowing I wouldn’t be pointed at the lip in the right direction, I swapped back into a right drift… promptly sending my back wheel up the very bottom of the lip and eating the kind of shit that you can only hope someone on the lift sees. Never even touched my brakes; you can tell by the scabs on every one of my knuckles on my right hand. And I wasn’t going slow.
After going over my social security number and the name of the president, I took inventory. There’s a lot of scab material on the right side of my body right now, but none of it where these knee pads were. I don’t even think I pulled them up to ride down the hill and save my pride with the last jump in the line. These things win.
(I only mention specifics of the Whistler stuff so those of you who have been there can appreciate the comedy you missed and relate to the merit of their locations. Seriously, I’d pay for some dude’s GoPro mess from the lift. The second one was one of the faster slams of my career.)