Perhaps one of the most frustrating questions I routinely get from riders is about protective gear. It is not that I mind the question, it is that the answers don’t come easy. Should you wear every bit of protection possible? How come top racers seem to wear very little protection? Is one thing really better than another? Sorry for the rhetorical questions, but they come up all so often, I guess that makes them not so rhetorical after all.
So let’s start by talking about elbow pads. I don’t know that there is any single item that is so used by novice to intermediate riders, yet completely ignored by most experts and pros.
Ideally elbow pads should provide good protection with an absolute minimal amount of interference. But the reality is that they are often uncomfortable. They seem to slide around too much. To get them so they will stay in place, they might have to be tight enough to bind and reduce circulation. This can contribute to arm pump. They can also be hot. Finally they are just one more thing in the pile of gear that seems to fill every bit of open space in the gear bag.
One of the most popular choices I see are the “arm sleeve” style elbow pads. They are probably a good choice for many. I used this style for years, the Hebo brand that was distributed by Gas Gas. Next most popular would be the integrated sleeves of the pressure suit. I wore the Thor Impact Rig for a while, but gave up on it for being too constrictive and hot.
Frankly, I don’t even own a set of elbow pads. I have not worn any for racing in the last decade. For all of my other riding I have settled on wearing an armored jacket.
I am a dedicated jacket wearer. I almost never get on the bike without one. In the summer I wear a fully vented street bike style (Klim Inversion) with the D30 pads. I find it just about as cool and comfortable as anything else. I often wear it with just a light t shirt underneath. Fully vented street bike jackets are pretty common these days.
For cooler seasons there are even more choices. I am currently using two jackets; Scorpion Yosemite and Klim Traverse. Both offer lots of protection and good venting to make them suitable for most weather. In the Klim line up I still prefer the Traverse to the other offerings.
Does the armored jacket offer as much protection as real elbow pads? Probably not, there are a few compromises. But in my case, it is basically this or I would be wearing nothing at all. As for jackets themselves, they offer all sorts of added benefits for the off road rider, far beyond elbow protection. It is a gear choice that makes lots of sense.