Dainese is a name that has somehow slipped a little in the mountain bike world over the past few years, but the Italian masters of protection seem to be making a bit of a resurgence and the new Oak range of pads have been designed to highlight just what the brand are capable of…
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For those of you that don’t know much about Dainese, the Italian company must have more experience with body armour than any other company that I can think of. Most of their reputation has come from the motorbike world, but it wasn’t that long ago that their name would have been central to any conversation about mountain bike body armour. Their name is synonymous with quality and I know many riders who are still using Dainese kit that they bought over a decade ago. It’s built to last, and just as importantly it’s built to offer the best possible protection.
With a price tag of a whopping £129.95 you’d think these Oak Pro Knee Guards would sit at the top of the Dainese tree, but believe it or not they don’t. If you ignore the cheapest hard shell versions these pads sit in between the regular Oak and the range topping Oak Pro Aluminium. All three pads share ‘F1 inspired’ soft shell padding which is made up from a sandwich of two materials. The outer one mainly deals with the big impacts whilst the inner one takes care of comfort. The result is that you get pads that manage to be pliable yet retain their shape, and they offer the utmost protection. The material is also vented to further aid comfort, and it wraps around the sides for increased protection. The length-ways coverage is almost somewhere in between a traditional sized knee pad and a knee/shin combo. It’s certainly very generous for a knee pad.
The Oak Pro (seen here) and the Oak Pro Aluminium both share the unique ‘BOA’ tightening system which consists of a dial which tightens a nylon coated steel wire. This wire controls the tightness of both the upper and lower portions of the knee pad all at the same time and there’s no doubting that it works extremely well, but is it overkill? Quite possibly, but it does provide an incredibly secure fit whilst feeling more comfortable than any conventional straps that I’ve used. The fact that you can easily fine tune the tension whilst sat on your bike (or even whilst riding along) makes getting the fit dialled in (literally) as easy as it can possibly be.
From previous experience of the BOA system on things like my snowboard boots I know it’s a great system that is very reliable, but I do worry slightly that the adjuster dial is just asking to get smashed to pieces in a crash on these pads. It is situated quite high up your leg, but even so I still think it’s a bit too close to the firing line. That said, you can buy replacement parts so if that did happen it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
All this talk of comfort might have you thinking that these are the most comfortable pads that I have ever tried on, but that’s not the case. The simple reason being that the most comfortable pads I’ve ever used are far more minimal than these and offer much less protection. These are nothing short of big pads, ones which offer maximum levels of protection, and when compared with other such pads then yes the comfort of these is definitely up there with the best.
The cheaper standard Oak pads use regular straps rather than the BOA system and as a result they sell for a far more reasonable £84.95. How the comfort differs is something I can’t tell you as we weren’t sent any of those particular pads, but considering that the general construction is almost exactly the same I wouldn’t be surprised if the difference isn’t vast. As for the £174.95 Oak Pro Aluminium version, all you get extra with that is a very fancy removable aluminium knee cap plate. Personally I reckon you need more money than sense to go for that version. Matching elbow pads are available in all three version too, and they sell for the same prices.
Overall I’m not entirely sure what to think about the BOA system on knee pads. It does seem to work very well, but is it just making things more complicated than is necessary? I think the main problem is coming up with an adjuster that is big enough and sensibly placed so that you can use it, and also small enough and tucked out of the way so that it doesn’t cause problems. Anyway, if you’re not sold on it but are looking for a serious set of knee pads then at the very least the standard Oaks should be on your list of possible contenders, and as I said before those have a far less eye-watering price tag.
What do you lot reckon to the BOA idea, and would you ever consider spending this much money on a set of knee pads?
Photos: Ben Winder