-Velcro and Zipper on and off
-SmartFlex foam base with hard outer shell
-Available in small, medium, large and XL
-Meets EN-1621-1 testing standards
-Easy on, easy off
-Comfortable fit for a normally uncomfortable category
-Properly shaped hard shell fits around your knee, not just on it
-Machine washable with no need to remove pad material
-Zipper function isn’t quite perfect
-Far from a second-skin fit
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G-Form was the first brand to go all-in on minimalist, sleeve-style knee and elbow protection. And they found their market at the perfect time. In 2010, the popularity of all-mountain bikes had hit full steam. Lightweight pads became part of many riders’ everyday carry. But then, the bikes kept on evolving. We’re going both faster and farther. Everything has shifted one rung up, with XC blending with trail and trail blending with enduro. Some trail/enduro riders are being sent full-circle back to the pads they wore in the lift line. So, G-Form decided to try its hand at a pair of old-school knee and elbow buckets, and they came up with the E-Line knee pads.
The active ingredient in E-Line is still G-Form’s “Smartflex” material. It makes exactly the same promises that other popular pad materials like D30 make, all being versions of non-newtonian fluids. The material is flexible under light pressure, like the pressure applied under pedaling motion or while fitting the pads to your body. But hard under impact pressure, like the pressure applied when stuffing it in a berm because you still can’t rock cutties like the groms. It’s the same stuff as in G-Form’s more classic pads like the Pro-X2.
But of course, that’s where the similarities stop. There’s a flexible hard shell over the knee cap, straps top and bottom, and a zipper that fully opens part of the pad’s neoprene structure to allow shoe-on operation. The design mimics, as well as possible, the comfort and stability of a slip-on pad, but with the convenience of being able to leave your shoes on when taking them off and on. The zipper is on the rear outboard corner of the calf where, once closed, can barely be felt.
In practice, the zipper isn’t quite perfect. It is by far the best way to have achieved this, so I’m not complaining, but closing a zipper on an item that fits directly against the skin can be tricky. And for some reason, it takes a lot of effort to get the zipper closed all the way to the top and tucked into its hood. There wasn’t that satisfying feeling of the teeth closing 100 percent and being locked in top to bottom. But if I step out of my appointed role of professional nit-picker, it really does do a functional job of mimicking the feeling of a fully enclosed knee pad. Once I closed the strap on top of it, I never had it slip. And if you really need it zipped all the way, it’s possible.
Oh, and those straps! They nailed the straps. Instead of treating them like belts or drawstrings, the E-Line straps work like extensions of the pad’s overall structure. They’re huge. They take up pretty much all the space of their respective sections of the pad itself. That cuts down on tight spots, and actually allows you to run them looser than you would more traditional inch-wide straps that are meant just for supplementing the snugness of a pre-fitted pad. The only snag, so to speak, is that all that surface area makes the Velcro especially difficult to separate, but that’s been easing up as I spend more time getting in and out of them.
Every design choice on the E-Line was made in the interest of maintaining comfort. Or at least, comfort within what is a naturally uncomfortable category. A category that both meets the relatively stringent EN-1621-1 European testing standard and can be removed without having to slide it down past your foot. Based on those expectations, G-Form succeeded. Pedaling with the E-Line pads, there is no repeated sliding or digging on either end. In that way, they mimic the comfort of the knee-sock-style pads G-Form made their name in. But these are not knee socks. The substantial structure, anchored to a semi-hard outer shell, has limited flexibility. I mean, they will flex. Just bend your legs. You’re strong enough. You’re a mountain biker! The issue is how they flex. Put the pads on all nice and flush and evenly spread on your knees, and after a couple pedal strokes, the top half will work its way down a centimeter or two and there’ll be some accordion action around the top of the joint. It causes the sides to wing out as you pedal.
But the thing is, the functional parts of the pad will stay right where they’re supposed to. And there’s no noticeable sliding after that. Part of it is thanks to the two 10-millimeter-wide non-slip stripes across the entire circumference of the top of the pads. Comfort may vary based on how hairy your thighs are, but because G-Form committed to the non-slip instead of just dotting the edge, it truly stays put once it settles somewhere the structure will allow it to. Yes, that’s a lot of rubber on your skin, but if it’s not moving, it’s not pulling your hair.
The effect of the minimal ventilation is, well … minimal ventilation. But not for lack of effort. The perforations in the hard shell are backed up with ample relief in the Smartflex pad behind it. But there were never moments that I actually felt the breeze making it to my skin. I’m sure heat was escaping, but not at a rate high enough that I wanted to leave the pads on all day.
But I didn’t have to. That’s the beauty of the E-Line pads. If I’m on a loop of non-stop undulating trail-y terrain, I’d choose a more trail-y pad. But when I’m alternating between long ups and long downs, these are my go-to. It takes me about 15 seconds to pull both pads off and another 15 to stash them in my pack or strap them to my toptube. And when they’re back on, they’re as comfortable as this sort of pad can be. It shows that these pads came from a brand that, for over a decade, stuck to a comfort-first philosophy. Even though comfort is second on the E-Line, it’s a close second.
Find them here.
Photos: Anthony Smith