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How to Choose: BMX Knee Pads and Knee/Shin Guards

by Jim Bartlett June 15, 2016

Why Do I Need BMX Knee Pads and or Knee/Shin Pads?

Your knee is the largest joint in your body and one of the most complicated. Whether you're practicing no foot cancans and tailwhips or racing, BMX knee pads and shin guard can protect you from more than just a shinner. A hard slam on your knee can keep you off the bike for days or even months. You're BMX racing or doing any sort of riding where there’s a good chance of crashing and going shin/knee on the half pipe, concrete, or rails, BMX shin guards are a good investment. We know that some riders aren't fans of shin guards. Given the choice between being called a wimp or getting huge gash from a pedal strike and having our favorite jeans ripped and glued to our leg with blood, we'd rather be called a wimp as we comfortably ride off into the sunset.

What Kind of BMX Knee Pads Do I Need?

Knee pads for BMX (or any action sport) are kind of like tacos, you can get hard shell or soft shell. Both types of pads have some sort of Neoprene or other soft, flexible sleeve and EVA foam or other type of padding to protect the kneecap and the area surrounding it.
If you are BMX racing, dirt jumping, riding vert or doing any activities where you're going airborne, hard shell pads are your best choice to avoid or minimize BMX injuries. If you're just looking for lightweight protection in case of a tumble while riding street or flatland or just want something between you and the ground (or flying pedals) when you're practicing tricks, you'll probably be fine with soft shell pads.
A third option is an advanced protective material, such as VPD, d30, or Poron, which are being used by an increasing number of manufacturers. These materials are soft and pliable but designed to stiffen immediately upon impact, theoretically giving you the best of both worlds. To learn more, check out our article on Advanced Protective Materials.

Your First Decision When Choosing BMX Knee pads

A hard-shell BMX knee pad:

  • Has an ABS or other hard plastic shell riveted or Velcroed to the front of the knee area
  • Provides greater protection than a soft-shell BMX pad
  • Offers the best impact protection from high falls, concrete, rails, other objects.

A soft-shell BMX knee pad:

  • Will have some sort of Kevlar or other abrasion-resistant panel over the front of the knee area
  • Does not provide as much impact protection as a hard-shell knee pad
  • Smaller and lighter than a hard-shell knee pad, which makes it more comfortable during longer sessions
  • The panel covering the knee/elbow area is not as durable as the plastic cap on the hard-shell pad and may rip or puncture in a high-speed crash or from repeated sliding

Pad Configuration: BMX Knee Pads, BMX Shin Guards, or Both with BMX Knee / Shin Guards?

The range of potential configurations in BMX leg protection can give you option paralysis. Before you randomly point to one that looks cool and say, "Okay... that one," think about the type of riding you're likely to be doing, where you ride, and the type of pedals you have. If you’re doing any sort of BMX riding that includes jumps, drops, or elevated structures or if you’re racing BMX, a good set of knee/shin guards can help prevent or minimize injury.
USA BMX does not require knee/shin guards if riders are wearing long pants, but if you want to wear shorts, they must be worn in combination with a one-piece knee and shin guard with a rigid surface. The regulations further state: “There must be no exposed skin above the knee or below the shin guard extending to above the ankle.” In other words, they don’t want your bare skin hitting the ground or the ramp. While long pants are good; BMX knee/shin guards are far better when it comes keeping you protected. If you only need shin protection for some sessions (like when you're practicing tailwhips or one-foot can-cans), check out the manufacturers who make compatible but separate BMX knee pads and BMX shin pads. For instance, SixSixOne Riot knee pads and Riot Shin Guards and Lizard Skins Soft Cell knee pads and Soft Cell shin guards are designed to fit and work together. If you opt for separate knee pads and shin guards, consider getting ones that are made by the same manufacturer so you know they'll work together.

How do you want to put on your BMX knee pads?

knee pads

One of the things to consider before you purchase BMX knee pads or BMX knee/shin guards is whether you want to be able to put them on without removing your shoes or not. There are two basic designs - BMX knee pads that close in the back (often called a butterfly closure) or slip-on knee pads.

  • BMX bike knee pads with a butterfly closure wrap around your knee so you can put them on and take them off without removing your shoes. The butterfly closure design is typically found in hard shell knee pads and more robust and/or more expensive knee pads.
  • Slip-on knee pads slide up your leg to your knee. This design is more commonly found in soft-shell guards, less expensive knee pads, knee (or elbow) gaskets, and youth-sized pads. 


Other Factors to Consider When Choosing BMX Knee Pads

  • Look at the sides of the knee pads. If you're worried about being protected when you drop your bike, you'll want padding on the side of your knees, not just the tops.
  • Do you live/ride in a hot climate? Check the back of the pad not only to see the strap configuration but if there is a vent hole/opening
  • Venting is also facilitated through the fabric as well as any vents that may be cut into the hard shell caps.
  • Mesh fabric and vented caps allow for the most airflow and are a good upgrade option

Ready to Buy BMX Knee Pads or BMX Shin Guards?

Hopefully, the above information will give you a good idea of what type of BMX knee pads and/or knee/shin guards will be best for your needs. XSportsProtective carries a wide range of BMX protective gear--check out our full line of BMX knee pads, BMX shin guards, or BMX knee/shin guards. If you still aren't sure what you want, or if you have questions about a specific piece of BMX gear, please give us a call.

Jim Bartlett
Jim Bartlett


Founder of XSportsProtective, snowboarder, mountain biker, father of four young kids who love action sports.

2 Responses

Jim B
Jim B

August 01, 2016

Definitely – check out the Troy Lee Designs, Leatt, and G-Form for nice quality BMX pads. Each has it’s advantages, based on profile and amount of coverage/protection.


July 24, 2016

Great article. Only thing missing was recommended manufacturers. I’m looking for a hard shell, knee shin combo with the butterfly style that stay put when I crash (which is all too often). Any suggestions on brands to look at?

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