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How to Choose Mountain Bike Elbow Pads

by Jim Bartlett May 13, 2016

How to Choose Mountain Bike Elbow Pads

Why Do I Need Mountain Bike Elbow Pads?

A pair of quality mountain bike elbow pads can protect you from more than just road rash—a hard hit on a rocky trail can cause serious damage and keep you off the bike for weeks or even months. Let's face it, you don't want to go down the mountain riding no-handed. To choose the right mountain bike elbow pads, consider how much mountain bike protective gear your riding demands:

  • High speed downhill mountain biking will demand more robust protective gear to avoid mountain biking injuries; any added weight may be a secondary consideration.
  • Recreational single track mountain biking may not require a big setup and, in this case, weight may be the deciding factor in what to order.

What Kind of Elbow Pads or Guards Do I Need for Biking?

Elbow pads for mountain biking (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 elbow and the area surrounding it. If your mountain biking includes high speed, downhill or dirt jumping, hard shell pads are your best choice to avoid or minimize mountain biking injuries. If you're just looking for lightweight protection in case of a tumble on a single-track trail or fire road, 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.

Hard-shell mountain bike elbow pad

  • Has an ABS or other hard plastic shell riveted or Velcro'd to the front of the elbow area
  • Provides greater protection than a soft-shell mountain bike pad
  • Offers the best impact protection from rocks, trees, pegs or other objects.
Compare Hard and Soft Shell Elbow Pads

Soft-shell mountain bike elbow pad

  • Will have some sort of Kevlar or other abrasion-resistant panel over the front of the elbow area
  • Does not provide as much impact protection as a hard-shell knee pad
  • Is smaller and lighter than a hard-shell elbow pad, which makes it more comfortable over long rides
  • The panel covering the 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

Ready to Gear Up with a New Pair of Elbow Pads?

This information should have given you a good idea of what type of mountain bike elbow pads will be best for your needs. SportsProtective carries a broad selection of MTB protective gear for all ability levels. If you still aren't sure what you want, or if you have questions about a specific mountain bike elbow pad, please contact one of our protective gear specialists.


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Jim Bartlett
Jim Bartlett


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

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