Pros: Easy to put on without removing shoes, great for pedaling, stays in place, comfortable, top-notch protection.
Cons: Fit may be problematic for muscular riders.
Verdict: An outstanding knee guard for aggressive and long ride aficionados alike.
Finding the right set of knee pads can be difficult and often involves concessions, with the most comfortable, best fitting options having little protection and vice versa. Race Face sets out to end this compromise with the Ambush Knee Guards. Endowed with the almost magical D3O material –it’s both soft and pliable, yet stiffens upon impact- the Race Face Ambush Knee Guard is designed to offer unparalleled pedaling performance without sacrificing protection. However, D3O is only one component of what makes a knee guard work and Race Face has plenty of competitors that use the same material in their knee guards.
Differing from other knee protection on the market, Race Face has engineered their knee guards to be donned without first removing your shoes. Opening up like the tortilla on your favorite burrito, the Race Face Ambush Knee Guard is quick and easy to wrap around your leg meat, it just doesn’t taste as good and is held in place by Velcro. But, once I tried on the Race Face Ambush Knee Guard and took a few pedal strokes, I quickly realized that there is something special about these knee guards that is very rare in the protection category.
Fit: 7 It seems that Race Face’s knee guard fitment model has unusually small thigh and calf muscles. Either that, or they are remarkably big boned in the knee department. The upper and lower straps on the size large Ambush fit my legs snugly, as they should. Meanwhile the knee portion of the guard was very loose. The size medium Ambush upper and lower straps fit very tight, as in just-barely-fit-without-being-uncomfortably-tight, while the knee portion fit well with the center strap tightened to the point that a half inch to an inch of strap overhangs the end of the velcro, so I went with the mediums. After a few months of use the pads stretched slightly, making it easier and more comfortable to get the upper and lower straps cinched up.
Now I will readily admit that my legs don’t match the typical profile of your average mountain biker. They are a bit closer to those of a road bike sprinter or a track cyclist. If Popeye were a cyclist, his legs would look a bit like mine. Yet despite my abnormally large calves, the thigh straps were nearly as tight as the calf straps. Another tester in the shop -Luke- has a similar, but less severe fit issue with the size medium Ambush Knee Guards, yet his legs are what I would consider “conventional” for a fit mountain biker. Brad, a third tester in our shop has smaller legs that more closely mirror that of the model I suspect Race Face used in the development of the pads. For Brad the Ambush Knee Guards fit great, but I would call him as much of an exception to the rule of fit mountain bike leg dimensions as myself.
Even so, the Ambush Knee Guards fit comfortably, offer full coverage, and are secure on my knees in spite of the fit issue. I do suspect that they would be slightly more comfortable however if they offered a more generous fit to accommodate my quads and calves.
Pedaling Performance: 10 The pliability of the D3O material found in these pads is supremely comfortable. I find that it is softer than any other soft knee guard that I’ve ridden with or even tried on. They are so comfortable that I wear them much more frequently than other pads I’ve used in the past. Articulating freely, the Ambush Knee Guards can be comfortably worn when climbing if desired. Comfortable enough that I often forgot I had them on when descending or riding on the flats.
What really makes the Ambushes special however, is that they did not budge no matter how sweaty my legs got or how long the ride was. This is really the most important aspect of any knee guard in my opinion. If they don’t stay in place when you are pedaling, they will move in a crash and offer little protection. Beyond this problem that renders any poor-pedaling pad useless, I just won’t wear a knee guard that slides down while pedaling and is constantly distracting me from my ride. Of course, it goes without saying that a knee guard can’t protect you if you aren’t wearing it. For me, Race Face changed all that, and my knees will thank them for it decades down the line.
Protection: 9 This is a hard one to quantify given my personal experience, as I’ve had little in the way of crash experience with the Ambush Knee Guards. However, with the way they stay in place and the outstanding coverage offered, I have a hard time imagining any other knee guard offering better protection, including hard capped options.
Both Brad and Luke have each taken multiple diggers with the Ambush Knee Guards and each time their knees have emerged injury free. This is impressive considering that just about any crash on a San Luis Obispo trail means being thrown into a pile of large jagged rocks.
Bottom Line: Knee pads only have a chance to work if you wear them and if they stay in place. The Race Face Ambush Knee guards are easy to put on, pedal great, are comfortable to wear and breathe fairly well. With no reason not to wear them, and superior stay-in-place security when pedaling or crashing, the outstanding protection on offer is practically a bonus. Tweak the fit and Race Face would have the ideal knee guard. As it stands, they are pretty darn close. Depending on the shape of your legs, they might already be there.