Elbow pads is a type of protective gear used in various sports, including downhill mountain biking, motocross and white water kayaking. This post is about its use in white water kayaking, but is equally applicable for MX and MTB.
So you started white water kayaking. You got your yak, a spray deck, and a paddle. Your mates nagged you, so you got yourself a helmet too. In a bony section you tip over, real beginner move. You get bashed up by the rocks and miraculously you make your roll in shallow water. You feel invincible! Soon you start feeling some pain in your right elbow, but fueled by adrenaline you finish the trip. That afternoon your mates notice the egg-size lump on your elbow. Nice addition you think, some war stories to tell. But hell its sore! And it takes eons to heal. The come-down is, you are a beginner. This was only class two water, with minimal risks. Things could have been a lot worse.
So you look around. Few of your mates wear elbow pads, but many don’t. Maybe you’ll get some, but who wants to look like a geek? Leaning on your arms your elbow gives you a stabbing reminder of why elbow pads may not be that geeky after all. OK, the decision is made. You are getting elbow pads. But which ones?
Your first pads
People paddle with all sorts of elbow protection; from the real thing purpose made for the sport through to some strange contraptions.
Andrew Miller is a tech guru at Immersion Research, designers and manufacturers of white water kayaking elbow pads. He explains seeing all types of elbow pads on the water, “mostly mountain bike elbow pads but have even seen hockey pads used.”
Elbow Pads are sometimes, but not always interchangeable between sports. Miller is sceptical about using MX type pads on a river: “Moto Cross elbow pads would be too restricting as paddlers need a wide range of motion.”
He also cautions on using white water elbow pads for MX, where more protection is required: “The “Swelbo” pads that we make work pretty well as a soft pad for
kayakers, but I do not believe it can take an impact that you would experience from a motorcycle crash. Its just a piece of mini cell foam.”
So while most types of elbow pads have a limited ability for cross-sport application, it is important to consider the limitations it may present.
For white water kayaking you need something that is light, durable, does not restrict motion and can handle some bumps and scrapes along the way. Because of the immense impact of a fall in MX you will need something tougher for that purpose, and best would be to go for a purpose made product.
No kayak shops nearby?
Well, you can wait months for imported gear. So you have to consider reality: stop your activities for a couple of months making the elbow pads import excuse, man up and go without them (temporarily forgetting why do you want them then in the first place), or look for alternatives.
South Africa is a prime example. The kayaking community is small. But the motocross community is quite sizable – big enough to sustain large chain stores like Full Throttle, who punt themselves as Africa’s biggest motorcycle accessory chain store. With five stores across South Africa they sport an impressive range of accessories, some of which could be considered for other sports.
They stock at least three brands for elbow guards: Fox, Alpine Stars and some other less known brand.
In their displays you will find the full range of Fox elbow pads, including the Titan Race. On their website Fox describes it as follows: “The mid-line Titan Race Elbow guard features substantial coverage. Full elbow and forearm coverage placed on the same chassis as the Titan Pro series ensures your outer-most points are wrapped and ready. Plastic elbow, forearm & tricep coverage. Soft bio-foam chassis for comfort. Elastic strap system with velcro adjustment. Silicone print on bio-foam keeps guards in place.” In their owner instructions they explain the use for “Offroad Motocross and Mountain Bicycling Sports only.”
MX and mountain biking apparel can get soggy wet in its use, and it has to handle impacts greater or equal to kayaking. Its flexible and fits comfortably. Coming from the Fox stable it is a badass piece of gear made to survive serious punishment. Right?
The story of Fox Titan Race, Full Throttle and the solution in Sika
Maybe in the golden days that may have been so. Not today. It took a single use for the straps to come off. Elbow protection is only as good as the straps that keep them in position. The straps on the Titan Race elbow guards by Fox does not need massive abuse to wear, just a few swims while taking photos of people hopping along a stream in tubes. Attached with minimal stitching to the actual pad the straps are flimsy, and not made for hard use.
The velcro eats into the elastic straps, fraying it even before sold. This can be seen on the showroom caused by customers fitting the gear, something the packaging encourages you to do: “Try on before you buy.”
Whatever you do, do not lean with your elbows on a rock while wearing them. Somewhere between retailers like Full Throttle and the manufacturer they start looking for excuses not to consider guarantees. A few superficial scratches quickly gets the “you crashed with it” response. Do not bother showing the supervisor the frayed straps of the new Fox pads on his showroom floor – That will be someone else’s guarantee claim to go sour.
Make no mistake. The Fox Titan Race pads are hardcore. They are light, offer great protection and they do not limit movement.
The shitty straps can be easily fixed, someone HAVE to tell Fox about this technology! A few bucks buys you some Sika Polyurethane glue to solve your problem. Your local hardware or windscreen replacement center can help you out. Glue the bugger up to your heart’s content and you will have everlasting straps! I used a grey Sikaflex-11FC+ which also worked. Get a sausage rather than a cartridge, because your silicone gun will not push out this goo and beware, its messy!
After patient curing your straps will be indestructible! The goo also works on leaking dry bags, dry suits and neoprene spraydecks.
If you can choose or wait, get made for purpose safety gear. Go for a reputable manufacturer and distributor that responds to your queries, like Immersion Research.
If you cant wait, look for something that is ‘fit-for-purpose’ like MountainBike or MX albow pads. Just make sure the ones you choose will work for you. Alpine Stars make a pad that is secured without Velcro straps, and many kayakers use EVS. Make sure the retailer has the ability to provide an after sales service.
If you are a MX or downhill mountain bike racer you need to make sure if you are as safe in Fox gear as you think you are. Straps are not supposed to fray or come off: not with light use, not while brand new in the retail store, and definitely not when you have the crash of your career. With even the slightest scratch on your pads the retailer and manufacturer can turn his back on you.
Both Fox and Full Throttle have been given multiple opportunities to respond to inquiries. The silence from Fox’s office is deafening, and the general manager at Full Throttle has been very busy for a week now. Maybe they will respond in the comments below. Maybe not. Time will tell.
Many other elbow guard manufacturers were also contacted. None responded, except Immersion Research. For that they deserve respect, and at the very least some serious consideration among white water kayakers.
This post is an unsolicited community contribution by Franz Fuls.