Trail Rated: Troy Lee EG and KG Armor Built to All-Mountain, Enduro Spec

Armor

The Troy Lee Designs EG 5550 elbow guards and KG 5450 knee guards go together like Dr. Evil and Mini Me.

Finding a bike isn’t the problem…every time you turn around another amazing all-mountain/enduro/trail ride bike is rolling into your LBS. But scour those same shops for purpose-built accessories to go with it and you’ll likely end up making compromises–particularly when it comes to body armor. While the kind of riding one does on such a bike could certainly benefit from the added protection and confidence padding brings, most of what you’ll find is excessive downhill-level gear, which while protective, is hard to carry, heavy, and a bitch to pedal in–overkill to say the least.

So-called “soft shell” pads made with strain-rate reactive materials–Poron or d30, for example–that go from soft to hard on impact have helped with portability, but their coverage lacks, and their density makes them as heavy as their hard-shelled counterparts. They perform very well in certain impacts and not so good in others and are susceptible to tearing. They’re also usually wrapped in sweat-inducing neoprene, inspiring the well-earned nickname “knee diapers.”

A couple years ago, Troy Lee Designs quietly released a hybrid series of guards cutting weight and bulk substantially while providing acceptable protection and pedalability. The accounting department apparently handled the naming, dubbing the elbow guards the EG 5500/5550, while the knee guards got the snappy KG 5400/5450 moniker. They each come in two lengths–”00″ indicating short, joint-only coverage, and “50″ indicating an additional extension covering the forearm or shin. For this test, we only examined the fuller-coverage EG 5550 and KG 5450 models.

Enter the matrix: the right materials in the right place
Eschewing neoprene in favor of a Spandex/nylon mix, the base sleeve of the guards feel more like arm and leg warmers than a suffocating wetsuit. Rather than using a simple fabric tube, however, TLD have sewn several pieces of fabric into their tapered X-Fit configuration–an ergonomic matrix designed to compliment the way the elbows and knees naturally flex. Tighter fitting rubber/elastic grip zones at the top and bottom of each piece keeps the guards secure and in place without the need for adjustable straps or buckles.

The snug-fitting X-Fit Spandex/nylon blend comfortably allows both the elbow and knee guards to flex naturally.

For the protective function, TLD takes a layered approach using what they call Strata-Foam–variable density plies of specially molded and cut foam, sandwiched to provide high-impact protection in some areas and flexibility in others. Tough, abrasion-resistant Aramid fabric encloses the layers and are punctuated by some tasteful, rubber molded brand logos.

Hitting the trail
As armor goes, the EG and KG guards are the most comfortable we’ve ever pedaled in. The well-executed articulation zones conform to the body as-advertised and the lack of bulk is noticeable both when worn or stowed in a pack. At 490 grams for the set, the combined weight of the elbow and knee guards are less than half the weight of my former go-to armor set, the Fox Launch elbow and leg guards. That’s a weight savings of more than a pound–a fact that more often persuades me to bring them along on those “could go either way” rides.

On cool days you can leave the pads on for both up and down hill segments, making them a good choice on technical rolling terrain as well as for enduro racing. In hotter weather they perform as you’d expect–a little too warm on the flats and uphills, but nowhere near the sweat lodge-factor of either neoprene or full-coverage hard shells.

I’ve done techy XC rides in 50- and 60-degree weather with them on the whole time, and alternately employed the “on for down, off for up” protocol like I did with the Fox gear for warmer rides.

Yeah, but can they take a hit?
Despite my earnest attempts to give you real-world impressions on which to base your gear decisions, I draw the line at intentionally crashing to impact-test safety gear like helmets and body armor.

Thankfully, TLD provides an impact rating to give some scale to the issue. If you look at their website, a set of hard shell guards like the Lopes Knee Guards have a protection rating of 7, while the KG 5450s sport a rating of 5. Though there’s no explanation of what these numbers quantitatively mean, coming from a reputable manufacturer like Troy Lee, I’m inclined to believe the KG’s “5″ rates well above that of a sock and a step or two below the hard shell.

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About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born editorial director Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area and pedaling for Mtbr, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.


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  • AJ says:

    My friend and I both have a set of these TLD knee and elbow pads, and they don’t work for shit! My friend ripped his knee open in a crash b/c the knee pads slid off during the crash. While riding around, I have notice the elbow pads move further and further down my arm. So now I wear my TLD knee and shin pad (plastic one) and fox titen body armor. The 661 knee pads are much better than these.

  • Dongoose says:

    AJ –

    There is no piece of safety equipment whose limits cannot be exceeded…that doesn’t mean something “doesn’t work,” for feces or otherwise. The fact that you’re wearing hard armor now makes it sound like you ride some pretty rough trails, which may warrant that level of protection.

    The first set of elbow guards I ever had –an old pair of Fox’–were too loose. and I had a smilar situation to that of your friend. They slid down when I needed them to stay in place and I got scraped up right where the pad should have been. Since then, I’ve taken care to ride with very tight pads and haven’t had that issue again.

    That said, I probably should have noted in my review that the EG and KG pads have a very rough surface, which may cause them to stick rather than slide, like hard shell armor. It’s conceivable that the high-friction material could contribute to the pads moving out of place.

    In any case, I found the pads to be suitable to the kind of technical trail riding they were built for. Your results may very.

    Don

    • Mossy says:

      I have a set of the kneepads and can recommend them for those looking for something they can wear during the climbs. Obviously these wont protect as well as full-hardshell moto style pads, but certainly do protect the front of the kneecap. I crashed pretty hard on them and bruised the kneecap a bit because the foam used in these is pretty thin, and the kneecap banged pretty hard against the ground. They did, however, save my knees from a more severe bruising if not worse.

      For something with a bit more protection, look into the POCs..

  • murrdogg says:

    I will also say these did not provide me much protection at all in a crash.
    I’ve switched to POC VPD’s and they seem to stay in place better and have more protection, however i have not crashed in them yet….knock on wood.

  • marvin rouge says:

    I have a set of the joint only for a couple of years now – fantastic. I have stacked once in them and they worked really well. Mashed my knee into the ground and came away unscathed. Very comfortable and not too hot. Ideal for XC/AM day wear, as you scarcely notice them on.

  • Jp says:

    Have both the EG and the KG and the shorter KG5400. I can vouch for them moving in a crash. I have had the wife sew an elastic strap onto the top and that seems to have done the trick. These are not downhill pads but for XC and recreational AM I have not found a better knee guard. Note however none of this applies to the Elbow guard. They stay in place fine. I still recommend them highly. Just a small mod needed though.

  • BILLYCRASH69 says:

    I’ve owned both TLD elbow & knee pads on my second season now for aggressive trail riding and agree with the other reviews that they don’t stay in place. Initially they did but the elastic has sacked out & become excessively loose. Not happy with these for this reason. Am looking into the new Leatt & THE products now…

  • leondelmonte says:

    these pads are nice at first, but they can be better.
    The ones I had were good on the first 3 rides, then, they slide down, the elastic bands get loose, and you know you spend more time pulling them up in place than riding.
    they are comfortable when new, but should have an adjustable band to tighten in place

  • steve says:

    wtf ? these are not for high impact hits , that’s what hard shell pads are for these pads are mainly for trail riding and to protect against branches and brush or low impact falls most people can tell the difference when looking at them” before” purchase. so when you dump going downhill at 35 mph jonny rock star don’t blame the pad blame yourself because you couldn’t tell the difference in low and high impact pads………………..

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