When it comes to keeping safe while mountain biking, having the right protection is very important. Just making sure you are wearing a helmet doesn't cut it for many rides these days now that bikes are getting more advanced allowing us to take on tougher terrain. One serious bike accident can end your mountain biking career if you are not careful.
If you are smart you at least wear a helmet to protect your head while out on the trail but have you considered protecting other parts of your body? Many people don't consider protective gear such as elbow and knee pads until it's too late. But taking fall and banging your knee or elbow can often hurt more than hitting your head and it can even cause some permanent damage to your body. So if you are riding rocky areas or downhill trails you may want to consider some extra protection.
Fox has been making mountain bike parts and accessories for many years and has its own line of protective gear to help keep yourself safe. They offer many types of elbow pads and one model that does a pretty good job of protecting your elbows is the Launch line of elbow pads. Here we will be talking about the Launch Pro model which is a smaller pad that just covers your elbow and not your forearm like other models do. The design seems to vary a little depending on where you get them and what year it happens to be when you buy them but they are all basically the same. We tested the 2012 model.
The Launch Pro pads (or guards as they are sometimes called) are made of a neoprene material with a Kevlar fabric covered plastic cup that fits over your elbow. Then there are adjustable Velcro straps to secure them in place. The straps are elastic so they will stretch with your arms as you move them while riding.
One downside to these types of pads is that they don't offer any forearm protection like other pads do but then again your elbow needs the protection more than your forearm does. Plus being a smaller pad makes them easier to wear for longer periods of time and even all day long. But if it's hot outside be ready to get a little sweaty underneath them because they will heat up. You won't really notice them while riding (or pushing) up your hill since they do give you pretty good freedom of motion.
As for protection they should do the job thanks to the hard plastic cup that covers your elbow. Just make sure to get the right size so they don't slip off in a crash leaving you out of luck. There are other types of pads that have a gel type pad which is supposed to harden up on impact but with the plastic cups you know it's going to be ready for the impact when it happens.
The pads come in small, medium and large but we found that even the large can be a little snug unless you have below average sized arms so we recommend trying them out in a store if you can rather than buying them online to make sure you get the size that is right for you. They are fairly light too so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting weighted down when putting them in your backpack on the way to your downhill run.
We tested them out on a downhill trail and wore them for about 4 hours straight without any issues. They stayed in place and didn't get in the way when doing up or down the hill. We didn't get to try out how good the work in a crash (fortunately!) but we feel they will be up to the job unless you are doing something crazy like the Red Bull Rampage where you are jumping off canyon walls. So if you are looking for a basic elbow only pad that is fairly comfortable then you may want to check out the Fox Launch Pro pads and see how they work for you. They pads should run you around $40.
UPDATE: We did get to test them on a crash and they didn't perform too well at all. They slipped right up the arm and ended up providing no protection at all for that particular crash. If it were a direct hit then it may have been ok but on a slide type crash the pad didn't stay in place.