Whenever I test protective gear, I go back to wondering how much protection is enough. I would love to ride with nothing... well with clothes and shoes. Then my memory of stitches, infections, broken bones, big annoying bruises and concussions gets me back to the reality of this sport/pastime/addiction. I went through a phase when I would tailor my protection based on the degree of difficulty of the trails I was riding that day. Unfortunately, a lot of accidents have happened on easier trails that I thought I was prepared for. All of these past injury tenses made me interested in 661's Recon and Recon Advance pads because I can choose the level of protection I want based on the ride's difficulty that day.
I have forced myself to cover my elbows, knees, head (that's a yes-brainer) and hands on all my rides. I do save the big burly gear, (knees with hard shell caps, beefy elbows, Smith Mainline full face, Leatt 4.5 chest protector) for the rides I know are gonna be steep, fast and dangerous. For all the others, lightweight low-profile 'bows and knees with gloves and half shell work for me. I use Race Face Charge elbows a lot as a means to end cuts and stitches and infections on easier terrain so I was happy to try 661's Recon lightweight low profile knees and elbows for these kinds of rides. I was also interested in the new Recon Advanced gear with the removable hard shell kneecap cover. Perhaps this one pad could do it all.
661 introduced thr Recon and Recon Advance line last year. I have been testing the Recon knees and elbows as well as Recon Advance knees with and without their removable hard shell knee cap caps, er, covers. The Recon knee and elbow offer minimalist protection that uses a D30 Ghost protective insert that stays in allowing it to be machine washable. The lightweight stretch design, mesh fabrics and elasticized silicone cuffs make for the most comfortable knee pad I have ever worn. The elbow would be more comfortable if it wasn't so gosh darn long and tight. 661 sent me a medium, obviously unaware of the gun show. Sizing ranges from small to XL. I feel like I am in between a medium and a large in all models of the Recon line; such is the plight of the princess and the pea that is me.
The Recon line is very high quality in construction and design. The silicone grippers on the top and bottom cuffs do a good (not excellent) job of keeping the pads in place. Good rather than excellent because without the proper fit there is only so much the silicone can do. On the medium pads the silicone did a great job but that was because the pads were so tight. On the large I got some down-sliding (discussed later).
All of the Recon gear comes with 661's integration system known as Padlock. Little snaps on all the pads connect to 661 compression jackets and shorts to help keep the gear in place. Did it work? No clue - I wasn't testing 661 clothing. Based on proper sizing, silicone and design, I do not see why the Padlock system is needed, and come to think of it I cannot see myself wanting to fuss with snapping it all together, nor wear compression jackets and shorts.
Recon Knees and Elbows
These stealthy lightweight pads are excellent for easier trail rides...I think. Again, I don't know how well they work in a wipe-out because a flaw in these reviews is the lack of crash test dummies. If I do crash I will report back on the effectiveness of these pads. However, using my years of physical engineering experience I kinda think the less padding you wear, the less protection you have in a crash. But, D30 claims their Ghost tech exceeds Level 1 performance requirements (EN 1621-1:2012 ). So I guess if it's good enough for moto tracks it should be good enough for mountain biking? Although, tracks don't have boulders and punji sticks all around so again, until I or you crash (let me know in the comments about your crashes with D30 Ghost) we'll never really know how effective it is.
But did I say how comfortable the knees are? They go a bit too high on the thigh for me but because they are so comfy I don't even care. The extra length probably helps them in place. For the silicone to work, I made sure my chamois or ginch was layered over the cuff so the silicone would grab onto my hairy legs. It's so nice to have a thin pad under the pants instead of a bulging knee pad: I tested these in the winter so no shorts were worn other than when Deniz made me strip down for him - in the name of art and gear. The length below the knee is long enough for a bit more shin protection than most knees I have tried.
The elbows are elbows, as in I don't want to wear elbows but I force myself to wear elbows. They are the brussel sprouts of my riding gear. They smell bad, feel best when laying in a drawer and not on me and they are good for my health. The mediums I tested were a bit small so they were not that comfortable. In addition, they were a bit too long for my liking. In my elbow pad shootout I gave the Race Face Indys the trophy for best elbow pad and part of that had to do with the length; 28cm long for the Indy compared to 40cm long for the 661.
Recon Advance Knees
These knees seem like the perfect compromise between gnar and gnar-gnar. I rode sans hard shell cap on the easy days, then mounted the hard shell cap for the days I was riding the really gnarly trails. My only problem with these well-designed and built knees is the sizing. Again, I am a medium-large. The mediums fit but were a bit tight and dug into my calves and hams, while the larges felt great but slid down during rides unless I hiked the lower cuff above my calf to stop the down-sliding (see photo).
The D30 LP1 inserts are quite beefy. The Recon Advance pads get the same moto rating as the Recons. The straps with velcro closures are used to hold the hard shells in place. When not in use they tuck away into 4 slots in the knee pad area. They are a bit finicky to get out, remove then tighten up when the shell is on but whatever, it's not that big a deal. The shell has a male velcro piece to adhere to the female piece on the pad which adds a bit more security to the four straps.
Adding more protection beyond the knee padding, 661 incorporated extra thermo formed EVA inserts above and to the sides of the knee and a small part of the upper shin. The comfort, removable shell, EVA inserts, and high-quality materials and design make these excellent knee pads.
I definitely would get both Recon knees and Recon Advance knees; if I had to choose just one I would go with Advance. Although I appreciate the convenience of strapped pads over slip-on pads, both the Recon and Recon advanced are so well built, comfortable, and seemingly protective that I would choose them over non-slip on pads. The Recon lightweight stealthy design and the Recon Advance lightweight but beefy protection combined with the removable hard shell cap make both sets a wise investment in my opinion.
Recon Knees 85 USD, 105 CAD - large knees weigh 322g.
Recon Elbows 75 USD, 95 CAD - large elbows weigh 280g.
Recon Advance Knees 110 USD, 145 CAD, hard caps 15 USD, 20 CAD - large knees with shells weigh 450g.