The Recon Elbows’ theory is that minimal protection is better than full-on armour – if only because you’re more likely to actually wear it. Cutting the bulk, weight and sweaty discomfort means you can put these pads on and leave them on, avoiding the hassle of stopping to suit up for every descent. Hassle you might choose to avoid by going without. Wearability is obviously a big plus for enduro racers, too.
661 has done a good job making these light, cool and comfortable. The impact-foam pads are stitched securely to lightweight lycra, which gives way to a large, very thin panel of stretch mesh on the inside of the arm. There’s simply nothing to bunch up in the crook of your elbow – you can dead sailor jumps in perfect comfort – and the slight stiffness of the pad soon eases as they warm up.
They’re also very breathable. I mostly ran these under long sleeves in mild to cold temperatures and had no problems with heat build up. It’s hard to imagine anything protective being much cooler than the Recons in summer sun, but then it’s hard to imagine sun in our test-area of Wales at all. On hotter days, they’re low-key enough to use with short sleeves without looking too Storm Trooperish.
They stay in place extremely well. The whole sleeve is tight (though too stretchy to constrict blood flow or movement) and there are elastic cuffs top and bottom. The inside of the cuffs are covered in silicone grippers, and I never once had to stop and adjust them. It didn’t matter if we were climbing, descending or scrabbling around in the woods clearing branches and moving debris – they stayed put.
It helps that they’re so light (just 131g for the pair) so there’s little for gravity to drag down. The obvious trade off is protection. While they’re CE rated, meaning they conform to EU safety standards, they’re actually rated in the most basic Category 1 as ‘non-protective’. That’s obviously not much of a promise. Category 1 safety gloves, to give an example, include gardening gloves.
Away from the legalities, they’re clearly better than nothing. The Poron XRD impact foam stiffens on impact to spread the load, and 661 says it takes multiple impacts without breaking down. We haven’t yet had the pleasure of crashing on them (sorry), but some unscientific tests with sharp desk edges reveal noticeable stiffening and all-over support as impact speeds increase.
Obviously, the upper limit of impacts the Recon Elbow pads can protect you from is limited in comparison to hard armour, but again, that’s the tradeoff – these are fit and forget, so they’re at least likely to be there in the first place. For seriously aggressive riding you still need more, but for general use these keep a low profile, are no fuss, and offer exactly what they set out to.