ION is a company that came to the mountain bike world from the water and has turned lessons developed in wetsuits, harnesses & surf wear into on the trail protection and riding kit. For a little more than 5 years now they’ve been producing surf-inspired technical clothing for trail riding and a range of pads that you can actually pedal in. We’ve spent the better part of a year riding in ION’s Traze trail & Scrub all-mountain kit, and put more than a few knees down testing out their lightweight, all-day K-Lite knee & elbow pads. Check out how they’ve stood the test of time after the drop…
I looked to ION as we were searching for a set of pads that could be worn year round and were comfortable and breathable enough to actually keep them on for those all-day big mountain rides. A couple summers ago I had a pretty good high-speed washout crash on a ride I knew was going to see some aggressive trails. But I had gone without forearm & elbow protection because it was hot and I didn’t really have anything comfortable to wear. I didn’t do any major damage, but lost a lot of skin, and (re)learned a lesson… find something comfortable enough that they won’t get relegated to the camelbak.
We remember the times when mountain bike protection, especially knee protection was big and uncomfortable to wear. You would always take it off and put it in a back pack as you simply couldn’t pedal wearing them. Thankfully those days are long gone.
ION’s K-Lite-Zip kneepads are a great example of that evolution. Their overall shape is slim and the amount of material the use is pared down to a minimum to balance reliable protection and pedaling comfort. The main body of the pads use a perforated neoprene called Air-prene that combines abrasion resistance with a bit of breathability. On top of that the main impact protection is provided by a SasTec soft & flexible viscoelastic pad and a hidden plastic hard cap over the knee, covered in a durable Power-Aramid fabric that only showed dirt after we slid around on them a bit. Then off to the sides they get a few standard foam block to ward off stem & frame impacts.
The 100€ K-Lite-Zips use a side specific fit and get an open mesh back for max breathability. The also include a velcro strap above the knee that can secure up the fit on your thigh as well, although we don’t really see it having too big of an impact of the fit. Then there is a healthy dose of silicone in the 2cm grippers above & below the knee that holds them in place, combines with the naturally grippy surface of the inner lining of the neoprene.
The K-Lite-Zips get their name from a full length zipper that makes them fast and easy on & off. They’re already easy to pull on, but the zips make it faster since you don’t have to pull your shoes off first. While that is a must for a heavy pad that you need to take off mid ride, it’s less of a crucial feature here since you can keep the K-Lite-Zips on all day comfortable, and a slightly cheaper & lighter version without the zip is also available. Having ridden a lot with heavier pads, we like the zips, but they really aren’t so necessary.
Once the kneepads were in their place, we mostly forgot about them. That’s usually the best way to recognize an ergonomic fit, and they didn’t require readjusting as we pedaled and didn’t dig into our legs. It was really only after long, hot sweat rides that the silicone gripper seemed to remind you that the pads were there occasionally pulling against skin and leg hair.
Matching the K-Lite-Zips, we slid our arms into a set of 80€ E-Lite elbow pads. The technology and design is almost the same as the knee pads, minus the zipper and extra velcro strap and with a properly adjusted fit for free movement of your arms. An Air-prene body, SasTec viscoelastic protection, and light mesh back make for a good balance of comfort and security.
Elbow pads aren’t really the kind of thing you will wear for every day trail or even most back country riding, but these pads are both comfortable enough for longer sections of more aggressive riding and they are sufficiently small that they can easily get stuffed in a backpack and then pulled out for extended descending. The certainly are comfortable enough and breathe well-enough that they are well suited for full days in the bikepark.
We thankfully haven’t given the E-Lites the same unscheduled impact testing as the K-Lite-Zips, but they have had their share of brushes with a too close tree or two and don’t look worse for the wear.
A big benefit of the viscoelastic protection in these types of pads is that they absorb all manner of impacts without degrading in performance, so we expect them the serve us for quite a while riding the bike. We tested both sets of pads in size L, which were true to fit with ION’s size guide, and in the mix of grays color. They are both available in black too if that is more your thing.
Traze & Scrub riding kit
As for the riding kit, ION’s bike wear surely carries a surf influence, with a baggy look and straight-up board shorts adapted for riding. With technical fabrics and on-the-bike cuts, the kit also get a few small trick features that add a bit of practicality.
We’ve been pedaling in short & long sleeve versions of the all-around trail riding Traze and enduro riding Scrub lines’ technical t-shirts and Scrub riding board shorts, all in a mix of black/gray/white that let a couple of our testers mix and match depending on the weather.
Starting with the Scrub shorts, they are pretty much a standard board short swimsuit, complete with velcro fly and lace-up closure (we even wore a pair into the ocean at the end of a ride). Their techy features include a fully-padded neoprene pocket to protect a mobile phone in one front outside pocket, reinforced tabs at the lower hem to withstand the stretching of wearing them over knee pads, plus adjustable elastic/velcro tabs on the waist to dial in a secure fit over an undershort and a perforated crotch for improved breathability.The Scrub shorts have seen an overhaul for this season, dropping the lace-up, but features otherwise stay the same, and you can go for the more gravity inspired Seek shorts if you want the lace up styling.
Both Traze & Scrub t-shirt jerseys are made of light feeling polyester. The trail-focused Traze tops (the black & white ones in the riding shots) are said to include about 1/4 of bamboo charcoal polyester in the fabric for improved cooling effect. The Traze shirts certainly feel cooler and more slick to the touch and did a respectable job of wicking moisture away on hot rides. That’s partly due to side mesh panels , and the main body fabric seemed to hold a little bit of moisture, especially under a backpack.
The Scrub jersey gets a looser fit overall and a more textured mesh polyester fabric, with a more open mesh on the sides for improved ventilation. Designed to be work more over protection, the Scrub is all about letting as much air in as possible, while retaining enough structure to survive the odd brush with the ground. Even though it has a loose fit our big-headed tester found it tough to get the jersey over his melon-like head. The Scrub fabric is definitely less stretchy that the Traze, so there wasn’t as much give in the neck opening.
Like the Trazes, the Scrub includes a built-in microfiber goggle wipe to clean your lenses. Our tester who wears prescription glasses seemed to think that the wipe got dirty really quick, being exposed to his sweaty body, but our other appreciated it more for occasional use on his sunglasses. They even get a few tiny reflective printing details for a bit of after dark visibility. Both our Traze & Scrub tops also add a little bit of versatility with a small hidden zip pocket that was big enough to stash an ID and a few keys, but not much else. ION says it’s good for your lift pass for a day of bikepark fun.