The mass-produced soft good that defined seven formative years of riding.
Some people have skeletons in their closets; I have dead pairs of Dakine Slayer knee pads. Like skeletons, my stinky old knee pads are the remnants of the past, reminders of my formative years of riding. Yes, these are my actual pads, complete with whatever dirt, sweat and blood samples they picked up along the way. Why keep these ratty old things around when I have much newer, less gnarly knee pads? Why subject myself and anyone who dares open my closet to a visceral, carnal, olfactory time capsule? It’s simple: I love every pair of Slayers too much to part with them.
The Slayers and I first met back in 2015 at the Kingdom Trails of northern Vermont. It was early October and the mid-autumn chill hung crisply in the air. This was the then-annual edition of the Bike Magazine Bible of Bike Tests
, hosted on a picturesque estate complete with an antique mansion, well-manicured grounds and a rustic barn perfect for storing test bikes and gear. Everywhere you looked there were vivid oranges, yellows and reds as deciduous flora welcomed the coming winter like an aging phoenix. These colors paled in comparison, however, to the deep matte black and crystal grey of the set of Slayers nestled atop a pile of soft goods, perfectly illuminated by a ray of light that swam with the dust of bygone era. From the second I laid eyes on the Slayers, I knew we were meant for each other.
Okay, that may all be a bit
of an embellishment. I was just a lowly unpaid intern then, left to grovel at the meager remains of gone-through gear left behind by the editorial staff. Luckily, Dakine had sent more than enough Slayers, so while they were mostly snapped up like maple-syrup-slathered hotcakes, I was lucky enough to snag a set for myself. Little did I know that the Slayers would turn out to be one of the most influential pieces of kit I would own for the better part of the next decade—and that’s not
I come from a big-bike upbringing, having owned mostly dual-crown bikes prior to 2015, and I spent most of my riding time hike-a-biking and shuttling. But things were changing, both for myself and for the mountain bike industry at large. Suddenly, bikes with bigger and bigger travel numbers started climbing well. Like, really well
. At the same time, mid-travel bikes started becoming seriously good at going fast downhill.
This paradigm shift called for a complete revamp of riding kit. Bikes like the Kona Process 111, Yeti SB4.5 (the bike that got me hooked on short-travel 29ers) and Transition Smuggler could pedal anywhere a traditional XC rig could, but they could also hang with the kinds of bikes most riders didn’t bother pedaling very far on.
Brands have always worked to make pads that could be pedaled in, but demand for all-day comfort was rising simultaneously as demand for better protection was. The market was struggling to provide a type of lightweight, pedalable pad that offered enough protection for serious sending. Most of the early attempts had fragile spandex materials and poor fits that needed constant fiddling. I have two silver-dollar-sized scars on the tops of both knees from ill-fitting pads sliding out of the way during a crash.
Before I found the Slayer pads, I was rocking full-on DH pads for most of my “trail rides,” particularly the RaceFace Ambush pads that featured D30 and side-opening so I didn’t have to remove my shoes to put them on. This worked well enough but wasn’t ideal. They were hot, heavy and chaffed like salty sandpaper.
Enter the Slayer. The Slayer wasn’t the first knee pad of its kind, but it was the first pad I found that actually aligned with the demands of the exploding trail-bike era, that fit me like a glove. Like modern trail bikes, I could climb and descend in them all day without compromise.
The key to the Slayer’s success was not the impact protection itself, but rather the material Dakine used. While many lightweight pads use thin Spandex blends that breathe exceptionally well and move with your every pedal stroke, that kind of material rips easily and doesn’t hold the pad in place well. The Slayer used a much thicker, robust fabric. It isn’t nearly as stretchy, breathable or smooth as Spandex—they actually take five to 10 rides to break in before becoming comfortable. However, it offers a key attribute that few other trail pads can boast: support.
The Slayer hugs your leg like an overly attached golden retriever. Once you heat them up and get a little sweat going, the pads simply do not move around. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to crash-test the Slayers and not once have they slipped off or failed to take the bullet for my knees. On the harder hits, I’ve walked away with friction burns in place of split flesh and bone. I’d call that a success.
I’m convinced that their ability to stay in place so well is why they can get away with using a relatively lighter-weight build than other hard-hitting pads. The actual impact protection insert, a D30-like material called DK Impact, is pretty slim and small compared to other pads, yet because it will always be in the right position in a crash, Dakine can use less of it and shape the material to be more conducive to pedaling. The sides are relief-cut to allow full knee articulation, expanding with a straight leg so as to not impede movement, then coming back together to form a full bowl over the knee cap when the leg is bent (and most likely the position your leg will be in during a crash). How effective is this? I’ll put it this way—none of the excessive scarring on my knees came to be while wearing the Slayer.
The final secret sauce to the Slayer is their high-cuff cut that extends up to the middle of my thigh. There’s a silicone gripper at the top cuff as well, which keeps the pad in place and totally eliminated the dreaded knee pad Gorby gap. The Slayer was one of the first knee pads to use the high-cuff design, as most pads of that era were far too short and relied too heavily on some sort of cinch strap. Simply having more material and friction higher up the thigh kept things in place just much more effectively.
This all added up to the best mid-weight, hard-hitting knee pad that I could actually pedal in all day and trust to keep me safe in high-speed, high-consequence terrain. I’ve lost count of the number of big rides I’ve spent in these pads, often clocking upwards of 10 hours of uninterrupted use without any discomfort. Even in deep-summer heat, the Slayer remains the best blend of comfort and protection I’ve found. While other pads may be more comfortable to wear, or offer more protection, the balance the Slayer strikes is unparalleled.
This is why I was heartbroken when Dakine discontinued the OG Slayer a few seasons ago. The Slayer was the kneepad that made the long-distance, trail bike era more accessible to me. They relieved the small mental burden of uncomfortable knee pad-chaffing and made all-day sufferfests in the deep country of Montana less suffery and more festive. On long dry-season shuttle days in Thailand, I could put them on at 7 a.m., wear them until 6 p.m., and still not dread putting them on the next day. These are marginal gains maybe, but added up over years of riding, it’s easy for me to see how much more enjoyment I’ve had on a bike.
There’s a new version of the Slayer now, but like most sequels, it’s not the same. It’s beefed up, and while still an excellent knee pad, it lost the delicate balance that made the original Slayer perfect. Since the OG’s death, I’ve scoured the earth for any last pairs that might still be out there. Currently, I’m on my very last pair, number seven. Every ride we go on together is one ride closer to the end, the time when this last set joins its retired brethren. I’ve been doing my best to avoid that day, however, choosing to ride in one of my many other knee pads picked up in a preemptive search for the Slayer’s successor.
I’m sure I’ll find another pad to fill the void the Slayer will leave. The Chromag Rift and I have a budding relationship, but I still dread the day I have to face that reality. I’ve found my knee pad match, and I don’t want to be back on the market. Plenty of fish in the sea, they say. I just want more of those old Slayers.