by Lee Trumpore
Crankbrothers pedals have been a staple of professional and amateur mountain biker ranks for well over a decade. Based on their original Egg Beater design, the Mallet DH pedals quickly won a following for their unique feel, large platform, and ease of engagement, even in the muddiest conditions. Despite their wild popularity, the original Mallet pedals were not without their issues and subsequent revisions. Though cleverly designed and pleasing to the eyes, they didn't always cut it on the trail. Similar challenges with other products led to a complete re-boot at Crankbrothers a few years ago with the goal of greatly improving performance, reliability, and durability while maintaining the classic design aesthetic they were known for. Enter the Mallet E, a slimmed down version of the popular Mallet DH pedal, aimed squarely at the unique needs of the massive all-mountain and enduro racing market. And, while at first glance, it would be easy to write off the Mallet E as simply a re-branded version of previous Crankbrothers pedals, closer inspection reveals some not-so-subtle differences.
- Aluminum body with chromoly spindle
- Concave platform with chamfered edges
- 6 adjustable pins per side
- 52mm q-factor
- Replaceable traction pads
- New IGUS LL-glide and Enduro cartridge bearings
- 15/20 degree adjustable float
- 5-year warranty
- Weight: 425 grams
- MSRP: $165 USD
Out of the box, the Mallet E pedals live up to every ounce of Crankbrothers' reputation for manufacturing elegant, aesthetically pleasing machined works of bicycle eye candy. Finishing work, assembly, and ease of installation were all top-notch; no surprise here as this has always been a hallmark of the brand. But what we were most keen to find out was if this same approach to product design had in fact lent itself to improved performance and durability; two areas that had let some users down in the past. Could the new design bring riders who’ve previously written Crankbrothers off, even the most stubborn of SPD users, back?
On The Trail
We knew from past experience that the 20 degree float option was too much for some riders, so we opted for the more standard 15-degree setup on both brand new and year-old Five Ten shoes. While 20 of our tester's 22 years riding clipless have been on SPD's, it didn't take more than a few clicks to get reacquainted with the unique entry and exit feel of the Mallet E. We remember spending weeks getting comfortable with this design so many years ago and were much relieved that this time around it felt like second nature right from the start. We'll chalk this up to much improved compatibility between various shoe soles and the Mallet interface.
On the engagement side, dedicated SPD users will probably always be partial to the positive 'click' of an SPD interface, but it comes at some cost. Namely the ability to miss the 'sweet spot' with your foot and still re-clip without unweighting and trying again. Granted, we've perfected this technique as well as can be done to the point of probably 90+% accuracy, but there are still times when we’re regularly forced to ride out sections of trail on the tip of our toes, cleat stuck behind the binding interface. The trade off to the Mallet's slightly more vague engagement is the ability to subtly wiggle your foot around until the cleat slides into place. Those uninitiated to Crankbrothers pedals might take some time getting used to this, but once mastered, we feel it's a more than fair trade off to the crisp, binding-like feeling of other systems. Matched with a smooth-soled shoe such as those from Five Ten and Specialized, among others, engagement in the Mallet E is less a matter of total precision and more one of reasonable accuracy. And on the off chance you can't get clipped in, the large, concave platform provides ample grip for charging flat-pedal style without worrying about your foot slipping off the front or to the side.
On this basis alone we would have considered swapping these pedals for our usual daily drivers, but what really sealed the fate for our old pedals wasn't ease of clipping in but rather the feel between the shoe and the platform. Shoe/pedal fit has always been a bit dodgy, with different pedals matching up better with certain soles and vice-versa. Account for shoe wear over time and inconsistencies abound.
With the Mallet E it felt like we were standing on the whole pedal, not just the cleat. With our older shoes, it was a simple matter of swapping out the stock 'traction pads' for slightly thicker ones and the interface felt the same as it did with brand new shoes, regardless of the several millimeters of rubber that was worn off the soles. While we had no cause to adjust the pin height, conceivably this would allow even further fine tuning if needed. As oxymoronic as it sounds, our experience with the Mallet E pedals felt as close to riding clipped-in flats as any shoe/pedal combo we've previously tried. So, after a 10-year break-up, our SPD-loving tester has been wooed back to Crankbrothers pedals. And this time is isn't just for their good looks.
While it probably goes without saying, performance in the mud was industry standard for Crankbrothers—pretty much as good as it gets.
Things That Could Be Improved
We have two minor gripes that will likely not apply to everyone. The first being the option for adjustable spring tension or, absent that, the ability to swap to a stiffer spring. Maybe it's our tester’s SPD-pedigree, but even at just 155lbs, he’s always felt like he’s preferred a stiffer mechanism. Oddly enough, he never found himself accidentally unclipping, so the stock spring isn't exactly something he'd consider problematic. Regardless, we'd still like the option.
Q-factor (the distance from the crank to the center of the pedal) isn't something we tend to spend much time worrying about, but it does affect both efficiency as well as clearance. The Mallet E sits about 5mm inboard of the Mallet DH, which doesn't sound like much, but how many of you would want to pedal through rock gardens with an extra 5mm on your crank arms? We suspect very few. However, with the 5mm narrower stance comes reduced clearance between the inside of the shoe and the crank arm. With our tester’s shoe of choice, the clearance was maybe 2mm. While it hasn't posed a problem on the trail, we have felt the shoe get hung up while trying to clip out while pedaling around the car park. We’re not sure if the culprit is the narrower q-factor, the extra few degrees of float compared to SPD's, shoe shape, crank profile, or some combination thereof. What we do know is we've never had this happen before with other pedals, and if given the option we might very well swap the axles from the Mallet E's for those used on the wider Mallet DH (from what we've been told, a few enduro racers have done just this but it was more for a preferred wider stance than anything else).
Long Term Durability
So far so good, which is leaps and bounds better than our tester’s experience with first-generation Mallets so many years ago. After several months of use, much of it during the rainy season, the bearings show no signs of play or premature wear and a quick disassembly revealed internals that looked very much good as new. The aluminum body has taken some rock hits, as have the exposed egg beater wings on the underside of the pedal, but so far any damage has been solely cosmetic.
What's The Bottom Line?
We'll keep it simple. Bottom line: the Mallet E convinced our die-hard SPD tester to convert from a combined 20 years of SPD use and trust in Crankbrothers pedals again. After that, what else is left to say?
For more information, visit crankbrothers.com
About The Reviewer
Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.