I’ve been a flat pedal rider for a long time and despite occasionally clipping my toes into the SPD waters now and again I’ve never felt particularly comfortable being attached to my bike by my feet. This is partly down to the fact that I like to move my feet around on the pedal a bit when cornering but it’s mostly because I like the idea of being able to step off the bike quickly when things start to go wrong. I also find I have a better feel for what the bike is doing with flat pedals – strangely I feel better connected to the bike and trail not being actually connected to the bike. I like flat sticky shoes with a pliable sole that let me wrap my foot over a suitably grippy pedal and allow me to put the middle of my foot over the pedal axle for better stability.
In truth it’s been a few years since I’ve tried SPDs but since then there have been a few developments that have tempted me to experiment with clipping in again. The first development is in the footwear department. I’ve never been a fan of super stiff XC style shoes, I found they muted any feedback from the bike and I’ve never been able to get the cleats as far back as I’d like to feel truly comfortable. The likes of Five Ten, Specialized and Giro now all offer shoes aimed primarily at the gravity set with a supple skate style sole and extra long cleat tracks that mean you can shunt your cleats further towards the middle of the shoe.
The second development is Crank Brothers’ Mallet DH Race pedals. With a decent size platform and adjustable pins they are the obvious choice for flat pedal feel with clipless pedal benefits, but neither of those features was the main reason I was keen to try them. Instead it’s something quite small but meaningful. In fact it’s 5mm small.
A regular Crank Brothers pedal has a Q factor (essentially the distance between the centre of the cranks and the centre of the pedal) of 52mm. The DH Race Mallets have a Q factor of 57mm, putting your feet slightly further apart and in a more stable, flat pedal feeling position. 5mm doesn’t sound a lot but riding the DH Races back to back with a set of Candys the Mallets put my feet in a much more natural position that gives me more confidence on descents. The fact that there’s a platform to rest my feet on does also help with the flat pedal illusion especially with thinner soled shoes.
Crank Brothers pedals have some general characteristics. Mud shedding is the obvious one, with such an open mechanism mud just falls through or is pushed through when you stand on the pedal. I also, mostly, like the extra float (the amount of wiggle side to side you get when clipped in over other brands. As someone who moves their foot about a lot on the pedal the ability to do this and not unclip helps make them a comfortable place to rest my size 9s. The downside to that extra float is that when you need to unclip you have to twist your foot further than you’d sometimes like. If you’re already falling sideways then it can be even harder to release. I’ve twice fallen sideways on slow-speed techy climbs and been unable to unclip as I list sideways onto rock, losing flesh in the process. Something to be wary of with the Mallets is the pins on the metal cage – running them too high means you can’t twist your foot to clip out, which again, can be painful.
Apart from the inevitable skin loss and occasional ‘oohshit’ moments that come with clipping in the transition from flat pedals to clipping in has not been as terrifying as in the past. The ability to run the cleats towards the centre of the shoes and the wider Q factor have meant I’ve been more than happy to keep the Mallets on my bike rather than, as in the past, retiring them after a month and calling the whole experiment a failure. I still haven’t quite got the confidence I did with flats and I’m starting to wonder if slightly less float would actually help, especially in emergency eject situations.
At 487g for the pair they are by no means light but they are designed to take a beating, the bearings have held up well over the last three months and there’s no sign of slop or wobble anywhere, often a criticism levelled at Crank Brothers pedals. If the weight is too much to bear but you like the idea of the wider stance then you can fit the longer axles from the Mallet DH Race to a set of Candys.
There’s no getting around the fact that these are pricey pedals. While Crank Bros do offer cheaper Mallets none of them have the 57mm Q factor axle, nor do they look as good. Here’s hoping for some trickle down in the near future.
Matched up with the right set of shoes the Mallet DH Race are the best compromise for flat pedal feel with clipless pedal efficiency.
|Product:||Mallet DH Race|
|Tested:||by Sim for Four months|