Words by Flow | Images by Flow

Pedals, as they say in the marketing world, are very sticky. Once a rider starts using one brand, it’s rare that they change to another manufacturer. Often this decision is made by circumstance – it’s what either came on the bike or what was recommended to them years ago. But there are some big difference between pedals, and certain brands will definitely suit riders/conditions more than others.


The Crankbrothers pedals have larger proportions overall, but interestingly the overall depth of both pedals is identical at 31mm.

We’ve put two of the most popular ‘trail’ pedals on the market head to head: Shimano’s XT Trail and Crankbrothers’ Mallet E LS. As it turns out, the way they ride is very different, and both are excellent pedals overall in our opinion, so we’re sure you’ll find yourself happy with both options. But they do each have real highlights and lowlights.


Shimano XT Trail: 403g/pair, $179

The SPD system has been incredibly enduring. Recent evolutions have opened up the mechanism’s design to improve mud shedding. Note the tension adjustment too.

Highlights:

Work perfectly without any fuss or faff on a huge variety of shoes and without needing any cleat shims or shoe modification.

Tension adjustability will be a boon for riders who really muscle the bike around through the pedals or who want to be really securely locked in.

Very positive and crisp engagement/release – you know when you’re in or out.

The tapered edges of the XTs are resistant to catching on rocks.

Lowlights:

Convex pedal body shape really doesn’t offer a lot of grip or support should you happen to miss a pedal entry.

While these latest versions are better in the mud than in previous iterations, they still are prone to collecting crap and becoming hard to engage in muddy, gloopy conditions.

Bolt them on and go ride. Setting up the Shimano XT pedals is never fiddly – they work well with zero fuss on nearly every shoe.

The pedal body is convex, so there’s actually not a huge amount of pedal/shoe contact.


Crankbrothers Mallet E LS: 430g/pair, $259

Crankbrothers ‘winged’ pedal mechanism is impressive for its simplicity. Though theoretically you can clip in in more ways than the Shimanos, we didn’t actually find entry any easier than with the XTs.

Highlights:

Large amounts of shoe/pedal contact gives you a feeling of support normally associated with using a flat pedal.

Concave body shape and grub screws offers decent traction should you miss a pedal entry.

Open design is resistant to mud to build up, making these pedals very consistent in the wet weather.

The large surface area of the pedal and subtle concave shape mean your foot has a tonne of support.

Grub screws add a small amount of extra grip should you happen to miss an entry.

Lowlights:

Some shoes will require the use of cleat spacers to get these pedals performing properly.

Entry/exit is rather vague, and feels less precise than the Shimanos.

We had to run one of the supplied shims under the cleat to get the Mallets to work with our Specialized 2F0 Cliplite shoes. Without the cleat, it was just too hard to clip in and there was too much friction between the shoe and pedal.


Overall:

We came into this comparison with our view slightly clouded by past experiences. We last tried Crankbrothers pedals during a dark patch in the brand’s history, when corners were cut and durability suffered. Partly because of this experience, we’ve tended to stick with Shimano over the past few years. We’ve always loved the consistent, crisp and precise feeling of the Shimano SPD mechanism, and the overall durability of the pedals has been a big drawcard too. As we’re regularly swapping shoes too, we’ve appreciated the ease of setup and how the pedals just seem to work well with almost any shoe on the market.

We’ve admittedly done a lot more miles in our XT pedals than in the Mallets.

But the new Mallet E is a much better offering than in years past, and we can now really appreciate what so many people can see in these pedals.

The ride feel is certainly different to the snappy Shimanos. Whereas the XTs have you locked in and it takes a good consistent force to release them, it feels like you more gradually ease out of the Crank Bros. We’re still adapting to it.

We’re impressed! We don’t know if the Mallet E is necessarily a ‘better’ pedal than the XTs, but there are lots of elements about it we love, and certainly nothing that lets it down when stacking the two up.

We had figured the absence of tension adjustment on the Mallet’s would worry us, but it hasn’t been a consideration at all. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much shoe/pedal contact that you don’t rely solely on the pedal mechanism to keep your feet in place, so release tension is less of an issue. We’re also impressed by the support and grip of the Mallet’s too – the concave body shape makes a hell of a lot of sense for riding in conditions where you’re often clipping out and not always able to get back in straight away.

It really comes down to ride feel when choosing between these two pedals: do you like the crisp, precise Shimano feel, or do you the support and less ‘restrictive’ feel of the Crankbrothers?

In truth, we’re now completely torn between the two brands and we’re going to continue to use both for the time being. In our minds, both are emerging as a great product, and they prove to us there’s no one right way of designing a pedal. Fence sitting isn’t popular, but to pick either of these pedals as being ‘better’ than the other would mean ignoring too many positive attributes of the other. Pay your money, make your choice, you’ll be happy.

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