First Ride Review: Crankbrothers Highline Dropper Post

The Highline Dropper entered the competitive market of dropper posts mid-2016, and recently announced a long-drop 160mm version to accompany the 100mm and 125mm posts. It’s a cable actuated unit with a sealed and user-replaceable cartridge controlling the motion via a highly adjustable thumb lever.

We fit one to a bike and spent a few hours trying it out, here are our first impressions.

Getting dirty with the Highline Dropper.

The installation.

We watched a Highline Dropper Post go from its packaging to bike and ready to ride in a very short space of time. With the cable end attaching to the post into the actuator mechanism that can be removed by hand, the cable fixes at the lever with an allen key bolt. To make the fitting even quicker, the seat clamp can be opened up to let the saddle install without removing any bolts and juggling nuts.

The head of the gear cable clips into the post actuator.

The lever is elegant, with enormous scope to mount it where you like and move it into position by swivelling on a ball joint with a huge range. It has to be one of the most adjustable and ergonomic levers available, and by dialling in the cable tension, you can further customise the feel of the lever throw.

Up and down, up and down part.

To sum up the operation in words, we’d say it’s smooth and slow. The lever action is light and with no real feedback or noise, the post motions up and down very calmly at the same speed each time.

With the release of a 160mm drop version, the Highline will appeal to riders who want to get the saddle right out of the way, and bikes with low standover height. Though for most applications a 125mm post will be okay.

There’s no speed adjustment, so some may find it a little slow, but we didn’t mind.

How is it different to the rest?

Crankbrothers aimed to restore confidence in their dropper posts in a crowded and competitive market, a tough task for sure. The Highline though has many unique features that set it apart from the likes of KS, RockShox, FOX, Bontrager, PRO, etc. Firstly the 160mm drop is a big one; then there’s the user-serviceability option that appeals. With the internal workings of the post housed inside a replaceable hydraulic cartridge, there is no bleeding required, that should make light work of any issues if they did occur.

With the easy saddle installation and cable management, it’s a quick post to fit into a bike, and the thumb lever can be mounted in a wide range of positions.

Options, weight and pricing.

Choose from a 100mm, 125mm and 160mm and expect to pay around $549.95 AUD for one.

Weight are 525g (100mm), 560g (125mm) and 610g (160mm).

Head To Head: Shimano XT Trail vs Crankbrothers Mallet E

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.

Tested: Crankbrothers Mallet E Pedals

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The Mallet E (for Enduro, naturally) is a slightly paired down version of the Mallet downhill pedal. It’s a bit smaller, and a bit lighter, with shaved edges to reduce pedal catches. It retains the same ‘eggbeater’ clip in system as all other Crankbrothers pedals, and the same left-right specific cleats. Unlike the bulky Mallet downhill, the E looks great on a trail bike, without adding much weight to your expensive carbon frame.

Another unique element of the The Mallet E is its interchangeable plastic ‘track pads’, designed to provide the best fit with any brand or style of clipless shoe. Ideally, you want your shoes to have the right amount contact of with the platform for support, but if the spacing is too tight it can be too hard to clip in. The track pads are small plastic shims that slide in on either side of the cleat on the pedal body. Varying in one and two millimeters in height, these adjustments help your shoes and pedals play better together.

The track pads are are a bit tight to get in and out though, and best done with a clean and dry pedal.


Riding Mallet E

The cleat seems to find the mechanism easily, and all you need to do to connect is to press down. It’s certainly easy to get into, but it doesn’t give the solid ‘click’ feedback of a Shimano pedal, which takes some getting used to. (We’re going to compare these guys to Shimano pedals as that’s what we generally use, and they’re the most popular design on the market.) Importantly, these pedals offer a good platform even if you’re not properly clipped in.

There’s plenty of space and grip thanks to the pins – 3 at the front and 2 at the rear – and the interchangeable pads to support your feet.

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Clipping out feels different to Shimano pedals too. It seems to happen more progressively, rather than the clearly defined ‘snap’ of exiting a Shimano. Again, it doesn’t take long to master – with a bit of practice, these pedals release easily when it matters. What’s great about this design is that the release is consistent even in crappy conditions, which is a hallmark of the egg beater spring design, they’re resistant to gumming up.

We paired the Mallet E with the Specialized 2FO Cliplites (reviewed here), but they’d also work really well with any modern flat-soled clipless shoe (like the new Shimano AM9 for example). Having a shoe that gives you contact with the pedal body (not just the egg beater mechanism) is the key, so you’ve got that/shoe friction too as well as the cleat connection.

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Overall, the feeling of connectedness with the bike is dramatic – corners feel solid, and descents controlled; it’s a different ride feel to what we’ve been experiencing for years and we like it! With only a few rides under our belt on the Es, no news yet on its reliability or longevity. Crankbrothers claim they’ve made these pedals a lot more reliable than their predecessors, plus they come with a five-year warranty –  time will tell.

Do we like these pedals? In a word, yes. If you ride steep and fast, but like being clipped in, and want a different feel to that offered by Shimano then consider these.


Please note: Crankbrothers now have two distributors in Australia: BikeSportz and Lusty Industries.

Introducing The Mallet DH/Race Pedal

The new Downhill race pedal from crankbrothers

The original crankbrothers mallet has long been the most raced pedal in the dh World Cup circuit. It has landed athletes on many World Cup podiums, not to mention a few World Championship titles along the way. When crankbrothers redesigned the mallet in 2011, it featured a slimmer body that became very popular among all-mountain riders. However, it left the dh racers missing the platform they had been racing on—and winning on—for years. With direct feedback from World Cup athletes, crankbrothers has added a new pedal to the mallet family. It’s a premium, downhill race pedal, designed specifically for World Cup racers. Introducing the mallet dh/race.

Over the last year, the engineers at crankbrothers have been working closely with many of the top dh athletes to develop a new pedal that had the same shape and feel of the original mallet, but with many improvements to functionality and durability. This collaboration resulted in a pedal that truly stands up to the abuse of World Cup racing. During a year of prototype testing by the most aggressive riders on the world’s toughest dh courses, not a single failure was reported, and some riders even raced the entire season on only a single pair of pedals.

Steve Smith

The mallet dh/race proved their strength and durability again and again during a year of testing. After a season of taking the pros to countless podiums—and even taking Greg Minnaar to a World Championship—the mallet dh/race pedals are now available to take you down your favorite dh courses as you chase some podiums of your own. As Steve Peat says, with the mallet dh/race, “you’ll have the right tool for the job.”

Race proven and tested.

mallet dh/race features:

  • new design, familiar shape / The mallet dh/race has the same profile as the original mallet, with many new design features and all of the improvements of the new pedal line.
  • improved mud clearance / The redesigned body is more open, reducing weight and improving mud shedding.
  • more traction pins / The mallet dh/race has eight adjustable traction pins, while the original mallet had only six.
  • lighter weight / Increased machining and a redesigned internal shape reduces weight.
  • wider q-factor / The q-factor is increased a total of 10mm (5mm per spindle) to allow for a wider stance and better crank clearance with flat riding shoes.
  • stronger spindle and spring / The redesigned spindle tests to be 50% stronger than the previous design, and the reverse-wound, over sized springs are virtually unbreakable.
  • better sealing / New construction eliminates leak paths and greatly improves sealing.

athlete feedback:

The mallet dh/race pedals are already being raced by some of the best dh racers in the world. Sponsored riders include Bryn Atkinson, Danny Hart, Tracey Hannah, Duncan Riffle, Emmeline Ragot, Fabien Cousinié, Greg Minnaar, Steve Peat, Andrew Neethling, Mick Hannah, Myriam Nicole, Steve Smith, Damien Spagnolo, Justin Leov, among many others. These athletes were closely involved in the mallet dh/race testing and development process, and after racing the pedals throughout the 2012 World Cup season, here’s what they have to say:

steve peat : santa cruz syndicate / It has been awesome working with crankbrothers on the new mallet dh/race. We feel we covered all the bases and got the perfect combo of function, feel, and performance. Whether you’re popping down the woods for a play or hearing the beeps in a World Cup start gate, you can be confident you have the right tool for the job.
mick hannah : hutchinson united ride / I love the new pedal! I really enjoyed being part of the development process. I believe we have a lot to offer the process as riders who really push our products to the limit. I love the comfort and control I feel with the new mallet dh/race. It has great mud and debris clearance, and a nice wide platform.steve smith : devinci global racing / Working with crankbrothers on the new mallet dh/race was pretty cool. I’ve ridden crankbrothers pedals since the beginning of my race days, and to be able to give a company that I used to buy pedals from and ride because I loved them input on making a better pedal was pretty awesome. Using the mallet dh/race pedals gave me the edge that I wouldn’t get on any given day. It is really cool to be riding what to me is the best pedal out there.

justin leov : trek world racing / It’s been great to work with crankbrothers on the new mallet dh/race. I would consider this to be the market leader in function for dh and trail riding, and being able to improve on the design was exceptional. Having feedback from the racers using the pedals is key, and we did our best to put it through its paces. At the World Cup level, a season of racing is extremely hard on gear, and to go a full season on one set of pedals in all conditions really speaks for itself as far as durability goes. Mud clearance is better, the design supports your feet well, and axle strength is just right.
andrew neethling : giant factory off-road team / I am very excited that the new mallet dh/race pedal will become production. Crankbrothers has put in the work and listened to the riders to make a great pedal. The wide platform provides added stability when riding. The new axel design makes it super durable as well, although it’s a super light dh pedal.

tracey hannah : hutchinson united ride / I found the mallet dh/race to be a great clip pedal, it was strong when hitting on rocks and roots. The spring rate is perfect, not too loose and not too strong, my foot was securely on the pedal and I could easily release for slippery turns. As all crankbrothers products the mallet dh/race is well made, durable, and looks good.

duncan riffle : sram, rock shox, avid, truvativ / The new mallet dh/race is really a true testament to the fact that crankbrothers is an ever-evolving company dedicated to improving their already outstanding products. With the help of their athletes, like myself and many others, they took a world championship winning pedal and improved it in every and any way possible. Wider, stronger, lighter, and even better looking. What’s not to like?

Bryn Atkinson.
Greg Minnaar