However, to test whether they perform on the trail, we also slung on some Shimano SPD cleats to ensure they’re useful to every rider.
Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace specifications and details
The ‘Speedlace’ part of the shoe’s name comes from the use of the Speedlace tensioner across the top of the foot. This uses a thinner than usual lace and a plastic runner that’s squeezed to open its gripper to pull through and then release tension.
It’s much quicker to use than a traditional lace, with the end of the lace reinforced using a pull-tab to increase durability. The runner can be stuffed into a pouch on the tongue to keep it out of the way.
This little pocket is located under the Velcro strap that’s designed to bolster the security of your feet in the shoe.
The Speedlace runs far down the shoe to ensure tension is controlled over a large portion of the foot.
The upper is constructed largely from a single piece of material, reducing potential areas of weakness at the seams. The toe box has a number of ventilation perforations, while there are closed-mesh panels on the inside and outside of the foot.
The toe box has average, rather than high, levels of toe protection, contributing to a competitive 886g weight for the pair.
Inside, the heel area has plenty of soft yet supportive padding, and heel hold is boosted by silicon gripper dots. The arch support area is pretty flat.
The sole has shallow, blocky treads, though toe and heel areas are shaped gently to aid traction when pushing a bike up and down hill – it’s not quite as obvious as on other shoes, however.
Crankbrothers says that the compound of the rubber is designed to be ‘mid-friction’, to prevent binding on release from the pedal.
Sole stiffness is high, though there’s a little extra flex towards the toes, and the end of the toe is curved upwards to aid walking. There’s an EVA foam insert in the midsole to provide comfort when walking, or if you bail while riding.
The cleat channel has apparently been extended by 5mm rearward, though at 32mm isn’t the longest in its class, and while it does extend fairly far back into the middle of the shoe, it won’t give the most slammed cleat position around.
The cleat bed is well-shaped, though, with ramps for entry and exit, as well as markings to help get your cleat position consistent on both left and right feet.
The ‘Race Zone’ section is marked in the cleat channel – this is the furthest rearward, so most aggressive, cleat position. The bed is also off-centre, closer to the cranks, and doesn’t clog with mud easily.
Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace performance
The Mallet Speedlace is a solid, supportive and comfortable shoe. The Speedlace system is quicker and more convenient to use than a pair of laces.
While I sometimes needed to manipulate the lace to either release or equalise tension down the foot when getting the shoes on and off, the laces pull through their guide loops easily. The pull-tab on the end of the lace gives a solid anchor from which to add tension.
Once criticism of the laces’ runner is that to release its grip on the lace requires the thinner edge rather than the wider to be squeezed, which I didn’t find as intuitive.
I also found that if you pull the lace tight, the top cross-over of laces can put more pressure on the top of your foot than others, though with a bit of pedalling, this tension equalises itself down the foot.
Additionally, the Velcro strap could push the lace’s runner onto the top of my feet, which was annoying, so I only put the end of the lace into the pouch.
The proximity of the strap to the ankle can be felt when really flexing your ankle forward in the shoes, another slight annoyance.
With the lace pulled tight and the Velcro strap taut, the shoe feels incredibly well secured, with minimal foot movement within the shoe and little heel lift – the silicon grip dots on the heel cup are noticeable here.
The sole is stiff, so doesn’t tire feet out on longer efforts. The insole is pretty neutral in shape.
The sole’s rubber doesn’t bind on pedal pins, but there’s still a good connection with the pedal, helping you control the bike through the shoe.
The shoes come pre-installed with a Crankbrothers cleat and a spacer. The spacer isn’t required with Shimano cleats.
Walking performance is fairly good – the toe curls up enough at the front for the stiffness of the sole not to feel awkward, though the closely packed tread does clog quickly in mud.
The thin upper has a few perforations, as well as two mesh panels, and seems to let warmth out fairly well, while still keeping occasional splashes at bay.
When the shoes do get soaked through, they take a long time to dry.
It might be worth trying these shoes on before you buy, as sizing is a touch more generous than with others.
Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace bottom line
The Mallet Speedlace provides a rock-solid connection from foot to bike, thanks to a sturdy construction and stiff sole.
The sole interacts nicely with pedals of varying sizes and brands, and doesn’t waste energy when you pedal.
How we tested:
Mountain bike shoes have a hard life. All your power is transferred through their soles, as well as an awful lot of bodily bike control.
At the same time, they’re stamped onto pedals (some of which have platform cages with sharp pins), are walked in on rough surfaces, have to sit in the firing line of mud and water, and shrug off impacts with trailside rocks, roots and vegetation.
As such, the best mountain bike shoes have to satisfy a wide range of requirements to reach the top of our table. In this group test, we pitted 12 pairs of clipless shoes from leading brands against each other during several months of sloppy winter testing.
We tested all these shoes with both Crankbrothers and Shimano SPD pedals to check that they’re compatible with the most common platforms. They were ridden with one foot in one brand of shoe and the other in a different type, to better grasp their differences.
Steep banks were scrambled up and down, while we carried our bikes on our shoulders to see how much our heels slipped in the heel box and our feet slipped in the mud. We even sprayed them with a hose to see how water-resistant they are, then timed how long they take to dry out.
Other shoes we tested:
- Bontrager Rally review
- Endura MT500 Burner Clipless review
- Five Ten Kestrel Lace review
- Fizik Gravita Versor Clip review
- Giro Berm Cover review
- Ion Rascal Select BOA review
- Leatt 6.0 Clip V22 review
- Mavic XA Elite II review
- Ride Concepts Transition review
- Scott Crus-R review
- Shimano AM5 review
- Specialized 2FO Roost Clip review