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Perhaps the most interesting development of my COVID-induced solitary summer was an urge to clip in again after years of predominantly riding flats. Surprisingly, it wasn’t my ever-increasing age, or an ever-increasing appetite for long rides that drove this desire. It was the inherently imprecise fit of so many flat pedal shoes I’ve ridden over the years. Give me an all-day suffer fest on flat pedals—I’m not scared—but for the love of God can I get some shoes that offer a fit that’s up to that task? That’s what has made the introduction of Crankbrothers shoes, the Stamp, Mallet and Mallet E–specifically the Stamp BOA flat pedal shoe–so exciting.
The first thing you notice with the flat-pedal-specific Stamp is that it has the silhouette of a stiff, sleek enduro or downhill clip shoe. That’s the case, not just directly under the BOA laces, but also at the toe box, which is quite snug, making for an incredibly secure fit when the BOA is cinched down. The top Velcro strap is a nice touch, adding to that glove-like fit and, most importantly, offering extra support just below the ankle.
That may sound like a recipe for a stiff, vague feel underfoot, but the Match rubber compound that Crankbrothers developed is really grippy with a good amount of flex that allows the shoe to hug the pedal. I could talk about all the tech specs of the Match compound, but all any flat-pedal rider wants to know is how it compares to FiveTen’s Stealth Rubber. FiveTen has been my go-to flat-pedal shoe for nearly 10 years, and the Match compound is a worthy competitor. Crankbrothers has come up with something that offers the same underfoot feel and grip that you’ll be accustomed to if you’ve ever ridden Stealth Rubber.
A big part of this can be attributed to the entire Match system, not just the rubber compound. With a size 10.5 and the size large Crankbrothers Stamp pedal, they just, well, Match. It’s really difficult to get your foot to wander, or to feel like it’s not in the right spot on the pedal when hastily putting it back on. There are two distinct sections to the sole of the shoe, a toe and heel meant for traction on the dirt, and an on-pedal area designed for traction on the bike. The on-pedal area visibly matches the stamp pattern to maximize contact surface. Also, the lug depth is noticeably deep, presumably to increase longevity. Add to all this, the Stamp pedals’ pleasingly narrow Q-factor. So, despite the large visual appearance of a large Stamp pedal, they don’t feel prone to pedal strikes.
Riders like myself might be in the minority among true endurance junkies, but I know I’m not the only one who can rock flats in nearly every situation. I love a long day pedaling on flats. And as a photographer, the hikeability of a shoe is paramount. Plus, Crankbrothers’ home turf of Laguna Beach, California, is notorious for steep, rugged hike-a-bikes, often the only routes out of the area’s many deep canyons. And it’s apparent that these shoes have that in mind. The off-pedal area has directional, angled and spaced-out lugs to provide traction while hiking. It’s a really well-thought-out design.
But now for the contradictory moment of this piece. After years of exclusively riding flats, I did spend most of the summer clipped in (until getting back on the Stamp Boa for this test). It was interesting to ride the Match systems, both flats and clips, back-to-back. In each case, I could immediately sense the design team’s intentions through the Match system’s underfoot feel.
Most noticeable on the Mallet E clip pedal is the incredibly precise contact with the shoe. It’s a bit of a Goldilocks feel. There was no difficulty clipping in, but there was also no movement up or down once I was clipped in. I could feel the outsole making contact with the moderately large platform, but it was not a struggle to get it lined up. It’s got an incredibly secure feel at no cost to ease of entry or exit thanks to the ramped cleat box. All Mallet shoes come out of the box with a Crankbrothers cleat installed, with the appropriate shim underneath to ensure that perfect pedal-shoe interface. Already got cleats? Now you’ve got spares. Nothing lasts forever.
On the Match outsole of the Mallet E shoe, you’ll see the same attention to hikability that you find on the Stamp, with directional and angled lugs on the heel and toe. There’s also a forward-biased, pedaling-focused cleat position range. The standard Mallet, on the other hand, has a tread more suited for lift lines, and a farther-rearward cleat position more suited for gravity riding. But in each case, there’s a reasonable amount of room fore and aft for the ball of the foot.
There are a number of closure options available in both clip and flat versions throughout the wide range of Crankbrothers shoes. There’s BOA laces, traditional laces and a drawstring-style Speed Lace that I rode on the Mallet E. With this version, there is a clever little neoprene lace pocket on the top of the tongue where the excess Speed Lace can be tucked. Add to that a Velcro top strap, and these shoes have a tidy, and secure fit. I did prefer the BOA closure that I tested on the Stamp flat pedal shoes, and that would also be my preference in a clip version.
Time will tell how the durability of this lineup will perform. My initial observations, though, are that there are no immediately noticeable weak points that would be prone to failure.
I’m really happy with the fit and performance of the Mallet system—smart, functional design that merges fit and performance in a beautifully unassuming package. But what really wowed me with the Match lineup was the Stamp flat-pedal shoe. I can’t help but feel like these shoes were conceived right out of my mental wish list. They deliver all the features I’ve been looking for in a flat shoe: an incredibly precise and secure fit with phenomenal grip on the sole. Add to that, at the risk of adopting Crankbrothers’ own marketing jargon, a perfect match with the Stamp pedal, and it really is among the best-in-class of flat shoes I’ve ridden.
Find them at crankbrothers.com/shoes
Photos: Anthony Smith