etnies mountain bike offerings to date have left me quite impressed, so I was excited to see their foray into the clipless world. I’m well aware that the construction of a clipless shoe is more complex than a flat pedal with some different needs, which made me all the more interested to see what route they would go down.
In terms of the looks, etnies have retained a similar profile to their Camber flat pedal shoes, but the looks have shifted away from the skate-style cleanliness and the CL certainly looks more like a focussed mountain bike product. The sock and power strap are dead giveaways that the shoe has off-road intentions, as well as the mesh exo-shield upper material.
Slipping the Camber CL onto the foot, they’ve retained a similar fit to the flat pedal sibling, but there’s more of a “locked in” feeling provided by that sock around the lower ankle. The offset laces do the job of distributing the pressure over the foot adequately, and the power strap allows you to cinch the shoe down tight to resist any movement when pulling up on a clip-in pedal. The little elastic “lace lock” on the strap is simple and effective, and does a good job at keeping the laces tidy. As with all etnies shoes, the footbed has a nice amount of cushion below that makes the Camber CL a comfortable place for your feet.
Fitting a Shimano cleat to the etnies shoes was no problem as you’d expect, with a very average cleat recess in terms of both position and overall shape and size. You can get the cleat slammed back a reasonable amount, but not quite so far as the likes of Leatt’s gravity shoes. The ridges on the cleat plate are useful to help line things up at the right angle, as well as seeming like they’ll offer some extra purchase to prevent the cleats from slipping. I opted not to run any spacers under the cleat, which gave a nice balance of sole to pedal contact, and avoided leaving the cleat protruding out where it would contact the ground first when walking.
When clipped in, the Camber CL is not the stiffest shoe out there. It seems the etnies crew was keen to retain some more familiar feeling for flat pedal riders looking to make the switch to clips. That said, it feels a touch stiffer in the center section than their flat pedal shoes, and didn’t lead to any significant discomfort, but there’s not the same efficient feeling of many. Because of the flex that is retained, they feel natural to walk in. This gives a pleasant walking experience when combined with the sole grip, which is worlds better than the etnies flat pedal offerings thanks to the deeper and more shapely tread. The protection on offer for the toes isn’t particularly strong, enhancing the feeling on offer for walking but preventing them from being the shoe I’d recommend for getting sketchy in the gnarliest terrain. The portion of the sole surrounding the cleat offers great purchase on a pedal pin thanks to the soft rubber and deep recesses in the tread, which lets you ride out with relative comfort on sections where you don’t get clipped in.
As a whole, the Camber CL is nicely breathable, representing a good improvement over the flat pedal models whilst doing a reasonable job at shaking off light puddle splashes. But compared with the good weather proofing and heat retention of the flat pedal models (especially the Culvert Mid), they’re not a very weatherproof shoe. This will be a positive for those in warmer climates or with hotter feet, and thanks to minimal bulky materials they don’t get too heavy when wet and so can be used with a waterproof sock in wet and colder conditions without too much discomfort. The internal sock does a good job at keeping the roost and dust out, though it’s slightly looser fitting around the foot than I’d personally select, letting a little bit of dirt through on the dustiest days.
The rubber on the sole has proved to be adequately durable, showing some wear from pedal pin contact when failing to clip in or entering and exiting the pedal, but not giving any cause for concern over their longevity. I tested a pre-production model on which the rubber flashing surrounding the mesh portions on the shoe upper lifted from the shoe, which etnies had already identified as an issue and subsequently added a line of stitches around the problem area, which should do the trick nicely. Otherwise the power strap and laces have held firm, there’s been no sign of sole separation or stitches popping, and they’re fit for continued use into the warmer months.
The Wolf’s Last Word
etnies’ first foray into the clipless shoe world has resulted in a well rounded shoe that’s particularly suitable for riders looking to take their flat pedal familiarity to the clip-in pedal world. With reasonable weather resistance without losing breathability, and a comfortable and grippy sole for the times where walking is required, the Camber CL is a versatile shoe that’ll suit many riders who aren’t seeking the stiffest sole.