After extensively debating whether skiing or snowboarding is better… I decided to stick with snowboarding. Before I went to Tignes this year I changed my bindings from the Burton Cartels (El Habano) to the Drake Mikey LeBlancs. I’ve been meaning to review this change ever since I returned, so here it is:
Why did I change my bindings?
That’s a good question. Here are the reasons:
- I thought that the Drake MLBs would be more freestyle orientated, specifically a lower high-back
- The Drake MLBs looked like less ‘fuss’ than the Cartels. There was something about the ratchets on the Cartels that bothered me, the heel gasket got in the way and I didn’t like the clip that holds the high back in place (one of them was always a little loose)
- I wanted to try something different
How did the bindings compare?
Performance-wise, I didn’t really notice any change. The high-back is a little lower on the MLBs but this didn’t seem to register. Neither did any difference in respective weights. I was hoping for a little more lateral-leeway, for tweaking, but I didn’t notice anything different here. The Cartels always felt a bit ‘plasticy’ in hand (funny that, given they are made of plastic) – flimsy somehow. On the other hand the MLBs felt a little more solid in-hand… however, this difference didn’t come through when riding. Both bindings seemed to ride like “good quality” bindings should and they did the job.
Less Fuss? Yep, the MLBs are a simpler binding. The ratchets felt good and worked nicely. No alignment-adjustment on the high-back. No heel gasket to stop snow getting in. A high back that can be easily pushed down flat.
What’s wrong with these features you may ask? Let’s start with the alignment-adjustment on the high-back. In principle, having the high-back line up with the edge of the board is a good idea: more responsive to your movements. But in practice it tended to loosen off when I set it up the way I wanted. An extra adjustment also gave the impression of a weaker binding. I never detected a benefit. The heel gasket to keep the snow out was really good – but it could do with some refinement. It wasn’t long before the cup wasn’t sitting snug, and was squashed out of the back. This was a little annoying. What’s wrong with the high-back clip? Well, I’m sick of low hanging chairlifts catching the top of my binding as I get on… it’s handy if you can just knock your high-back down out of the way.
Base plates. One thing that worried me about the MLBs was the inserts in the base plates. They’re the type that don’t have separate holes for each screw (see picture). I always thought that they would slide around. In contrast I really like the definite holes on the Burton plates. Solid. However, the MLB bindings never moved. It was never a problem.
Comfort – this is what sets the two bindings apart. I don’t like to diss the MLBs, but in comparison to the Cartels they were uncomfortable. Even in my extremely comfortable DC boots. The Burton Capstrap owns. It’s simple really, with the cap strap you don’t ever squash your toes; no pain and no pins and needles. It’s not just the cap strap though, the Cartels have an ankle strap that is shaped to fit around the ankle – the superstrap. I don’t think this is a gimmick… it really makes a difference by distributing the pressure. The MLB ankle strap is kinda-flat, so when I cranked them up they made my foot ache.
Maybe I have my bindings too tight? Maybe I’m being a wimp? Maybe it’s just me and other people experience these bindings in a different way. But that’s the point, in my opinion the Cartels easily outscore the MLBs when it comes to comfort. If I sat around waiting on the hill I had to loosen off the straps…
Well the MLBs are quite a bit cheaper (in the region of $40 I think, and more if you get the suede El Habanos). I think they ride just as well, and to me they’re a more user-friendly binding with a no-nonsense feel to them. Also, they’re not Burton which may appeal to some people (I’m not one of them though).
But the comfort is a big factor – it made more of a difference that I expected.
So what am I riding now? Well, I’m sticking with the MLBs. I like the overall feel of the binding, they look sick and I can put up with the periods of discomfort for a little while longer (I should point out that you only really notice the discomfort when you stop :-).
What would I advise a friend to buy if spending a little extra money wasn’t an issue? Get the Burton Missions. I’ve ridden the Missions (before the Capstrap) and they’re really good. You’ll get both the capstrap and a nicely shaped ankle strap (it’s only the Luxstrap, not the Superstrap though!) and save some money.
So tell me again why you’re not going back to the Cartels?
I don’t have the choice – I sold them to my dad really cheap! D’oh