The reason why I buy cycling shoes in-store, and pay the premium for them, is to get a good fit. When Northwave asked me to review their Extreme Tech road cycling shoes I was concerned about sizing – I knew that I was a 44 in Shimano shoes and that I like a wide fit. I suggested sending an outline of my foot to Italy, just to get a perfect fit, but the Italians didn’t want an artistic interpretation of my feet and sent over size 43 1/2 shoes which looked superb and fit like a dream.
The family owned Italian company got the name Northwave after purchasing a US windsurfing company who had started making snowboard boots. Northwave still make snowboard gear and in the mid 90’s built a solid reputation in Europe for their MTB and then road cycling shoes. This is a brand that doesn’t shy away from loud designs, and the company history includes shoeing the flamboyant Mario Cipollini who made the Evolution shoe famous.
Out of the box the matt black Extreme Tech shoes are elegant – they reek style. If you want loud, there is also a bright orange and yellow version, the type that Cipollini would wear, but that’s not for me. The shoe is made from single microfiber upper,has no superfluous stitching, and is finished with modern graphics that lend a very high quality finish. The reflective N W (letter) graphics on the outside edges of each shoe is a really good touch. In your hands the cycling shoes are light and the vented carbon fibre sole is very stiff.
To get a good fit on your feet the Extreme Tech model incorporates two fastening systems. The Step-By-Step ratchet is simply practical, it tightens as you would expect but loosening it also Step-By-Step – at the press of a button, which is incorporated into the mechanism, you can loosen incrementally, which is just the way it should be when you are riding and want to make a micro-adjustment. To release the buckle completely when you take off the shoes, you don’t have to ratchet all the way out; a release button allows it to slide open. The strap itself also comes with further adjustability to allow the entire strap to be positioned exactly center over the ankle, so can accommodate different feet shapes.
The second fastening mechanism is the Speed Lace Winch System with a dial to tighten laces and a button to release. It is a set and forget type fastener and once I had worn-in the shoes I never needed to adjust while riding. Loosening it can be done with one hand, though it is a little fiddly – you press the button while turning the dial. The advantages of this level of adjustability is being able to have an ultra-perfect fit, for when you are going for gold and want to eliminate any chance of movement.
The shoes are supplied with two different innersoles which are part of the Northwave Biomechanical Mapping concept upon which the shoes are designed. The idea is to provide a better anatomical fit. I started with the thin soles, which were more responsive, but after a month of riding moved to the thicker innersoles, which were a more comfortable fit. I would expect performance orientated cyclists may opt for the thinner insole, though each foot is different and it is a matter of testing to see what suits best.
To checkout the quality of the shoe construction, I took a peak under the hood – removing the innersoles revealed a well built shoe. There is little excess glue around the mesh air-vents and a permanent liner ensures that there is not the mess of glue and carbon fibre that you see in some other top level cycling shoes.
The Extreme Tech shoes accommodate both speedplay and three bolt pedal system cleats. I was running SPD-SLs cleats and was able to set them up correctly the first time, though I would have liked more markings on the bottom of the shoes to more easily align to the right horizontal and vertical position.
Northwave promote even more features than described here, such as wood infused carbon fibre soles; you can read more about the details of these features and learn the tech acronyms on their website. My favourite feature is inside the shoe at the heel, a metallic type fabric that feels great to touch (the same kind of joy as popping bubble wrap) but more importantly is grippy and your heel is simply not going to slip.
These shoes are not cushy, but unlike my older (and cheaper) Shimano cycling shoes, the Northwave Extreme Tech’s provide support in all directions; they will not allow me to slip and my foot won’t move around once securely inside. Without soft cushy padding, my feet are better off at the end of the ride and I found this difference quite remarkable.
The stiff carbon sole is like night and day when compared to a plastic sole. This meant that the deficits of my SPD-SL pedals were revealed immediately, so I adjusted the tension but was no longer satisfied with the yellow floating cleats (which allow some sideways movement) – rather wanted the red fixed cleats to eliminate all movement and increase power transmission.
I was able to avoid wet weather riding while testing, but through the occasional light drizzle and riding over wet patches, my feet remained dry and any muck was easily removed with a rag. The temperature of my feet while riding was good in both hot and cold riding conditions; no complaints there.
Are they any good?
I won’t lie, I have really fallen for these cycling shoes. They are a massive improvement over my previous shoes and, not being a performance cyclists, top level cycling shoes are an investment I wouldn’t normally make. If you are already riding top level shoes, the improvements will not be quite as dramatic, however these are shoes that will suit competitive cyclists and cyclists that ride long distances.
If performance perfection is crucial, custom innersoles can bring you pretty close to the performance benefit of a custom moulded shoe.
Recreational cyclists may find the fit of the Extreme Tech shoes too edgy and prefer more padding and a relaxed fit. My only problem was potentially scuffing the shoes and leaving these Italian crafted cycling shoes in something less than a pristine condition. Scratches and marks are inevitable though, but the breathable shoe bag supplied helped to keep the cycling shoes well stored when off the bike.
The Northwave Extreme Tech road cycling shoes are available from Australian bicycle shops for RRP $349, and there is also a MTB version of the Extreme Tech. Northwave have a new PLUS model which has no ratchet fastener and incorporates two compact Speed Lace Winch System dials to tighten and loosen the laces. More Info: www.northwave.com