Northwave boast 60 models of cycling shoes across all the key styles of cycling. Back in 1993, the Italian brand already had a decade of experience making snowboard boots when the release their first cycling shoes for mountain biking. They attracted attention and popularity following sponsorship of world champion MTB riders Alessandro De Bertolis and Paola Pezzo. Australia’s own Cadel Evans (who began his cycling career on the mountain bike) and the flamboyant Italian Mario Cipollini have featured as Northwave athletes.
For this review, the Australian Northwave importer, BikeSportz Imports provided the choice between the Northwave Sonic 2 Plus which retails for $199.95 RRP and the Northwave Evolution Plus which is are $279.95. This price difference reflects the specifications of each model and as the review title confirms, I chose to review Sonic 2 Plus.
Northwave Sonic 2 Plus
Northwave Evolution Plus
Two factors helped me decide, firstly the Sonic 2’s are cheaper and so are automatically accessible to a far larger group of road cyclists. Secondly, these shoes appear to be breathable, a feature called the AirFlow System. Compared with a more traditional ‘closed’ upper, I wanted to find out if these shoes will suit riders who suffer from hot feet and provide a balance between comfort and performance.
To get it out of my system, I will refrain from including nifty references in the review to Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Youth, Stereosonic or Sonic Booms. But believe me, it has been hard work to keep this groan-free.
The Size is Right!
You will find a wide range of variation between different brands of cycling shoes when it comes to sizing. I already ride with Northwave cycling shoes in size 43.5 (a half size) though the Australian distributer, BikeSportz Imports stocks only whole sizes so I opted for a size 43.
The European trend is to construct shoes for super models with long and thin feet. I don’t fit that profile and have slightly wider feet which means that lateral comfort is crucial even if this means it is a little longer. Northwave have a reasonable foot-profile for their shoe sizing and while they are not ‘wide’ shoes, I can get a good fit without entering ‘clown feet’ territory.
The size 43 for the Sonic 2 Plus is borderline for me. After removing the standard insole and replacing it with my custom heat mould sole, it is a close fit so thick winter socks are ruled out.
Regular insole for the Sonic 2 Plus
The shoe upper for the Sonic 2 Plus is microfiber has a number of vents and covered with mesh. This is the AirFlow System which Northwave describe as a ‘Multilayer Thermowelded Construction’. It is compliant and form-fitting, the flexible upper doesn’t create stiff-spots that you can get with one-piece uppers. To compare I tried the Evolution Plus for size and while they are a comfortable fit – the upper was noticeably stiffer.
The Sonic 2 shoes come in four variations, each with the same AirFlow system (and upper) but have the following differences:
Sonic 2 – 3 Velcro straps with the NRG Sole
Sonic 2 SRS – 1 Ratchet and 2 velcro straps with the NRG Sole
Sonic 2 Plus – 1 SLW Dial and 1 velcro strap with the NRG Sole
Sonic 2 Carbon – 1 SLW Dial and 1 velcro strap and the Carbon Light Sole
The Sonic 2 Plus fastening system has a dial and a velcro strap on each shoe. Dials are great as they are compact, easy to use and they look cool. Northwave call their dial system the Speed Lace Winch (SLW), you tighten the shoe by turning the dial, you can release incrementally by pressing down on a lever or release the lace completely by pulling back on the lever. My current Northwave shoes have the previous Speed Lace Winch design and the new design is a big improvement as they are more intuitive. I really like the ability to back-off the tightness incrementally which riding because it is feature I need when riding longer distances. I can easily adjust by pressing the lever and get a reassuring ‘click’ each time as the laces back-off a notch.
Dial to tighten, press to back off 1 notch, pull to release completely
The velcro makes sure your toes don’t slip out
Beautiful detail in the lacing system
The Northwave Sonic 2 Plus has the NRG Air carbon reinforced sole; a nylon sole, reinforced with fiberglass and ‘enriched’ with carbon. To put this into perspective, entry level road cycling shoes typically feature a full nylon sole. The next level are composite soles with Nylon and fiberglass or carbon fiber for re-enforcement. Top level road cycling shoe are typically made with full carbon fiber soles.
The Sonic 2 Plus is a mid-range shoe, short fiberglass strands are added to the nylon to increase stiffness along with powdered carbon… as opposed to carbon fibre strands. I think the carbon mostly makes it sound good.
The sole includes some air vents covered with wire mesh to keep the shoe breathable. This particular model caters for 3-bolts cleats so is directly compatible with Shimano SPD-SL and Look Keo style cleats. Unlike some of the higher range Northwave shoes such as the Evolution plus, the Sonic 2 Plus doesn’t have ‘native’ compatibility for the 4-bolt Speedplay pedal system. That simply means that if you are fitting Speedplay cleats, you need use the 3-bolt adapter (supplied by Speedplay).
Sonic 2 Plus sole is 3 bolt hole in the Nylon composite sole
In comparison, cycling shoes such as the Evolution Plus have 3 bolt and 4 bolt compatibility
Speedplay Walkable cleats fitted
This shoe has an invisible feature called the Integrated Heel System. This is a robust insert placed underneath the fabric that cups heel of your foot. I was able to compare this with four other pairs of cycling shoes I own. (Yes, I know).
Cycling shoes constructed with a single-piece leather upper already tended to be stiff. Shoes with soft or multi-part uppers are more pliable. A pair of basic Shimano cycling shoes have no real heel support and one reason I rarely wear them is that they are prone to heel-slip. Another brand of shoes also had a heel insert though the Sonic 2 was more rigid. The end-effect is that the Sonic 2 cycling shoes hold your heel comfortably and still at the heel.
Sonic on the Road
These cycling shoes are available in a black or white version, for review the black was a good choice as they are a better match for my cycling kit and also appear cleaner for much longer. For many other Northwave models, they go all-out and provide a loud and colourful version as well as a subtly styled version so you can choose the one which matches your personality.
On the bike the fit was comfortable, I used my heat moulded G8 insoles which automatically provide a great footbed and arch support. Speedplay cleats were setup by my bike fitter so I was off to a great start.
Once clipped-in I felt connected. After a few rides the word that comes to mind in describing these shoes is ‘balance’. I am not competing against yellow jersey contenders so am not concerned with ultimate performance, but appreciated that these shoes could hold-their-own and let me pump raw power through the pedals. The Sonic 2 Plus shoes balance of comfort and performance so are right at home for long distance Audax or Gran Fondo’s as well as the bunch ride with your friends.
What about the breathability? I don’t suffer from hot feet but what I noticed is that after a ride when I took of the shoes, everything was fresher. Though I didn’t perceive a cooling effect while cycling, the AirFlow system was certainly working for sweat dissipation. With icy cycling temperatures, yes, my feet will start to get cold but I am also wearing good quality socks and toe-caps over the shoes so am not the first to complain about numb feet.
The supplied insole is built for breathability
More vents than your average cycling shoe
If I could change anything about these shoes, I would also use a replaceable heel stud rather than an in-moulded heel stud to give you an option to replace it if you tend to walk around a lot with your cycling shoes.
Sonic 2 in-moulded heel stud
For comparison, the Evolution Plus replaceable heel stud
Do you or don’t you
Northwave are a trusted Italian brand and their experience in shoe design mean that they are a reliable choice for cycling shoes. The Sonic 2 Plus road cycling shoes balance performance and comfort making them ideal for long distance cycling but also suitable for aspiring cyclists tackling short and medium distances. Performance cyclists are better served with Northwave shoes models such as the Extreme, Evolution and Torpedo with stiffer uppers and full-carbon soles.
The Sonic 2 Plus road cycling shoes are available from bike shops across Australia at a recommended retail of $199.95. The Dealer Locator on the BikeSportz Imports website will help you locate your closest Bike Shop with Northwave cycling shoes.