What's Cool In Road Cycling

Northwave Extreme Tech Shoe Review

Treviso, Italy’s Northwave heard my complaint about hot feet and decided to send a pair of their latest top line Extreme Tech shoes for review. Here’s to 114 degrees in Arizona!

Everyone reading PEZ know who Northwave are…

There’s no such thing as a cycling newb PEZ reader. If you’re here, there’s a better chance that you’re on your second decade in the saddle rather than on your second bike, so you know Northwave are an Italian company with their roots in the snow side, and Mr. Piva’s passion for cycling became the company’s perfect summer job.

Northwave have been pumping for 20 years making sunglasses and apparel, but for North America, Northwave are still best known for their shoes (to the tune of roughly 300,000 pair a year).

Northwave’s Extreme Tech is a jump ahead on several fronts for a brand that’s become a mainstay. One of the main features is fairly easy to note looking at the picture above.

Northwave have gone to an almost completely seamless upper that does away with the loads of stitching and overlapping material panels that you find on almost all other shoes.

Just about the only seam in the last is at the heel and in that case, the seam is pulling in the same direction as your foot shape versus pulling in towards the sides of your feet as is the case with many seams.

The upper material is a microfiber that is a strange combination of very soft feel and fairly free forming but also has virtually no stretch to it… It conforms easily to the shape of your feet as the fastening systems are closed but once there it’s very secure.

Ventilation for the uppers is a combination of several small perf holes in that seamless upper…

There’s also good ventilation in a well-padded tongue – something lots of companies should make a better effort at doing.

Part of the fastening system itself is new for Northwave.

The upper closure is a good combination ratcheting buckle that Northwave call the SBS.

Pull the large tab to take up several “clicks” of strap in tightening.

A small center button gives you a single click of fairly precise loosening adjustment with each press…

And the whole thing comes undone with a firm press of the main side release (snug shoe covers had no effect what so ever on these buttons when left alone, but the center button is easy to find for a click of loosening if you need to.)

Of course the entire main upper strap can be adjusted to center itself for folks of higher or lower arches…

The “Speed Lace” system (below) works very easily. Turn the knob to tighten and press that little metal red button to loosen.

Note the fairly dense padded and ventilated tongue.

Honestly I like this a little better than some other systems where you have to push or pull the whole knob to get it to work, but that’s just a personal pref thing. Most of these systems are a lot better than the coated metal wire / fishing line systems of a few years ago in both function and durability. (Northwave use a more costly Dyneema that is an extremely strong fiber that is also very light.)

Getting To The Bottom Of It
Arguably the larger advancements are at (or below) the Extreme Tech’s sole…

No big shock here that we’re talking carbon, but the notables are the venting and a few of the other rubber plugged holes.

What Northwave are getting right this time is in making sure the venting holes actually vent.

It all starts with making sure the holes are clear through to the inside of the shoe.

But that’s not all…

Finally someone is also paying attention to fact that air flow to the bottom of your feet might be affected by the insoles.

Northwave have properly vented the sole and insoles this go round.

And that goes for the green as well as standard Red inserts

This second set of insoles is notably thicker and more compliant with a touch more arch support.

All that said, if you’re one of many (if not virtually all) enthusiast or sporting level cyclists, you have aftermarket or custom inserts. I basically just took a drill to my custom foot beds and used a very thin bit to punch several holes around all of the vent openings. DO NOT punch one big hole like a friend of mine did. You won’t feel a bunch of little holes but a few large holes will catch you out…

The other notable holes are not for venting but for Speedplay pedal users in what is my choice for the best “added adaptor” system so far among stock shoes ( “added adaptor” meaning shoes that need a plate versus some that are now being made as Speedplay specific).

Northwave’s new Speedplay adaptor kit is sold separately but for those liking the super loose feel of Speedplay, this is a good kit.

It takes all of a minute to follow the very simple instructions…

You just swap the Speedplay hardware into the shoe bed in place of the standard 3 hole system…

You’ll mount the adaptor plates…

And you’ll come away with a Speedplay ready platform that is 90% thinner (just .3mm versus 3mm) than the standard Speedplay mount…

For three hole cleat users thinking about trying Speedplay but wanting the security of being able to go back to three hole, this is a great way to go…

Shoes are like saddles and other stuff that needs to fit… It’s pretty silly for a reviewer to either praise or pan based on fit. What’s left is to talk about features and general character.

The Northwave Extreme Techs are light… 483 grams the pair in 41.5.

The ET’s are reasonably stiff but do have a bit of sole flex. For custom fitted shoes, sole flex is a bad thing because the foot beds are perfect and the uppers are too, but for most folks, some sole flex is a good thing. These are plenty stiff so that you’re not feeling the pedal bolt points and you really don’t feel the shoe moving. The little bit of flex you get here is good for a little relief.

The closure system works well. The contacts hold firm and there’s no accidental / incidental button give with the design. The Speed lace works like it should in concert with the tongue to spread very even pressure on the lower section.

No seams and the right material work pretty well together. If your foot is the right shape for Northwave’s last (lots of folks will be) you’ll find a secure but fairly soft fit with no seem points to rub…

Ventilation is good. The ET’s could benefit from more and larger holes in the material, but ONLY in the case of the CREAMING heat here in Arizona. Even here, the sole venting rescues them and makes these comfortable on rides up to 100 degrees. Very frankly any shoes that vent better would do so at the cost of usability in the cooler temps that most folks have to deal with.

One thing that Northwave shoes of the past were known for is a bit of a wide toe box. Now the internet chat rooms are full of perpetuating that info, but like TONS of crap on the internet, folks that really don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground can sound informed by passing along out dated info, and other folks that don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground can “concur”. The Extreme Techs have a fairly roomy toe box but it’s not as large as some models from 3-4+ years ago.

Frankly I would guess a bit more normal width is a plus to more people than a minus because insole tech has been the largest improvement in feet in the past few years. LOADS of people used to get a bit more foot movement and relief from a wider toe box but that’s a half measure that isn’t as important with proper foot beds.

Finally, the quality of build here is excellent. The seamless upper (and a pretty clean design overall) means stitching is at a minimum anyway but there are no glue overspills, tiny gaps at the sole and upper joint, they’re basically perfect.

That build quality is also notable because several other top end shoes from well-established brands cost more. I’m seeing these for $299 and up online and that’s generally the realm of a few other brands 2nd or 3rd tier…

For more information you can hit up the Distributors for Northwave in the US, Vittoria Industries. They have these and a few other Great brands…

• Check prices and buy ’em online at Amazon.com.

Have Fun,

Charles Manantan
[email protected]

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