While Northwave produce a range of road, touring and trail shoes, what we were sent to test was the latest XC race shoe - the Extreme XC.
Northwave are an Italian company, and actually do more than just shoes, with a range of clothing, and a separate branch of the company who do snowboard boots. Their MTB shoes arrived in 1993, and have been on the feet of champions ever since. Pezzo, Cippolini, Dahle-Fleesja, Evans, Boonen, Hermida... you know, handy riders. At home, you're likely to spy Northwave shoes on much of the Torq-Merida squad.
However, just because a brand chooses to sponsor a lot of riders, it doesn't mean they make a great product. Except in this case, Northwave do – they really do.
Following in footsteps of the previous top model the Extreme Tech, the Extreme XC has gained two very important updates. First, a full carbon fibre sole for absolute stiffness. And secondly, rubber sole lugs using Michelin rubber for sure-footedness on and off the bike.
Aimed at the consummate cross-country rider or racer, the Extreme XC shoes have a few interesting bits of tech going on. You can read them off their website, but it's actually putting the shoes on and riding in them that puts it all together.
The uppers are really low on seams and stitching, which has been done to reduce weight but there is also an appreciable difference in comfort too. Northwave haven't skipped the importance of durability, and even the toe bumpers and side guards are 'welded' on, giving protection and increased life. The instep and outer also have a surface designed to increase resistance to abrasion.
Northwave's 'Biomap' concept is that your foot is held in the right place. Well that seems obvious, but there are a few parts to that. Firstly, the upper has to suit your foot shape. I have a wide foot, and the dual dials and velcro strap gave a great fit that was a little tight across the forefoot for the first few rides, but settled nicely. The anti-slip heel insert keeps your foot in place admirably when pedalling hard or when you're off the bike and running. The 'Biomap' concept extends to the sole and cleat position too. The sole is made from unidirectional carbon fibre by Michelin, and laid thicker where it needs to be, and thinner where it can be. The rubber lugs are bonded on, and at varying densities to make sure they suit the task. Northwave have also made sure the cleat pocket is long enough, and the slots far back enough, to suit a variety of mounting requirements – there's also a visual guide to make it easier to get the cleats set up. You can mount two toe studs if your needs demand them.
The dial closures are similar to a BOA system, but feel better in use. You can dial them up quickly, but also release them just as easily – perfect for getting the fit perfect, and getting them off again quickly. The ratchets and cord are both replaceable.
The test of time
With a few dozen rides in the Extreme XC shoes I'm well impressed. All the above has made for a shoe that felt supremely secure once fitted, and it wasn't thought about whether I was training, racing, or enjoying a park up post ride. Northwave boast they are light, and they are a little lighter than XC90s, Fizik M5s and S-Works Evo shoes I had on hand. That's nice. But where the shoes excelled was both on the bike, and off. With a wide foot I was really pleased with the fit, and the reinforcements are really smart. But the feel of the rubber on the pedal made for a secure fit I have missed on recent shoe and pedal pairings. It offered a feeling of security that I haven't had with an XC race shoe and small bodied pedal for a long time.
Off the bike, the shoes also impressed. Even on wet rock the sole lugs gripped well, and the extra bight where the tread wraps over the front of the toe is excellent for kicking your toe in up a slope. As let's face it, if you're off the bike in an XC race shoe, you're not ambling around. The lugs aren't replaceable, and not many high end shoes have that as an option. But it would be great to see this as a possibility on more shoes on the market.
The shoes are as well-vented as most, but the majority is through the vented tongue, which should prove a more durable location than gaping mesh ports near the toes.
I was really impressed with the Northwaves, and they are a world apart to the Extreme Tech models I tried on a couple of years back. They also come in black or a camo orange, if green isn't your thing.
Fit, function and form
Excellent sole contact with the pedal
Stiffness and power transfer
Not everyone likes dial closures
They're an investment