Shoes aren’t just about comfortably and efficiently connecting your foot to your pedal. They’re also rotating mass. So any gram savings here pays dividends over the long haul. Tyler and Rob both tested the Northwave’s Extreme RR shoes through various conditions, with Rob’s pair seeing close to 2,000 miles beginning in the heat of the Florida summer to New Year’s Day, 2018, including rides up to 100 miles in length.
Northwave’s Extreme RR shoe is a top-of-the-line, light weight, stiff soled racing/performance road shoe. It is available in matte black with neon yellow accents (tested), the reverse (neon yellow with black), white with touches of red, and in sizes from 34-50 with half sizes between 39.5 and 45.5. Rob’s review pair were size 44.5, Tyler’s were 47.
That these are stiff soled shoes is apparent before you even throw a leg over your bike and begin to pedal; you need only take a step or two to notice the lack of give. Block lettering on the reinforced, unidirectional carbon sole, exclaiming in all caps “FULL CARBON ULTRA” and “15 STIFFNESS INDEX” would seem to indicate Northwave (hereafter “NW”) is pretty pleased with this feature – and well they should be.
It is unclear whether “15” is the top of NW’s stiffness index – but if you call to mind the amplifier in Spinal Tap that goes to “11” – you’re getting the right picture of just how stiff these shoes are.
The carbon sole sports the standard three hole cleat interface, but according to NW, is also “Speedplay adapter compatible.” We used Shimano Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedals and matching cleats. There are seven vents in the sole from stem to stern for cooling – more on these later.
In the box, besides the shoes, NW provides a shoe bag and two pair of insoles, standard and high volume, both with the same arch and metatarsal support.
NW calls these Pro Regular Fit and Pro Slim Fit, though neither are labeled as such. In any instance, the only difference is that the former/high volume pair are 2mm thicker under the ball of the foot and the toes.
Front vents are aided by scoops to get air into the shoe, and rear vents give it somewhere to go. All are protected by mesh, and the insole’s perforations are positioned over the vents.
Throughout the upper are many small perforations for breathability.
The shoe is constructed from a single piece upper, with the exception of a separate heel cup. This cup is lined with directional fibers designed to keep one’s heel from rising off the foot bed – a nice touch.
Built into the single piece upper is NW’s “Xframe” technology: essentially a series of narrow to broad criss-crossing straps within the upper which anchor the “textile loops” through which the laces of the “Speed Lace Winch” system run. This is NW’s bold move – getting rid of the plastic lace guides found in many other cycling shoes – and they pull it off exceptionally well.
The speed lace winch (NW’s “SLW2”) is a fascinating bit of efficient engineering – a single dial to tighten the whole shoe, plus a small lever providing “micrometric” easing of the lace tension through small pushes, or with a full pull, total release.
Those are the features, retail is around $399 (street price may be lower). So, how do they perform?
Rob’s Extreme RR Review
Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but everything about these shoes is stiff and/or snug. My initial feeling was that the stiff sole was going to be a huge boon to my riding and that proved out – I love these shoes. But I also worried that perhaps the shoe itself was a half-size too small, so snug was the upper. Over the course of a couple thousand miles of riding, I learned a lot about these shoes:
The initial out-of-the box snugness of fit is not going to yield much over time. The review pair gave just a smidge, and happily, that was enough to reach a comfort level that has allowed me to make these my everyday road shoes. My advice: at least try on one half-size above what you would normally wear and go for what feels snug, but not tight.
The vents in the sole work surprisingly well. During hard hot rides this past summer, when the wind was right, I could feel air blowing under my toes. Nice!
The matte black shoes, to my eye, don’t show dirt very much. Here’s a photo of the unwashed review pair after all those miles, post rain ride.
The neon yellow highlights on the black shoes are highly-visible in low-light conditions.
Old habits die hard. After many years of using other lace retention systems, I have not found on the fly adjustments to lace tension using NW’s system intuitive while riding. However, nor have I needed to make adjustments very often. An added plus, taking these shoes off is a breeze – pull the lever full open and yank-shoe-off-foot or pull-lace-with-other-hand. This is very nice, especially after brutal beat down rides where all you want to do is get inside your home and sit, on the floor next to the fridge, favorite post-ride beverage in hand.
The heel pads are wearing out pretty quick and the small bolt that holds them in place is shot. But these shoes are light, even with 4 months of grime and cleats on, they weigh in at just 605 grams.
These shoes have been my primary road shoes since the summer and will be my number one choice into the future. They are light, stiff, and snug, without being uncomfortable to wear. The matte finish keeps them looking less dirty than they actually are and they have held up well under a variety of conditions.
Tyler’s Extreme RR Review
For me, ultimate stiffness isn’t as much of a concern as weight. These are light, which makes them my go-to shoes for press trips (lighter carry-on weights) and general riding (because lightweight is awesome). That wouldn’t matter if they weren’t comfortable, but they deliver there, too. Long days (4+ hours) in the saddle are just as pleasant as short 90 minute workout rides. Regardless of whether we were cruising along or stomping out sprints, the shoes treated my feet right.
Actual weight for my size 47 shoes were 281g each. Whether that exact match shows excellent quality control or just luck is up for debate, but they’ve held up well for a lot of months and miles. Mine have a few scuffs at the toe, but otherwise look virtually good as new. I’ll mirror Rob’s sentiment that the matte finish keeps them looking good even when dirty. My only gripe with the cosmetics is the day-glow yellow/green. While eye-catching, ti also makes it really hard to match with other kits. Replacing the green with white would make it more universal and still provide stark, eye grabbing contrast. Maybe even make the white reflective…hint, hint.
What surprised me was the temperature range in which they were comfortable. A couple of rides started early and cold, only to finish hot and sunny. Across that spectrum they stayed comfortable, and the sleek upper and slim form factor make it really easy to slide shoe cover on when needed.
The upper does a fantastic job of uniformly securing the foot without pressure points. It sometimes took a couple miles of riding for the lace to full settle, then a couple extra clicks to re-snug everything finished the ride fine. At first glance it seems odd to fully develop and manufacture a competitor to BOA, but Northwave’s system provides that unique dual release mode that has a real world benefit.
Article written in conjunction with Gravel Cyclist. Jayson O’Mahoney is the Gravel Cyclist: A website about the Gravel Cycling Experience. Many thanks to our guest reviewer, Rob Robins.