Northwave has a new flagship shoe, and given its “Yellow Fluo” color option, it’s hoping cyclocrossers, gravel racers and mountain bikers will take notice.
The Extreme XC model might have the two letters backwards in most of our readers’ minds, but the Italian cycling and snowboard footwear manufacturer aims to keep you surging forward and looking back only for your riding buddies with its high performance shoe. Today we're taking our in-review look at our latest test shoe.
The Michelin Man Gets Extreme
Everything about the shoe, even the neon color, seems to be consistent with the name and shouts extreme. The carbon sole is ultra stiff, there are minimal tread lugs, the exterior is heavily armored and there are a plethora of features to secure your foot.
The Extreme XC, largely based on the Northwave's Extreme road model, adds name brand traction from Michelin in the form of a Hyperlight sole. Think the Michelin Man is soft? Think again. This unidirectional carbon sole is really stiff. Think a cyclocross shoe should offer plenty of toe flex for run-ups? This shoe isn’t for you (although the X-Project might be). Pedaling efficiency is the goal, not hike-a-bike comfort. That’s just as well, as the sole isn’t dressed for a long hike anyway.
Although Michelin adds grippy “Dual Layers Compound Technology,” what Northwave describes as “atom-by-atom bonded softer and harder compounds to increase flexibility, stability and adherence,” there aren't many of the tread blocks to weigh you down, leaving much of the slippery carbon sole exposed.
It’s not all for naught though, as there are some weight savings. The size 45 pair was 700 grams, on par with the laced Giro Empire VR90, and about 80 grams lighter than a Mavic Crossmax SL Ultimate shoe, but a whopping 250 grams lighter than the last Northwave kicks we tested, the Aerlite SBS.
An Extreme Foothold
Think the carbon stiffness equals lots of heel slip? Northwave’s “No-slip Heel” uses a directionally-oriented fiber to line the heel that allows for easy foot entry but fights heel slip. We first saw this type of material on Shimano’s flagship mountain bike shoe, and initial rides of the Extreme XC reveal it’s effective.
Ready to see if the slipper fits? Thankfully, the company’s “micrometric” wire-based closure system, called S.L.W. 2 (Speed Lace Winch), opens wide. Lift the little lever and the dial releases all the cable you want. Push it once, and it releases just a bit. Tightening, as with all dials, is done through a simple turn. It’s effective and easily adjustable while riding, but opening wide is a two finger if not a two-hand step.
If the dial-adjusted shoe doesn’t fit, don't quit. Northwave has two more options for you, if you can handle black as your only option. The black model comes in slim and wide fit options. There are typically slim pickings in cycling if you’ve got a narrow foot, making Northwave's slim fit an attractive option if you're normally swimming in shoes meant for pedaling. However, the “normal” width option has plenty of adjustment that seems to accommodate our low-volume hoofs quite well. If you don’t need a slim or wide option, the Extreme XC also comes in a camo/green color option.
Aiming for Upper-End Durability
The top-end shoe retails for $349. That’s a lot of coin to spend even if the fit is dialed. Will it last? Northwave has protected much of the shoe, with black, rubberized armor up front near the toes. The sides of the shoe are protected by a translucent, textured material to guard your investment. The armor is thermowelded to the upper, a process that the company says reduces weight over glue or stitching.
While the uppers are protected, the sole's lugs are not replaceable like the lugs on Sidi's top models. Should the shoes last longer than a pair of cleats (at this price, they should) and one of our eight steps helps you remove your old cleats, Northwave makes installing new cleats easier with a built-in ruler to help guide cleat placement (if the sole does not offer obvious indentations from the old cleats). Unlike with other carbon-soled shoes like those from Mavic, Northwave does not require nor include metal sole protectors to cover the carbon sole.
All Road or Do It All?
Many of us have offseason fat tire habits, flat bars or not, and four-time mountain bike World Champion and two-time World Cup winner Jolanda Neff is said to rock these shoes as she floats over the rocks. Although modern UCI cross country mountain bike racing has very few off-the-bike sections, Northwave-sponsored Neff and the Radon, Focus and Ghost Factory XC teams have confirmed the minimal tread and stiff sole can handle top-level racing.
Might the Extreme XC shoe, with its stiff, efficient sole, minimal tread and light weight be an ideal “all road” or gravel shoe? We’ve seen gravel bikes, tires and even clothing, and so why not shoes? As long as your gravel ride doesn’t have epic mud that tests your portage ability, perhaps this shoe has all the tread and flex you need, without the grams you don't want.
Time on the bike will tell how the shoes will do in all cyclocross conditions, but we’re imagining the Extreme XC might be better suited to fast gravel rides and races, mountain biking and drier cyclocross events, not epic mud or snow unless you want to start drilling in some machine screws. The shoe does offer the option for toe spikes, but they are not included.
Stay tuned as we give the Northwave Extreme XC an extreme test. Depending on Mother Nature, it could be a while.
Northwave Extreme XC Mountain Bike / Cyclocross Shoe Specs:
Sizes: 36-49, half sizes between 39.5-45.5, slim, normal and wide width options
Weight: 700g pair, size 45
Colors: Yellow Fluo, Black, and Green/Black Camo
More info: northwave.com