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Northwave Extreme Tech: Perhaps the Best Road Shoes You’ve Never Heard Of

Northwave. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but this Italian manufacturer has a cult following, including the soon-to-be-defunct Vacansoleil-DCM cycling team. Regardless of perceived popularity, though, after spending the past six months in a pair of its Extreme Tech road shoes, I now consider myself part of the cult—time to break out the Kool-Aid.

Like you, surely, my requirements for road shoes are pretty simple, yet hard to achieve in one package. Yes, I’m talking about the pentagon of perfection—light weight, rigidity, ventilation, comfort, and durability. And while I’m blessed to have a pretty normal sized foot, I’ve found difficulty in finding all of these elements in one shoe—the Giro Empire came close, but I found the heel slip intolerable. Gladly, and to my surprise, the Extreme Tech nailed it on all of these fronts.

At around 198 grams, these shoes are some of the lightest out there. That number should speak for itself, but if you need some comparison, that’s around 25 grams lighter than the Empires, without losing any of the retention hardware that you’re accustomed to. And, given that these are Speedplay-compatible, you stand to shed even more grams. At this weight, the Extreme Techs spin through the crank revolution without any added effort, but if you’re astute to stiffness-to-weight ratios, you’re probably thinking that this weight comes with a sacrifice of rigidity. Northwave will be happy to prove you wrong.

These shoes are stiff, like there’s absolutely no give on HC climbs kind of stiff. For the avid racer, this is obviously ideal, but for sake of honesty, it can be a bit overwhelming to the feet after 60 miles on the road—perhaps this is why Basso has always preferred the nylon matrix of the Sidi Genius 5? However, for criterium racing, long climbs, and hard sprints, we all know that rigidity is king. I feel that, while the outsole refuses to compromise for the sake of power transfer, the uppers of the shoe are where Northwave focused its energy in providing comfort.

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In my opinion, ventilation and comfort are one in the same when it comes to road shoes. Northwave incorporated plenty of perforation along the breathable microfiber upper, while also including its patented AirFlow system. Essentially, this system revolves around seven steel mesh ventilation ports along the bottom of the outsole—three around the toe box, two at the midsole, and two at the heel. This allows air to pass over the bottom of the foot, which keeps temperatures from getting too balmy inside of the shoe. Additionally, there are also four mesh ventilation ports along the upper—two at the inner-side, one at the outer-side, and one offset port along the toe box. Northwave also added a steel mesh over the tongue in order to increase ventilation over the top of the foot, while still providing a durable interface between the dial-closure laces. In other words, I’ve yet to feel hot in these shoes, but with the mercury dropping, I’m starting to feel cold. If I were to make one complaint, it’s that I didn’t care for the included insoles that are meant to complement the AirFlow system. I rode in them once, and thinking them too stiff, and frankly kind of like cardboard, I quickly replaced them with Giro Supernaturals. Nirvana.

As for the other aspect of comfort, I tend to look for dependable foot retention. The Extreme Techs have this in spades, while still remaining fairly minimalist in nature. There’s one proprietary dial-closure that’s reminiscent of the Boa L4, only this one hasn’t broken yet. Then, there’s also the standard ratcheting buckle with micro-adjusts. The tongue of the latter has a nice padding to it that’s neither overkill nor underwhelming. More importantly, though, I’ve yet to experience any kind of slippage. This is likely due to a combination of the closure, as well as the “cat’s tongue” feature in the heel cup. My feet feel well-planted and secure. And in terms of the micro-adjusts, having them for both the ratchet and the dial are welcome additions if your feet tend to swell over the course of a ride.

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In terms of durability at the uppers, this is a no-brainer. It simply doesn’t get more durable than microfiber. An added bonus to this is that the uppers wipe clean without water after a messy ride. The shoes are a little lacking in terms of walkability, as the toe’s rubber sits lower than flush with the outsole of the shoe. This means that your cleats are going to take the brunt of café walking, but the heel is relatively ample. This is a race shoe, after all.

Final thoughts? If you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of long-distance comfort for stiffness and light weight, these are the shoes for you—especially if you run Speedplays. The BioMap uppers are extremely conforming, breathable, and easy to maintain, while the closure system is impeccable for those who would rather forgo the risk of hotspots for which triple-closure retention systems are renowned. The included insoles are a little lackluster, but for those who already own heat-molded insoles or orthotics, this is of little concern. Overall, six months of heavy riding leave me feeling that these are about as close to perfect as I can hope for.