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Northwave Extreme Tech MTB shoe >> $280
The lowdown: Stiff, colorful mountain bike shoe that accommodates wider feet
Pros: Light and stiff with great style
Cons: Overly roomy toe box (potentially a pro depending on foot shape)
Finding the perfect shoe can be like finding the ideal mate. Most people have a checklist of criteria that must be met in order to achieve that special connection. When it comes to shoes it’s all about fit, performance, style and light weight. After riding in Northwave’s Extreme Tech MTB shoes, it is clear that they check nearly every box.
The zenith of Northwave’s collection, at $280, the Extreme Tech employs a unique closure system with a super-stiff sole, aiming them straight at the serious cross-country racer. Northwave shoes have notoriously had a wide fit, on par with other manufacturers’ wide-width shoes. Riders with wide feet often turned to Northwave for high-end, Italian–made shoes of comparable quality to a brand like Sidi, but with a more accommodating fit.
The fit of the Extreme Techs is slimmed down significantly compared to previous models, but remains on the wide end of the spectrum. They seem to run large by about half a size — if you’re normally a 43, go for a 42.5. A pair weighs in at 365 grams, comparable to other high-end mountain models.
The Speedlight Carbon 3D sole is extremely stiff and efficient. While the sole suits fast cross country riding well, the carbon-reinforced shank under the cleat holes makes this sole too stiff for someone who spends a lot of time hiking off the bike. Cyclocross racers will also probably find this sole too unforgiving. But cyclists who want every ounce of energy transferred to their pedals will love the uncompromising stiffness.
There are removable toe spikes that add grip, but the rest of the tread isn’t replaceable, which is a feature many hard-core Sidi fans love on shoes like the Spider and Dragon, as well as the new Drako.
The best part of this shoe is the closure system. The S.B.S. (Step-By-Step) buckle ensures that the upper strap adjusts securely around the anklebone. A cleverly designed release button allows you to control the pressure of the buckle while riding. The retention system can be adjusted so the strap centers perfectly on the upper part of the foot, regardless of foot girth and width, allowing the system to successfully accommodate a wide range of foot shapes.
Northwave’s proprietary Speed Lace Winch closure system snugs down the mid foot with a few clicks of the Boa-esque dial. A quick release button loosens the laces, allowing one to make adjustments on the fly if necessary.
The ultra-light upper is well-ventilated with minimal stitching. There are four mesh ventilation zones to keep air flowing: two located on the medial side, one on the lateral side and one over the toes.
A durable, rubberized material at the front of the shoe over the toes offers some protection from rocks, but the Extreme Tech is more about saving weight than protecting your feet from debris. The material on the inside of the heel feels like soft sharkskin when touched against the grain to hold your heel snugly in place.
The style took some getting used to. They look like an unripe, neon pumpkin with the interwoven green and orange colors. But with more ride time came a growing affection for the garish colors. They don’t match anything we usually ride in, from kit to bikes, but in an ironic, hipster sort of way that makes them “match” with everything.
Different is almost always good, so Northwave gets props for standing out. The shoe is also available in a more modest black and white for the less adventurous.
The Extreme Tech MTB shoes are aptly named. With the profusion of technology built in, the question was whether they would perform as well on the trail as they looked on paper.
After several test rides, the answer was a resounding “yes.” All the features come together to form a well-rounded shoe with a stiff sole, innovative closure system and flashy graphics that will surely get some attention — and deservedly so.