I’ve been testing the Northwave Extreme RR shoes in a mix of weather and road conditions. Over the course of six months they’ve been through tough training camps, road races and even ‘mis-used’ in a gravel race! The last was not what they were designed for, but I wanted to see how they coped with harsh conditions.
What can the Northwave Extreme RR do differently than any other flagship shoe? What makes it an outstanding road shoe? Previously Northwave have taken a different approach when creating their shoes. Some of these innovations include bi-coloured shoes and the first Goretex cycling shoes. Their SLW2 dial, which at first glance appears to be another BOA-system and XFrame show they are still developing new ideas.
The Extreme RR are an ultralight race shoe, the Carbon 15 soles are ‘baked’ from 100% unidirectional carbon. I expected them to be flexible given the paper-thin sole, but I didn’t notice any undue flexing. This could be down to the fact I only weigh 58kg and so put less load on than an out-and-out sprinter! The thinness of the sole also results in a low stack height. This low stack height was noticeable and I had to adjust my saddle height to compensate.
The Extreme RR has a stiffness index of 15.0, the top of the Northwave scale. While it’s not a global standard, it gives you an idea of what to expect. Stiff soles, while great for power transfer, can be a pain on longer rides. I only noticed this on rides over five hours, but this could be down to my poor blood circulation in my feet. Northwave provide two adaptable dual density footbeds with the Extreme RR, one of which is for narrow feet.
On the comfort side I was intrigued by Northwave’s XFrame construction. The XFrame construction uses a web of 0.5mm material that helps remove pressure points. I was concerned that the XFrame and the thin sole would be too thin to prevent power loss or provide stability. I was proven wrong! Again I have point out that a heavier ride might have a different experience, but I didn’t experience any power loss, even while hammering hard out of the saddle.
The bonus of this thin material is a forgiving fit. It gives you a snug feel while still allowing you a small amount of wiggle room. It’s hard to explain as it sounds contradictory, but the bottom line is the XFrame was very comfortable, with no pressure points
The Northwave integrated heel system uses directional fibres to prevent heel slip. On the road I rarely experience heal retention issues (it is much more common off-road when a lot of running is involved), but I didn’t notice any with the Extreme RR.
I was curious as to why Northwave went to all the trouble of designing their own closure, rather than the established BOA system. Their system has a side button which has two options. Pressing down allows for incremental release, perfect for on the bike adjustments. Pulling up on the button releases all the tension at once, allowing you to open the shoe up. So Northwave have produced a closure that is micro adjustable while riding and can be released with a single button press.
It looks like the new SLW2 ratchet has been redesigned and the new shape sits comfortably against the foot. In case of an accident the ratchet is easily replaceable. The laces look to be durable and I have no doubt they will outlast the shoes! So while there isn’t a huge difference to BOA I’ll withhold my final judgement for now.
As I mentioned the Extreme RR comes with a choice of two footbeds. Both use a dual density design, one is for ‘normal’ feet, while the other is a high-volume version, for narrow feet. The latter includes and extra 2mm toe insert. I tried both and the difference is noticeable.
These shoes are insanely light at only 220g. Looking at its minimalistic construction I expected them to be light, but riding in them was an epiphany nonetheless!It’s also worth mentioning that they are compatible with Speedplay pedals: I use Look’s system so that’s given anyway, but it’s good to see the option is there.
On the comfort side again, while we didn’t have any extreme heat during the test period, the sole’s Airflow system with seven vents should provide enough air flow in and out of the shoe.
Summing up, I am fond of any kind of minimalistic design and simplistic construction, be it Northwave or other brands. If that fulfills the basic requirements of lightness, comfort, ventilation and robustness, I am all for this way of construction. I liked the snug fit which still allowed a bit of wiggle room, meaning no constriction was felt, even though the closure pulls around the entire foot from toe to instep.
I do see a rationale behind Northwave’s way of doing things differently. Admittedly I always assume there’s pressure for producers to show their engineering prowess, but it needs to provide a discernible advantage. With the Extreme RR Northwave have been able to prove that the added design and labour that have been expended were worthwhile.
Drawbacks? The only one that comes to mind is the cost. Is the price tag justified? Based on my experience, I would say yes. This is obviously a personal thing given the design and technologies that have gone into this shoe. In my experience Northwave produce products that are dependable, reliable and long-lasting, so you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
I enjoyed my time with the Northwave Extreme RR shoes and if costs aren’t your highest priority, they won’t let you down.
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