If you don't wear road road shoes and cleats but don't fancy the standard off-road shoe, looking like a trainer on steroids and with a sole only marginally stiffer than a stale pizza, then you might be in the market for Northwave's Touring shoes. Actual road style shoes, stiff enough to make pedalling a pleasure, some give in the toes to allow you to walk and a built up rubber sole that stops you from executing groin mangling cleat-on-marble splits at the first cafe stop. Ideal for touring, audaxing or just regular sport/leisure riding and of course, commuting.
It's a pretty slim niche, although one that appears to be growing, and the benchmarks are the Shimano RT81s that I tested last year and have been wearing ever since. These Northwaves are in a similar ball-park, pricewise, but do they measure up?
They certainly look the part, all in black, with white and grey highlights. Closure is a three strap velcro affair. That's a bit of a disappointment, ratchet closures allow for much easier adjustment (it's what the RT81 has) but to be fair, there are shoes a lot spendier than these which make do with three strips of humble velcro, so it's hard to mark them down for it.
Where they do fall down is in the base. They only take two bolt cleats, normal for touring shoes and I usually run Crank Bros pedals, which have a pretty flat cleat, much like those used on Time ATACs. It's a common enough type of cleat and ideal for touring, audaxing and all those things that this shoe is designed for. Sadly, they don't mix that well. The problem is that the cleat bolts protrude so far into the base of the shoe that they poke you firmly in the foot. It's like having a pebble permanently wedged in your shoe and it's bloody annoying. Switching to shorter bolts and shimming the cleat helped a bit, enough to get me through a 200k audax, but I could still feel them. In the end I swapped my pedals for SPDs, which have a much deeper cleat and hide the bolts better. You could also get round this issue by swapping out the very thin and frankly, rather rubbish, insole for something a little sturdier. I checked with the distributor and they told me that they'd never come across this problem before, but it's worth bearing in mind.
Bolt woes aside they're quite comfy. Not on a par with the comfy-as-slippers RT81s, but I've been wearing those for over a year and they've been thoroughly broken in. Fit is on the narrow side, but I do have wide hobbit feet and these were fine through a solid 8 hours in the saddle. Where they do score a point over the RT81s is the 'airflow system' which is a grand term for 'bits of mesh'. They're pleasingly breezy, which is nice on warm days. Possibly not so great in the cold, but if that's the case, wear thicker socks.
I was slightly underwhelmed by these shoes. They do a job, the sole is nice and stiff and they're much easier to walk in than regular road shoes. Against that you have the niggly cleat bolt/insole problem (which may not affect everybody) and for me a sense that they simply aren't as good as the Shimano RT81s, despite costing the same – although shop around and you can find them cheaper than the list price. In the end, like pretty much every other bit of kit that provides a contact point between you and your bike shoes fall in to the try before you buy category - one man's meat is another's poison...not that I found these poisonous. If your feet are narrower and you use Shimano SPDs these might be much more your thing and more of a match up with the Shimano RT81s. I'll stick with my RT81s though.
Reasonable touring/audax shoe, but cleat compatibility is a potential nuisance if your pedals aren't Shimano SPDs
road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Touring shoes
Size tested: 43
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
"This sole (Touring Sole) is designed and built for touring. Extremely lightweight, but stiff when necessary and incredibly comfortable. Ideal for anyone who is looking for the right support on a cycling tour, as well as a sole that's easy to walk on."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Upper with mesh inserts
3 straps closure system
Ultra Y heel
Performance Advanced footbed"
Shame they don't have a better insole.
Heavier than the Shimano shoe, but hardly a lump.
That's a 7 with SPD cleats. With Crank Bros cleats they'd be a 3.
Well made, but with flaws. I'd want a decent discount before I bought these.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Not bad, but not great either.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Looks and ventilation
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Bolts and the horrid insoles.
Did you enjoy using the product? Mostly
Would you consider buying the product? If it was discounted, yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? As above.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Either use these with SPDs or be prepared to buy replacement insoles.
About the tester
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop, Dawes Century SE My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides