The Northwave Evolution SBS is a high-end shoe from the Italian cobblers in Treviso and the racing slipper of choice for the likes of Cancellara, Greipel, Gilbert, Hincapie and the Schleck brothers, so lord knows what I'm doing with them.
As you'd expect from a top clog Northwave have shoehorned a whole boxful of features into the shoe with SBS, AFS, A.S.R 2, WLI, ST 8:4, BioMap, a Pro Footbed and an Omega heel-cup no less.
The BioMap microfiber upper is swooped with mesh panels making for an airy shoe, even on the hottest days, and for extra breeze there's the AFS, or Air-flow-System of an air-vent hidden in the toe bumper that channels air under the sole to exit via twin meshed exhaust ports just to the rear of the cleat, and it really really works, cresting a summit and pointing downhill again a gust of cooling air can be felt rushing under the toes, if there isn't a whooshing sound there should be.
The foot is secured by the popular two mesh straps and one ratchet method and there are no problems with that. The two Velcro straps are both lightweight and secure and the upper ratchet strap can key into one of 4 adjustment holes, or the Ankle Strap Regulation2 system according to Northwave, giving about 20mm of lateral movement ensuring that the fat and soft EVA centre pad that's also shark's-fin serrated underneath for grip sits centrally over the foot, with the upper edge of the pad being gently scalloped to allow for greater ankling comfort.
The ratchet features S.B.S. which is Northwave's 'Step By Step' micrometric closure system, the metal buckle clicks tighter with sharp positivity and if that feels a bit too cramped once on the move there's a micro-release button in the centre for fine tuning, with a full release button to the side for when the day's work is done. Underneath all this the tongue is fatly padded with large mesh sections to keep with the vented theme and the lip is serrated so if forms to the foot without bunching. Out the back the Omega heel cup is a solid affair despite having breezy holes in and is well cushioned internally where 'cat-tongue' technology keeps the heel secure, the fabric inside the heel has a definite rough nap to it that's aligned downwards so as to friction resist heel lift. The rear heel bumper protecting the carbon sole from caf floors and gravel driveways is replaceable.
But what sets the Evolution aside from the pedoton (see what you did there - ed… don't do it again) is its carbon and wood, yes wood, sole. From the outside the Evolution SBS looks normal for this calibre shoe with a formed and contoured ST 8:4 - 3-Layer full carbon sole, the 3-hole cleat area is covered with a layer of rough material to increase grip, is marked for easy set up and replacement and if you run Look pedals there's a central Look cleat positioning key too, which is nice. But inside and underneath the Performance Pro insole your sock is presented with a shaped piece of wood, blimey. That'll be the W.L.I. then, or Wood Lasting Insole. With claims that this wood insole dissipates heat more effectively and absorbs vibration better the shoe certainly feels different to an all synthetic one, warmer and more organic to the foot, if that makes any sense, similar to the subtle difference between walking on wooden floors to something man-made. The shoe is plenty stiff enough though with no feeling of energy being wasted between the foot and the pedal, be that in a race situation or trying to squeak every last drop of effort into the rear wheel when grinding up a long climb, and yet despite the stiffness it's certainly not uncomfortable, even for big old days in the pedals. The only downside is that when the wood gets wet, and this being England it's only a matter of time, the shoe can take a long time to dry out, though there hasn't been any warping or dry, or wet, rot yet.
The fit of the Evolution is pretty much what you would expect from an Italian manufacturer, that is thin, low and narrow, although the toe-box on the Evolution isn't as pointy-toed as other Latin shoes and with the square shaped end providing a more open toe-box it opens up the shoe to a wider range of more Hobbity feet. They're not the lightest pair of shoes out there but they're certainly not hob-nail boots and the left shoe was slightly heavier on the scales than the right, not something noticeable on the foot though, that could be put down to density variables in the wood used I guess and the fit, stiffness and the comfort more than makes up for any meagre weight penalty.
Available in White, Black, Red and Light Blue
Light enough and certainly stiff enough to be struck off the list of excuses they're also comfortable enough thanks to their unique organic footbed construction which is a bit of a curveball in today's plastic fantastic culture but it works beautifully. The fit and adjustment is also spot on and used for a fast mix of racing, training and just plain riding they've skipped along without any bother.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Evolution SBS Shoe
Size tested: 41
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?
The Evolution SBS are a pair of shoes designed for the top echelon of road riding, right at the feet of great champions according to Northwave. Thankfully they're also available to us more mortal cyclists even if we can't keep up, they're fast and stiff enough for racing but also comfortable enough for just riding fast.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The Northwave Evolution SBS shoe features the BioMap concept, designed to follow the body's movements during athletic activity. The Omega Heel guarantees excellent grip and maximum protection combined with the advantage of low weight with the rigid profile stabilizing the heel even under maximum load. The rear air vents allow heat to escape for comfort. The S.B.S. (Step By Step) system is an innovative micrometric system that ensures precise and stable closure allowing pressure on the instep strap to be easily controlled "step by step", even when racing. Three layers of carbon provide minimum thickness and a high degree of stiffness thanks to the ST 8:4 - 3-Layer sole and the Wood Lasting Insole helps dampen vibrations transmitted by the pedal and insulates the foot from heat on the sole of the shoe. It provides 80% more heat protection than traditional arch supports and vibration to the feet and knees is reduced by more than 50%. The base of the sole features an exclusive Air Flow System with a front conveyor and ventilation channel next to the pedal engagement. The interchangeable front and rear protective heels are made of ultra-grip material. Finally the Performance Pro Footbed is a new, lightweight and anatomical arch support made from EVA and microfibre offering the perfect level of stiffness to transmit full power to the pedals, while supporting the sole of the foot.
The mix of natural and man-made materials hasn't been a problem, the Northwaves all well put together and haven't shown any signs of weakness yet.
The only glitch in the performance in these shoes is going to be the failure that straps themselves into them.
The Northwaves have put in some serious miles and although they sporting a few battle scuffs are poised to fight some more.
Not the lightest race slipper out there, but they certainly don't feel like you're trying to spin wooden clogs round at 100RPM.
The stiff yet somehow comforting wood and carbon sole combined with a well padded tongue and heel all held together with a micro-adjustable ratchet system made for a shoe that was comfortable all day, day on day.
They're at the pricier end of the shoe shop but if you want a light stiff comfortable ride and race shoe then they're worth it.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They did exactly what it says on the shoe-box.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The fit, snug without being Chinese-binding tight, and that wooden sole which really did make a difference in feel and comfort. And the under-sole air-vents are cool, literally.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing much, the micro-adjust possibly wasn't micro enough sometimes, falling between a little-bit-too-tight and little-bit-too-loose, and the wood last taking time to dry from wet was something to get used to, but that's being overly fussy.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 180cm Weight: 73kg
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
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: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.