Northwave's Extreme Winter GTX boots are as good as winter cycling shoes get, keeping your feet warm and relatively dry, as long as you understand the limitations of the very idea of 'waterproof cycling shoes'.
For me, the most important function of winter shoes is to keep my feet warm. After all, it's cold for several months but doesn't actually rain constantly, even though it sometimes feels that way. I'm also fortunate to live in Cambridge, which is one of the driest cities in the UK. You may feel differently if you live in Cardiff or Glasgow.
The Northwave Extreme Winters do a good job of keeping out the cold. I've finished three-hour rides with my feet still comfortable, and in winter that's as long as I want to be out, thanks.
They're not quite as good at keeping your feet dry. I rode for two hours on two consecutive days, the first wet, the second dry, with temperatures down in the low single figures. My socks were slightly damp from sweat on the dry ride, but distinctly wet on the rainy day. That left my toes colder on the wet day, though not by enough to be intolerable.
I minimised the chance of water getting in the top of the shoes by using Pearl Izumi Amfib tights, which have a softshell section at the ankle that reaches over the top of the shoes to keep water out. (A criticism often levelled at winter cycling shoes is that they're pointless because water runs down your tights and gets in the top; the Amfibs fix this.)
The wet was evenly distributed around my socks and the lining of the shoe, so I don't think it was getting in the top. Either water was seeping through the shoe or, and I think this is more likely, I banged up against a fundamental limitation of the shoe's Gore-Tex lining: it's far less efficient at letting out water vapour when the outside is actually wet.
This is what I meant earlier about understanding the limitations of waterproof shoes. Waterproof, breathable materials can only do so much; they're not miraculous.
Nevertheless, I've used lots of different waterproof shoes over the years, mostly because I never seem to be able to find both of any given pair of overshoes. Well, that and I hate cold feet enough that I wear shoes in the winter that are a bit bigger than in summer to make room for thicker socks. If you're going to do that, you might as well have shoes that provide some weather protection too.
I used the Extreme Winter shoes with Rapha winter socks, which are quite a bit bulkier than summer socks, so I went up a size. That also left room for circulation-enhancing toe wiggles, which I find help fend off frozen toes.
Features and construction
Northwave seems to have gone all-out to make the Extreme Winters the best winter road shoes it can produce. Essentially they're an updated, road-going version of the Northwave Extreme GTX mountain bike shoes David Else tested a while ago.
Let's take a look at the details, starting at the bottom.
The sole is a carbon fibre and fibreglass unit that Northwave says has a stiffness rating of 10, on a scale that goes up to at least the 15 rating of the Northwave RR shoes and thus deprives me of the chance to go for a Spinal Tap gag.
Whatever '10' means, the sole is plenty stiff enough, and supportive. It's drilled for three-hole cleats but you can't use Northwave's adapter for Speedplay cleats with these shoes. That's a bit annoying as the Speedplay adapter works with most other high-end Northwave shoes.
There's a Gore-Tex footbed between the sole and a nicely-shaped, firm insole. Then we get to the main protection from the weather, the Gore-Tex Sierra membrane, which incorporates insulation in its structure to keep you warm as well as dry.
Northwave calls the upper Double Shield Construction (DSC) as it incorporates features of a regular shoe and an overshoe. There's an inner shoe made from a softshell-style material, with a raised cuff, and around that a more conventional-looking mesh and synthetic leather outer casing. A pair of dial closures pulls the whole lot together around your foot, and there are overlapping flaps at the top of the ankle to keep the weather out, with Velcro closures.
The whole ensemble is very comfortable. Your feet are cushioned in every direction; the feel is more like wearing a lightweight speed-hiking boot than a cycling shoe.
That's helped by the Boa-style dial closures. Northwave calls its version of the idea S.L.W. 2 (Speed Lace Winch) and the pair makes for easy and quick fine-tuning of the tension over the top of the foot.
I like dial closures in general, but I think they're doubly valuable in a winter shoe because you want to be able to get the tension exactly right so as to restrict your circulation as little as possible. If you need to loosen them while riding, there's a button on the dial that releases the ratchet one click at a time. That's different from the Boas on the previous Extreme Winters, and it's a small but handy improvement.
Construction is very good overall and there are plenty of thoughtful touches, such as replaceable heel pieces to protect the sole, and rubberised uppers around the toes. However, the tip of the left sole is showing signs of wear from being touched down, so it'll be getting a few blobs of Shoe Goo shortly.
Very good shoes for fending off winter's cold and wet
road.cc test report
Make and model: NorthWave Extreme Road Winter GTX
Size tested: Size 10, Black
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?
Aimed at cyclists who want to carry on riding and training through the winter, however grotty the weather gets. Northwave doesn't actually say much aside from the details below, but importer i-Ride says:
The Northwave Extreme Winter road GTX boot is built to withstand extreme winter weather conditions. Northwave has used the Gore-Tex Sierra membrane which creates a 'micro climate' in the shoe allowing you to face very cold, wet riding conditions. Along with a double shield construction where by two layers of upper are integrated to provide maximum protection against water.
Speedlight 3D sole provides superb stiffness during pedalling
Gore-Tex® Sierra membrane upper creates a 'micro climate' in the shoe ensuring maximum comfort and protection
S.L.W.2 closing system + Power Strap for a really snug fit
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
SIZE 39 - 48 (HALF SIZE 39,5-45,5)
* Carbon Light sole made of carbon and fibreglass with a stiffness index of 10.0
* Water- and windproof Gore-Tex® Sierra membrane delivers excellent thermal insulation
* D.S.C. Double Shield Construction: two integrated uppers form a barrier that generates the ideal microclimate for feet
* Double SLW2 dial with a power strap at the ankle
* Integrated heel system ensures efficient heel retention
* Special GTX footbed works in synergy with the membrane
* Reflective inserts for enhanced visibility
* Temperature: -25°/+5° C
Your energy is precious, never waste it. That's why our shoes are designed with BioMap technology. Northwave soles, uppers and all their components are anatomically compatible with every cyclist's feet and are designed to keep the foot in the right position while pedaling, transmitting power directly to the pedals without wasting any energy.
Gore-Tex®® Sierra membrane
Available on the brand new Extreme Winter, the Gore-Tex ® Sierra membrane features excellent thermal insulation, making it ideal for your bike rides even in late winter, for those who love challenges. Totally waterproof and breathable, it is also a guarantee of durability boasting a high resistance to abrasion.
DSC - Double Shield Construction
Extreme Winter stands out for the revolutionary Double Shield Construction (DSC). The overlap of two different uppers, anatamically integrated with each others and designed to work together, ensure an absolute protection against water and cold. The outer layer blocks the weathered while the inner works by creating a microclimate ideal for the foot. All the benefits of a shoecover, none of the weakness of a shoecover.
Carbon Light Sole
Carbon fiber and fiberglass offer demanding cyclists like you the stiffness you need combined with an ultralight design.
S.L.W.2 closing system
The micrometric system S.L.W. 2 (Speed Lace Winch) represents the evolution of the closure system. Maximum precision and modularity. The innovative step by step closure means you can tighten and enlarge the fit in a few moments.
The side button provides a dual function: by pressing, it features a micrometric release and lifting it allows a complete and immediate opening of the shoe. More lightweight and thinner. The dial has been completely redesigned in size and weight, resulting in being significantly lighter and thinner. The external covering in soft touch material also makes the grip more effective.
The ergonomic shape of the S.L.W. 2 ratchet follows the anatomy of the foot to make it really comfortable. The S.L.W. 2 ratchet is easily replaceable. The cables come from the best technology derived from the world of sailing.
Very well put together with no tatty seams or untidy stitching. For £230 you'd expect no less.
They keep out most of the wet, and - more importantly to me - they keep in the warm.
Everything is robust and beefy – I'd expect them to last for several seasons.
While they're not summer-shoe featherweight by any means, this is a good weight for winter shoes.
£230 is unarguably a lot of money for a pair of cycling shoes, especially ones you're not going to use year-round. On the other hand, the alternative is a pair of really good overshoes, and shoes a bit bigger than usual so you can wear winter socks. That's going to run to £100-£150 so the premium for having it all in one well-designed package isn't ridiculous.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They've needed no more than a post-ride rinse after getting filthy.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well for keeping in the warm; okay for keeping your feet dry.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Having warm feet.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The price is a bit ouchy.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
Very good winter boots. I wavered between knocking a point off for the price and not, and eventually decided not. You can pick these up for under £200 if you shop around, which is a lot more reasonable than the RRP, they do the job well, and the quality of construction is very high.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.