The Northwave Extreme 3 Bibshorts are very good, especially if long days in the saddle are your thing. A combination of a great pad and shaped panels to create a close yet unrestrictive fit mean these are a pleasure to wear. The price is pretty good too.
- Pros: Bent/shaped pad, comfortable fabric
- Cons: Some saddle wear showing
The Extreme 3s use a pad called the K130 and, like the Castelli Velocissimos I tested alongside them, is yet another that has shied away from channels and grooves to remove pressure points and increase blood flow. The K130 is apparently made from the highest density foam on the market which gives a very cushioned ride without being overly squidgy, so you don't really feel like you are sitting on a cushion.
What really makes the difference for me is the fact that the pad is shaped before it is attached to the shorts. It is bent downwards along most of its length, so if you hold the shorts up in front of you they create a kind of upside down V to curve around the saddle.
The front section of the pad isn't quite as thick as the main bit and isn't bent, so when you wear the shorts this part curves up around the front of your body. Thanks to all of this shaping there is no bunching whatsoever when you are in the saddle, which means comfort is very impressive.
The pad itself feels very breathable too; in the mini heatwave we've just had I felt noticeably more comfortable and cooler.
The main panels of the Extreme 3s are designed using Northwave's Biomap construction, where they are cut in a way that mimics the human body shape when in the saddle. Again, this means there is no excess material to bunch or wrinkle up when you're riding. It does mean they feel a little odd when you first put them on and stand up straight, but as soon as you are on the bike it all makes sense.
The fabric has plenty of stretch with just a small amount of compression and feels great against the skin – softer than a lot of other Lycra style mixes.
The only downside I can find at the moment is that the material is showing some signs of wear by way of bobbling from rubbing against the saddle after probably 200 miles of testing. None of the saddles I've been using have any protrusions or anything that should catch, so I'll keep an eye on this. It's something I've seen before on other tights and shorts and has come to nothing after the initial wear.
To keep the legs in place, Northwave uses a 45mm elastic gripper around about two-thirds of your thigh. The other third just has the standard fabric which allows the legs to expand for a close fit without the pressure of the elastic causing it to feel tight around your thigh. It's not quite as comfortable as the raw cut used on the Castelli Velocissimos, but it's minimal.
The bib section is a lightweight mesh, which certainly helps to keep you cool and the straps are barely noticeable. They aren't that tight so even when stretched out in the drops you won't feel them dig into your shoulder blades.
Sizing is realistic to the average shape of an amateur cyclist, and I've often found that Northwave's kit is a little more generous than most. Just follow the sizing guide found on the website.
All of the stitching is flatlocked for comfort and the seams look neat and tidy, with the shorts offering decent quality for their £89.99 price tag. They're the same price as Gore's C5 Optiline shorts, but as with the comparisons Dave made in his Gore review, you can get some good bib shorts for less, such as the Sportful Giros for £65. You can pay more too: those Castelli Velocissimos I mentioned above are £100, although I'd say their KISS Air pad certainly makes up for the extra.
Either way, it's pretty good to see a pair of shorts of the quality, comfort and fit of the Extreme 3s for under a ton.
If you aren't a fan of the dark blue you can also get them in black/red.
Very comfortable shorts, especially for those who ride big miles
road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Extreme 3 Bibshorts
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Northwave says, "The Northwave Extreme 3 Bib Shorts utilise a supremely soft and comfortable fabric, mesh braces and their top K130 pad to provide you with shorts that give incredible comfort. From racing to training to a Gran Fondo these shorts have you covered."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
* Maximum-support K130 pad with reverse technology guarantees record-breaking breathability
* Biomap construction with pre-shaped panels acts in perfect synergy with the body's natural movement
* Sensitive Sculpt® 218 gr fabric provides unique support and long-lasting fit
* Mesh braces for increased breathability
* End leg construction integrates 4,5cm microfiber elastic with grip to a raw cut panel perfectly wrapping without constrictions
* Reflective details on leg
I'll keep an eye on the wear levels to see if this score needs adjusting over the summer.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The dark blue colour means no worries about staining from road spray. A cool wash brought them up clean every time.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really comfortable, especially when the ride keeps getting longer.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Comfortable pad design.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Some possible durability issues with the fabric.
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 overall score
The Northwaves offer impressive performance for a sensible price. It's not often we see such comfort and performance from a sub-£100 pair of shorts. I'll monitor the durability of the material to see if it needs to be reflected in the overall score.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.