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If top-level sole stiffness is your main priority when it comes to shopping for road shoes then you need to add the Northwave Extreme Pro to your list. Power transfer is immense, although that performance can come at a small cost to comfort on rough roads.
Many will baulk at the price, so let's get that out of the way first. True, at £339.99 they are among the highest priced shoes we've tested on road.cc over the years, but they aren't alone, costing around the same as other top-performing, super-stiff race models.
For instance, the highly impressive Specialized S-Works 7s are just a penny more and weigh just a few grams less, 536g against the Northwave's 581g (size 45). Another pair I tested recently, Shimano's excellent S-Phyre RC9s, are a little cheaper at £319.99 and of similar weight.
So, the Northwaves are in the ball park on paper, but they still need to perform out in the real world. The good news is, they do.
The upper is created using Northwave's XFrame 2 construction, which allows the materials to be just 0.5mm thick, enabling them to move freely and fit the contours of your foot as you tighten them. For strength, the Extreme Pros use a network of webbing reinforcement which criss-crosses around the foot from the sole to the top of the upper.
This all results in a very pliable upper that moulds to the foot and is very comfortable indeed.
They don't have a tongue as such, instead the material from the inside of the foot overlaps that from the outside as the dials are tightened. It's a design I like as it does away with any pressure points and there is probably a small aero advantage too.
For foot retention they use a system similar to Boa but it's Northwave's SLW2 dial closure. It works in a similar way, with the dial tightening the Dyneema cable in tiny increments for the perfect fit. To release the cable you lift the little silver lever which disengages the ratchet, allowing the tension to slacken.
Northwave has gone for two dials, with the first dealing with the upper section over the bridge of the foot and the bottom dial taking care of the other two-thirds. It works well – I could really get the shoes fitting snugly without them needing to be overly tight.
Ventilation is impressive, too, considering on first glance I could only see a minimal amount of places where airflow would make its way through. There are vents above the toes and then the majority of the upper has small holes to let cold air in and warm air out. On rides when the temperature was in the mid-20s I was surprised how cool my feet remained.
The upper is helped by the venting in the sole too. There is an entry point right at the front and another that passes air under the arch before exiting at the rear.
The sole is made from 100% unidirectional carbon fibres and Northwave has given it a score of 15.0 on its stiffness index. On its own that means very little, as all brands have a different way of measuring how inflexible their soles are. These are right up there with the Shimano RC-9 and other top end shoes I've ridden; you aren't going to waste a drop of power as you mash the pedals.
The PowerShape sole offers a great shape as it flows front to rear. I found that it suited the shape of my feet very well, especially that it curves up nicely under the arch of the foot for added support.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, though, all of that stiffness comes with a trade-off in comfort. When you are really pushing on and the majority of your weight is on the pedals they are absolutely fine, unless the road surface is really bad. Vibration coming from a broken top dressing can transfer easily through the bike and up through the soles of the shoes.
It's less noticeable when you are absolutely smashing it, but if you back off the pace a little it is more pronounced.
I wouldn't exactly class the Northwaves as uncomfortable, but they aren't a shoe I'd wear for longer, more steady state rides.
One thing I do like about the sole is the multitude of markings for aligning your cleats. They'll work with any three-bolt pedal system and are also compatible with Northwave's own Speedplay adaptor to lower the stack height.
When it comes to quality there is little here to be knocked either. The stitching on the upper is top notch and the way that the upper and sole are bonded together is impeccable.
Things are just as neat and tidy on the inside, with the welcome addition of fabric that grips your sock to stop any slipping under big efforts.
The insole is quite well padded to take away some of the vibration and you get extra thickness over the top of the cleat, a known hot-spot area.
Sizing-wise I have always felt that Northwave shoes come up a little on the small side, especially when going by the UK number. These EUR45s should correspond to a UK11 but I'm a UK10 and found them a good fit. I certainly wouldn't want to go any smaller.
When I'm out on the gravel bikes I've got a size UK10 pair of Northwave mountain bike shoes and they are snug, a little too short for long rides, so yeah, definitely go a size up.
Overall, apart from the odd little niggle here and there, these Extreme Pro shoes are up there with the best of the top flight race shoes on the market, and I would highly recommend them.
Super-stiff and lightweight race shoes with an impressively comfortable upper
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Extreme Pro shoes
Size tested: 46
Tell us what the product is for
Top end, peloton-ready race shoes where stiffness is the highest priority.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Made from 100% unidirectional carbon, the PowerShape Carbon 15 sole features the exclusive Powershape ® system on the arch of the foot that ensures 100% of rider power is transferred to the pedals without wasting any energy.
With a stiffness index of 15.0, this is the new performance benchmark for road soles
NW Speedplay adapter compatible for the lowest stack height between foot and pedal
Made with the patented XFrame 2 ® construction, the upper transfers every watt of power while providing the snuggest, even fit with no pressure points.
The double SLW2 dial differentiates the pressure between the top of the instep and the toe for even better adaptability
Integrated heel system containing directional fibre prevents any slipping
Pro Regular Fit footbed with a stiffened dual density design increases the power transfer
Available in black or white
If you go up a size the fit and the shape is absolutely spot on, especially the way the upper moulds to your foot.
Go up a UK size to get the right fit.
On the whole all-round comfort from both the upper and sole is very good, with only rough roads affecting things.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The black colour here is easy to keep clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
For race-level shoes their performance can't really be faulted. Super-stiff for excellent power delivery.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Excellent upper for shape and comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The sole can be too stiff on rough road surfaces.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They sit alongside other class-leading shoes on the market, although the benefits are marginal compared to some costing £100 less.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, especially on those fast days.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
All-round really good race shoes, though they may be too stiff for some of the roads in the UK – and the sizing is a little off.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 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
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!