The Extreme Tech is Northwave's top-end road shoe. While its price might be hard to swallow, it delivers on the high-tech promise in its name, combining low weight, stiffness, comfort and some clever touches. Or as a clubmate said when I turned up for a local time trial: 'They're what you call dancing slippers!'
The first thing that strikes you about the Extreme Tech shoes, apart from the garish colour-way, is the weight – just 512g for the pair in size 42, without cleats. Now, there are lighter shoes than this but they mostly have strap-only closure – Northwave's own Extremes are a case in point, at a claimed 400g per pair in size 42. The Extreme Techs have a ratchet strap and a Boa-like dial closure, which necessarily add some weight.
To be honest, I don't really care about a few grams here or there, and didn't notice the 62g per shoe weight savings compared to the Shimano R300 shoes I was racing in before. But if you're going to save weight, then from the point of view of acceleration or climbing, there's a small advantage to be had in losing that weight from something that's rotating as opposed to sitting there, like a saddle or a stem. It's tiny, admittedly, but it all counts.
Light can sometimes mean flexy or fragile. These shoes are neither. The carbon fibre sole is fantastically stiff. Stiff doesn't just mean more efficient power transfer to the pedal; it also means no hot-spot for your foot over the cleat, and no cramps or aches in your sole. For me, this solid foot support is a big deal. I've got some spinal cord damage from an old accident and the toes on my right foot won't flex or apply pressure normally. Without properly stiff shoes, I can't pedal properly. (I've finished more than one time trial pedalling with my left leg, just dragging the right leg around.)
The sole is interesting for another reason: you can fit Speedplay cleats without first sticking a 3mm adapter plate on the bottom. Speedplay, you won't be surprised to learn, had a hand in the design. Out of the box, the shoes are ready for three-bolt cleats (i.e. all road cleats except Speedplay). If you want to use Speedplay cleats, you remove the three-bolt plate from the inside of the shoe, under the insole, and put the four-bolt Speedplay adapter (£12.99) in its place. Having the adapter inside the shoe rather than outside means your Speedplay cleats sit a fag paper's width from the sole instead of 3mm proud.
Speedplay pedals reduce the stack height already – stack height being the distance from sole to pedal spindle – as the cleat encloses the pedal. The adapter for the Extreme Tech reduces it further. Whether an improvement of less than 3mm is that significant is hard to say, but anyone who ever pedalled a child's bike with wooden blocks fitted to the pedals to increase the stack height (enough that you could reach them!) will remember how much more connected and less awkward pedalling felt when said blocks were removed. A few millimetres isn't 50mm, but an improvement is still an improvement. And we know what Dave Brailsford has to say about the accumulation of small gains.
I wore the Extreme Techs throughout the 2012 time trial season, sometimes with Speedplay cleats, sometimes with Shimano SPD-SL. They felt great with both. As well as stiff soles, the ratchet and dial system lets them fit like – well, not exactly a glove, but very snugly. With the Speed Lace Winch and the ratchet strap, the fit can be adjusted until it's spot on. You can stop any unwanted foot movement without having to tighten down the straps so much that you feel like your circulation is going to be cut off.
The Speed Lace Winch System is particularly good. I was dubious at first, having had Boa laces and/or dials break twice in six months – once so badly that the shoes had to be returned to be fixed, as the plastic covering enclosing the Boa wire sloughed off inside the lace channel of the shoe upper, making it impossible to fit a new lace. That can't happen with the Extreme Techs. The Dyneema polyamide cord doesn't need an outer like wire does. It won't kink like wire can either, and Northwave claim that it's stronger than wire. It hasn't snapped so far, and there haven't been any problems with the ratchet dial.
In terms of fit, they're wide enough for north European feet. My plates of meat are towards the upper end of average width, and the Extreme Techs fitted me better even than the R300s, which were heat- and vacuum-moulded to fit. They're available in some half sizes too.
Ventilation is good enough through cutouts in the carbon sole and the one-piece, stitch-less uppers. Yet the toe box upper isn't just mesh, so if it rains a bit your toes don't get chilled as badly as with some shoes.
You'd want a pair of shoes costing £275 to be pretty damn good. These are. And if, like me, you don't like the eye-burning colours, they're also available in: matt black; black, white and red; and white and black. Importer i-ride.co.uk list the following sizes: 39, 40, 41, 42, 42.5, 43, 43.5, 44, 44.5, 45, 45.5, 46, 47, 48. There's no direct women's equivalent. There's a similar mountain bike version of this shoe available if you use two-bolt MTB cleats and pedals.
Lightweight, outstandingly stiff and snug, and Speedplay compatible to boot. Worth the premium price.
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Extreme Tech SBS road shoes
Size tested: 42, Orange/Yellow
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?
It's a top end road shoe.
Northwave say: The Extreme Tech SBS combines the most advanced design and cutting edge technology to produce the lightest, stiffest and fastest Road Race shoe on the market.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
No Stitching Upper'- The upper has been designed as a single shell with minimal stitching for absolute lightness and comfort. The supple microfibre is rigorously tested for abrasion resistance, tear strength and elasticity. The last is built on the Northwave Biomap principle using extensive bio-mechanical analysis and development with top athletes to produce an outstanding fit, positioning and comfort.'
Speed Lace Winch (SLW) Filament closure - 'An ultra fast micro-metric closure with accurate and intuitive adjustment. The side button gradually releases the fastening so you can even enjoy micrometric control while riding. The Speed Lace Winch mechanism is compact and light to keep the the weight of the shoe down. The cable is the result of meticulous research into the best sailing technology available for an ultra high tensile strength, durability and lightness. The unique Embedded Eyeloops that disappear into the upper produce a totally even closure and have been patented by Northwave.'
SBS'S.B.S. (Step By Step) is an innovative micrometric system that ensures precise and stable closure. Pressure on the instep strap can be released and easily controlled "step by step", even when racing.'ST 12:3
Ultra Light Carbon Sole - 'A super advanced sole with unrivalled weight, stiffness and thickness for elite racing performance. The 12:3 full carbon layup provides exceptional rigidity at an extremely low thickness, this gives incredible power transfer and a super low stack height for a totally connected pedalling feel. The sole and footbed feature ventilation channels to provide cooling airflow and moisture transfer in hot conditions and hard efforts.'
Extreme Air Insole - 'A state-of-the-art ultralight arch support with an anti-allergenic and anti bacterial construction. It features numerous vents to guarantee exceptional ventilation and evaporation.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Excellent fit, comfort, and power transfer.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Speed Lace Winch closure. Super-stiff sole.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Depending on my bank balance, yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
These shoes aren't really lacking in any area. The mark of 8, as opposed to 9, reflects the very high price.
About the tester
Age: 42 Height: 1.78m Weight: 65kg
I usually ride: Ridgeback Solo World fixed wheel My best bike is: Planet X Pro Carbon Track (with front brake)
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,