The bicycle Industry is notorious for its wholehearted embrace of gimmickry and gadgetry.
If you have been a cyclist for more than a decade, you have seen a cavalcade of bikes and bike parts, clothing, accessories, bars/gels/drinks/pills, and other cycling-related products rolled out to beginners and veterans alike on an annual basis. Most of these products are merely variations on a previous version with minor structural or cosmetic changes marketed as new and improved. Many of these products are introduced and exhaustingly marketed, become popular because a pro cyclist or cycling team endorses them, fade away as new products gobble up the market share, and then come back onto the scene once, twice, or several times over the next decade. Oval chainrings. Components anodized in garish colors. Single chainring drivetrains. Titanium bikes and parts. Steel bikes and parts. Lace up bike shoes. Neon bike clothing.
Yeah, been there, done that.
Every so often a product comes along that represents true progress in applied science and technical innovation and sets an industry standard for form and function. A few noteworthy examples are carbon fiber rims, microchip controlled suspension, compression fabrics, and wireless telemetry. After riding with a pair of Northwave’s 2014 Extreme Tech Plus mountain bike shoes for the past seven months, I predict they will be added to this list of innovative products.
I have written about Northwave previously when I reviewed the company’s 2014 Extreme Tech Plus socks. Here is the link to the review:
As I mentioned in the Extreme Tech Plus sock review, I have been wearing Northwave road and MTB shoes since the mid 1990′s and have found that the company’s designers give more than lip service to the concept of innovation. The evidence: Northwave was one of the first shoe makers to feature a carbon fiber sole (1997), sole vents (2006), and winch/wire closure systems (2012). Amongst bike shoe makers, that is innovation.
So, back in April when I received the red Northwave shoe box with their latest flagship MTB shoe inside, I was eager to take what was inside, slip them on my feet, and hit the trails. The shoes did not disappoint and here is why:
The shoes cradle your feet! Northwave completely redesigned the internals of the Extreme Tech Plus to incorporate a mid-foot cage of reinforced — yet compliant and well ventilated — upper material. The shoe is opened by holding a tiny lever at the top of each winch housing and unwinding the two small dials positioned on the outboard side of the shoe (Northwave’s proprietary Speed Lace Winch 2 system). The fit is adjusted by releasing the small lever and turning the dials. The dials pull the kevlar wires that cross the shoe’s generously padded and vented tongue. Yet, even the utmost tightening of the wires does not put undue pressure on the top of the foot thanks to the tongue’s padding, a thin metal mesh that works to evenly distribute the wire’s force across the top and sides of the foot, and the mid-foot internal cage design. The end result: no excessive binding or hot spots. Another nice feature of the closure system is that the dials have distinct and audible clicks when tightening — a handy feature when putting on the shoes at the trailhead before a night ride or in the pre-dawn darkness before starting an epic ride. Standard fit features of the Extreme Tech Plus MTB shoes include a wide toe box, front and mid-foot mesh-covered vents, and a deep heel cup lined with special unidirectional material to prevent heel slippage.
These shoes are light! I have never owned a pair of MTB shoes that are as light as the Northwave Extreme Tech Plus shoes. They are only slightly heavier than my Northwave Extreme Tech road shoes! The shoe’s carbon fiber sole features a biomapped foot-contour design, generous fore and aft raised tread pattern, and shock absorbing qualities thanks to the addition of Vibram material. To compliment their scant weight, the shoes are very well ventilated. Several mesh-covered vents strategically placed across the upper bring ample air into the shoe which helps keep feet dry and happy. Another handy feature of the vents: drainage. Many MTB shoes tend to retain water after multiple stream crossings, often making the rest of the ride a soggy slog. Not so with the Northwave Extreme Tech Plus. Those wonderful little vents help water exit the shoe so that during the ride wet feet become damp feet and damp feet become dry feet. Despite their light weight, the shoes are sturdy. The sole does not flex — even under severe pedaling effort. In hike-a-bike sections, the generous tread, stiff sole, and reinforced upper make a short walk (almost) pleasant. One performance feature that is unique to the shoe is the area where the upper is joined to the outsole. In most MTB shoes, there is a clear demarcation, or seam, between the upper and the outsole where the two parts are sewn and glued together. This is an area where MTB shoes experience tremendous, repeated stress and can tear or separate. The Northwave Extreme Tech Plus shoe does not have an upper/outsole seam. The shoe’s upper is formed around the footbed and integrated into the sole. Northwave calls this the Thermoweld Unibody Upper. Very cool. And if that wasn’t enough to give this shoe a perfect rating on the performance scorecard, a black, rubberized scuff guard covers the lower front of the toe — perfect for protecting the front of the shoe when dabbing in technical sections and kicking clueless newbies out of the way when they stop in the middle of the trail to catch their breath or gawk at wildlife.*
*Author’s Note: Better-Biking.com does not promote aggressive trail riding behaviors. We encourage cyclists to treat other trail users with respect and accommodation. Enthusiasts who are new to the sport and lifestyle of mountain biking should be nurtured and treated with care. Upon encountering a group of beginner mountain bikers on the trail, kindly instruct them in proper trail etiquette.
These shoes are wild! If you have even a shred of modesty, these shoes are not for you. The neon green/black/white color scheme is not for the demure or shy. Most MTB shoes feature understated looks — the predominant color being black. While the Northwave Extreme Tech Plus shoes do come in black, to truly embrace the innovative spirit of these shoes requires that you be BOLD! So, go for the neon green color scheme. Make a statement with your shoes. And not just any statement like:
“I Am Incapable Of Original Thinking (Sidi)”
“I Am A Total Noob (Shimano)”
“I Got A Deal At Performance (Lake)”
“I Have No Idea What I’m doing (Vans)”
“I Am Sasquatch (Bont)”
“All My Logos Match (Pearl Izumi)”
“My Shoes Match My Bike (Specialized)”
The Northwave Extreme Tech Plus shoes scream:
“Get The Hell Out Of The Way Or I Will Run You Over, Nose Wheelie Off Your Top Tube, And Tail Whip You Into That Cactus Filled Ravine!”*
Pair the Northwave Extreme Tech Plus neon green shoes with the matching neon green Extreme Tech Socks and your TSPR (Trailhead Style Points Rating) will go off the charts.
*Author’s Note: Better-Biking.com does not promote aggressive trail riding behaviors. We encourage cyclists to treat other trail users with respect and accommodation. Nose wheelies and tail whips should only be executed by professionals on closed courses. Falling into ravines filled with cactus is discouraged.
The Bottom line
As I mentioned earlier, I received the Northwave Extreme Tech Plus MTB shoes back in April and have logged nearly 1,000 dirt miles in them over the past seven months. While they are scuffed and scraped along the sole and have a few marks on the upper, overall they remain as brilliantly neon green as when I first took them out of the box. They have been ridden in sand, mud, and moondust, over mountains, across deserts, through forests, and into streams. They have raced, hucked, chilled, endoed, cruised, and gnarred. After all that, the beefy tread is still beefy, the glove-like fit is still glove-like, and the outrageous look is still outrageous.
There is no gadgetry or gimmickry in the Northwave 2014 Extreme Tech Plus MTB shoes — only true innovation, functionality, and technical excellence.
Well done, Northwave. Well done.
About The Author
Aaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita-US VETS Regional Amateur Team. A 28-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.
Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work. He has even been on the race podium a few times.
Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) 2014 Better-Biking.com
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