Northwave's new Rebel SBS mountain bike shoe can go nearly toe-to-toe with the higher-end Aerlite SBS model we tested last year – only it's cheaper (£20 less than the '09 Aerlite in the UK and $50 in the US) and 34g lighter per pair, too.
In fact, most of the Aerlite SBS's features carry through virtually unchanged to the value-packed Rebel SBS. The overall fit and feel is similar to the Aerlite, with a secure hold and cushy interior with no pressure points.
The upper's one-plus-two strap arrangement and Northwave's excellent Ultra Y heel cup do an outstanding job of keeping the rear of your foot in place – even on steep hike-a-bike sections there was no hint of heel lift.
The main buckle is easy to tighten, and can be loosened in one-tooth increments for easy on-the-bike adjustments. Up front, the two generously sized forefoot straps have lots of Velcro on them so even without the aid of fancy plastic toothed inserts they've held quite nicely.
Like the Aerlite, the Rebel SBS's main strap is adjustable in length, though here Northwave use a simpler overlapping Velcro arrangement instead of a fancier stepped plastic anchor.
The setup is effective (and undoubtedly less expensive to produce) but the instep portion isn't as well padded and the range of adjustment is definitely skewed even more towards the higher volume end of the fit spectrum than the Aerlite.
Riders with flatter and/or smaller feet will have a hard time cinching the main strap down tightly enough unless they replace the flimsy stock insole with something more voluminous.
We ran a thick green-edition Superfeet insole yet still needed to shorten the strap beyond its minimum intended position and ratchet it down to the very last tooth to achieve the desired tightness.
An easy fix would be for Northwave to provide a secondary buckle anchor position like Shimano. As it is, the Rebel's buckle is already mounted curiously high up the side of the shoe. Ultimately, though, the last needs to be adjusted to a more medium-sized volume. Arch support could be better, too.
Even the outsole is a virtual carbon copy of the Aerlite – quite literally, in fact, as the Rebel is fitted with the exact same carbon reinforced and medium-stiff polymer sole, albeit without the fancy red and white colouring, and with no proper carbon fibre option.
Grip is plentiful even on hard surfaces (compared to most rigid-soled mountain bike shoes), there are drillings for optional toe spikes, and the lugs have proven to be impressively long wearing as well.
About the only area where the Rebel SBS gives up substantial ground to its more expensive cousin is ventilation. It's still quite good here, what with the functional toe vent mounted right up front, but the Aerlite simply has a lot more mesh throughout the upper. Thankfully the Rebel's synthetic leather is still pretty breathable, so this has only been an issue on the hottest of days.
Though 34g lighter than the Aerlite, the Rebel SBS is still a bit chunky at 810g per pair (sz43.5). We're willing to trade one for the other in the interest of durability (our Aerlites are still going strong after a year of near-daily use) though finicky racers might not be so forgiving. As an everyday trail shoe, however, the Rebel SBS shoes are an easy pick – as long as your feet are wide enough to fill them.