Northwave Extreme XC shoes review£250.00

Range-topping race shoes that tick all the boxes

BikeRadar score4.5/5

Italian shoe brand Northwave is not known for being subtle. Year after year its shoes, both high performance and budget oriented, come in loud and lairy colours. All of this yelling, of course, is backed up by high-quality shoes at all levels which offer fantastic performance and comfort. The Extreme XC is no exception.

With a lightweight and surprisingly durable upper, stiff carbon sole and quick and accurate SWL2 dial closures the Extreme XC is a fantastic shoe for XC riding and cross racing. Aggressive trail riders will also find that with thermoweld protection surrounding almost the entire lower portion of the shoe these kicks can take some abuse.

The thermo welded panels that run around the edge of the shoe protect the upper from abrasion
The thermo welded panels that run around the edge of the shoe protect the upper from abrasion

Having spent a couple of months riding and racing the Extreme XC shoes, we’ve taken them on everything from cannonball runs up the beach on CX bikes and all day trail adventures to ‘cross races and hike and bike excursions.

Without a doubt these shoes are stiff, but they're not the stiffest race shoe currently on the market. They do, however, still push a lot of power through the pedals, as you'd expect from a good performance shoe. 

With that said, for those who are planning to spend just as much time running and hiking as they are pedaling, we’d say you’ll be more comfortable in something with a more flexible sole, but for quick sprints over barriers or walking the last bit of a technical climb that got the better of you, they do just fine.

We're big fans of the rubber pad in the middle of the shoe as it provides a bit of extra traction in hairy situations
We're big fans of the rubber pad in the middle of the shoe as it provides a bit of extra traction in hairy situations

The sole itself is made from 100-percent unidirectional carbon fiber, and Northwave say they conducted biomechanical studies to determine exactly where material was needed to create the lightest possible sole without compromising stiffness and carving out carbon where it isn't needed. The result is a unique minimalist sole, radically shrinking at the waist through the midfoot.

A few year’s back Northwave switched from Vibram to Michelin rubber for its mountain bike shoes. The new compound is quite soft and tacky, gripping well on rocks and roots even in the wet, and in our testing period shows no signs of wear. 

The rubber lug in the middle of the sole is also a nice touch for some added grip when you accidentally pop out of a pedal on a rough descent. While the heel pad is replaceable we do wish the rest of the lugs were too, and we’d happily sacrifice a few grams for the hardware required to do so.

The Extreme XC's come stock with toe spikes
The Extreme XC's come stock with toe spikes

The shoes also come with a set of preinstalled toe spikes, though for muddy cross races we’d probably sub them out for something a bit more extreme. In stark contrast to the rest of the sole, the toe spikes have become quite chewed up through our test period.

Though they look narrow, the Extreme XC are surprisingly spacious. Our size 44 samples were true to size and we didn't experience any hot spots or discomfort through our testing period. Weighing in at 417g they’re respectfully lightweight, too, and all but disappear on your feet.

The microfiber upper is one piece and features perforations throughout as well as a couple of mesh panels for ventilation. They’re not the airiest MTB shoe on the market but they seem to breathe well enough and the outside of the shoes seems to repel water quite well, too.

Northwave has gone with the full wrap method of protection around the base of the shoe, with thermoweld panels covering all but about 35mm on either side of the shoe. Through plenty of rock strikes and general clumsiness, the panels hardly bear a scuff and the upper is damage free.

The SWL2 dials proved a secure fit, but don't work great when you're trying to loosen the shoe just a little bit
The SWL2 dials proved a secure fit, but don't work great when you're trying to loosen the shoe just a little bit

As with the previous version Northwave has employed its SWL2 (Speed Lace Winch) closure system though it has also added a velcro strap over the toe box. The SWL2 dials reel in a heat-treated wax nylon cord (technology borrowed from sailing) and a quick release switch can be pressed for micro adjustments or held to release the dial. 

In combination with the well-padded tongue of the shoe, the pressure is comfortably distributed across the foot and the dials can be cranked down with no discomfort. The SWL2s provide extremely accurate adjustment when tightening the shoes, though they're decidedly less accurate when trying to loosen them one click at a time. 

Unlike BOA style reels that use a steel wire, the wax nylon cord isn't rigid and occasionally, when trying to loosen the Extreme XCs with the quick release switch, the reel turns but no cord is forced out, requiring a tug on the shoe or an arch of the foot to pull it taut.

As seen in many other high-end shoes on the market the heel of the shoe sees the ‘cats tongue’ one-way silver thread which grips your sock to combat your heel from lifting out of the shoe.

The heel is lined with silver one-way fabric to prevent heel slip
The heel is lined with silver one-way fabric to prevent heel slip

As I have a certain affinity for all things camouflage, I was especially excited at the chance to romp around in these gray camo kicks. For those who don’t share my preference they also come in lime green and black options.

Priced at £250 / US$330 / AU$450, the Extreme XC come with a heavy price tag but they are range-topping race shoes after all. Considering the weight, comfort and performance they’re also well worth the money.

Colin Levitch

Staff Writer, Australia
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Colin now resides in Sydney, Australia. Holding a media degree, Colin is focused on the adventure sport media world. Coming from a ski background, his former European pro father convinced him to try collegiate crit racing. Although his bright socks say full roadie, he enjoys the occasional mountain bike ride, too.
  • Age: 25
  • Height: 175cm / 5'9"
  • Weight: 70kg / 155lb
  • Waist: 81.3cm/32in
  • Chest: 90cm/35.4in
  • Discipline: Road, mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Tarmac mountain climbs into snow-covered hills
  • Current Bikes: BMC TeamMachine SLR01, Trek Top Fuel 9
  • Dream Bike: Mosaic Cycles RT-1
  • Beer of Choice: New Belgium La Folie
  • Location: Sydney, Australia

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