Northwave’s new Extreme Tech Plus road shoes are eye-catching to say the least. Part of the brand’s ‘Be Seen Be Safe’ series, the fluorescent orange kicks seem to emit their own glow in sunlight. But it’s not all about the looks – the (Chinese made) Italian kicks offer top level performance and stiffness.
Straying from the ever popular BOA system, the Extreme Tech Plus use an updated-for-2014 version of Northwave's ‘Speed Lace Winch' (SLW 2) system. It uses heat treated wax nylon wire (technology borrowed from sailing) which runs across the shoe, and is tightened by new Soft Touch dials, which are thinner and lighter than their predecessors, with ergonomic bases that supposedly offer greater comfort too.
The Speed Lace Winch system has received an overhaul for 2014
Tightening the shoe, pressure is evenly distributed, with testers noticing no hotspots. This may be in part down to the thick padding on the tongue, which helps to disperse force over the top of the foot. Clicking the dials to tighten the shoe delivers a very precise fit.
Loosening the shoe, however, is less intuitive – especially for those more familiar with the BOA system. Because the wax nylon wire is not as rigid as the metal ones used in many BOA systems, the dial does not always release the wire without a helping hand, though this is easily fixed by simply arching your foot, or tugging on the shoe to pull the wire taut.
The SWL 2 quick release system is not perfect
While the Extreme Tech Plus are not as unyielding as some ultra-rigid competitors, they are still perfectly efficient shoes. The ultra thin, super light carbon sole has seven vents – perhaps better described as 'holes covered with a thin wire mesh'.
The heavily vented sole is part of Northwave's Airflow system. The vents in the sole channel air into the shoe, while strategically placed counterparts on the toe and sides of the upper keep your feet feeling fresh and cool.
Both of the included footbeds are vented; indeed the green insoles appear to be more hole than foam. Being so focused on ventilation, neither option provides support, and a few of our testers found they needed something a bit more substantial for ultimate comfort.
The Extreme Tech Plus shoes come with two sets of footbeds
The one-piece upper is seamless and very malleable – even the mesh vents are welded rather than stiched on. Northwave designed the Extreme Tech Plus with what it calls Biomap technology – it claims this system enables soles, uppers and all components to be “anatomically compatible with every cyclist’s feet”. While this is questionable, we did find the uppers shaped nicely our around our feet and made for a comfortable fit. Even our tester whose feet are slightly mangled from years of ski racing had no issues.
Enhancing the fit is a no-slip heel cup that’s lined with a directional silver thread. Your heel slides into the shoe easily, but try to pull it up and the yarns grip your sock, successfully preventing slippage.
The orange shoes offer just a bit of added visibility
While the traditional three hole mounting system is present, the Extreme Tech Plus also offer four-bolt compatibility – though you'll need the Northwave adaptor plate (AU$29.95 / US$19.99 / £12.99). The thin nylon plate has an alloy pedal contact surface and eliminates the need to adjust both the traditional adaptor and the cleat, enabling a proper fit to be achieved with a single adjustment.
The Extreme Tech Plus sit at the top of Northwave’s range, and provide all the comfort and performance expected from a premium price shoe, with a little added visibility. If fluoro orange is too loud for your personal taste, more traditional shades are available too.