The Northwave Extreme RR road shoes are everything you might want from a top-drawer road shoe: they're light, stiff and supremely comfortable race slippers, but they're let down a bit by a high-tech but imperfect tension dial and cable design.
According to Northwave, the Extreme RR shoe is the best performing model it has ever produced, and you might expect so at that price. With a stiffer sole and revolutionary XFrame upper, it's claimed to be a top-of-the-range game changer. The understated looks (other more shouty versions are available for a little more) belie the amount of tech that's gone into these high stepping fast Italian shoes.
Starting at the bottom, the sole is made from 100% unidirectional carbon combined with a reinforced layer that Northwave calls Full Carbon Ultra, and it comes with a whopping stiffness index of 15 (there's no mention of how high this scale goes so we'll have to assume that's quite stiff) despite the sole being made as thin as possible.
A flat cleat plate that's Speedplay-adapter-compatible flows into stout stiffening ribs that run down towards the heel of the shoe and there are no fewer than seven metal mesh-covered vents perforating the bottom of the shoe to keep things cool. A small non-replaceable heel pad protects the sole when walking and there's a dainty integrated toe pad to help with pedal flips and foot-down-at-the-lights moments.
The carbon doesn't wrap up the sides of the shoe much at all and has very little in the way of sole contouring, so foot support is dealt with almost entirely by the matching neon yellow insoles. There are two sizes to choose from, both with pronounced arch and metatarsal support, one Standard and one High Volume (or Pro Regular Fit and Pro Slim Fit), the latter having a 2mm thicker forefoot for narrower feet.
The entire synthetic leather upper is made up of one piece of material that wraps under itself to form the tongue of the shoe. It's a mere 0.5mm thick and is perforated with tiny ventilation holes throughout the front half of the shoe. Criss-crossing over the upper are the subtly visible ribs of the XFrame, a patented Northwave construction to give rigidity to the upper and act as stealthy attachment points for the closure wire, helping it to transfer every watt of your power, according to Northwave.
While the matt black with neon accents is stylishly subtle, the soft fabric happily shows dirt and is harder to keep fresh than other shinier wipe-clean leather and leatherette shoe uppers. And with no toe bumpers they can scuff up pretty quickly, especially the putty-down shoe.
The Integrated Heel System is party to the only external panelling on the shoe: a strip of material running up the rear. The heel cup is stiff, but not as plasticky or rigid as other shoes so there's still a comfortable amount of give in there, and the inside of the heel cup is well padded and covered with a silver and directional 'cat's tongue' material, the rough downward nap of which stops the heel of your foot from slipping up when giving it your best efforts.
Closure and tension over the whole length of the Extreme RR is dealt with just the one ratcheting SLW2 (Speed Lace Winch) dial, which is Northwave's take on the Boa dial-and-string system. It's pretty much the same idea but with a different OS.
Sitting flush to the side, tightening is done by familiar clockwise rotation of the dial and a small silver button on the top deals with both releasing that tension in micro-clicks with a push or by dumping all the tension in one go by pulling up on it when you need to take your foot out. Despite having a handy sextet of serrated lumps on the outer edge, the dial is relatively thin and shallow so it can be fiddly to adjust, especially with gloves on, and the little silver release button isn't the most intuitive of systems to use.
That dial is connected to a Dyneema cable that runs down the shoe in a complex arrangement of zig-zags, designed apparently with geometric precision through a series of textile loops attached to the end of that XFrame system. The theory is that threading through fabric loops rather than plastic guides both flattens the profile of the shoe and removes potential pressure points.
While tightening the shoe up with just the one ratcheting dial makes things quick and easy, it's not without its issues. Things do cinch up speedily initially but the shoe needs tightening up again more than once a ride when things have bedded in a bit and your foot has settled into the shoe. It's not a big issue – I haven't found a shoe that doesn't need to be tightened up a smidge at some point in a ride – but the Extreme RR seemed to need tweaking tight more often than others.
Because the one dial and single web of cable has to deal with tension over the whole shoe and there aren't specific tightening devices assigned to different areas of the upper, like most other shoes, you can't custom tension the shoe over specific parts. If you prefer a looser fit around the mid foot and toe box and a tighter grip around the ankle, for example, you might get frustrated by the one-tension-fits-all closure system. I didn't have a problem with it, to be honest, and I can be quite the fusspot about shoes and their ways. I got mildly irked by the repeated tensioning instead.
Fit of the Extreme RR is what you might call traditionally Italian, that's to say snug disco slipper. It's tight around the ankle and mid foot but then widens out as it heads towards the front of the foot before narrowing down and being ballerina pointy toed. A real dancing shoe for the road. I prefer a narrow and tight shoe, having possession of dainty feet, and these Northwaves, while being very comfortable, were definitely on the snug side, so if you have feet that weren't designed in a wind tunnel or have experienced some Chinese Binding in their youth then definitely try before you buy, and maybe go up a size.
Despite some little details that may niggle, they are lovely, lovely shoes to wear. They're light, noticeably so in a can't-feel-them-going-round kinda way and yet also remarkably stiff, yet not in a way that makes them uncomfortably unusable after a while.
I took the Extreme RR shoes on long rides on hot days, usually a recipe to find any foibles, rubs and hot spots in a shoe, and there were no issues at all: no sharp pains through the sole and no pressure points via the upper. It's a supremely comfortable system overall; the thin, soft and supple material of the upper wraps around the foot in a lovely hug with no seams or ridges to create areas of pinch or friction. Unfortunately, the foibles of that tensioning system make the Extreme RR less than perfect, because for that money you're looking for flawless really.
If you want more precision in your tensioning, Giro's Factor Techlace shoes are a little heavier (without being exactly heavy, at 576g), but have three separate adjusters on each shoe and are ’only' £289.99 so you save a fiver (but lose some daintiness). If money is the sticking point, Northwave's Extreme GTs might be worth a look, featuring the same closure system and XFrame but a slightly less stiff sole (12 not 15), with an RRP of £204.99.
Beautifully light, stiff and comfortable, but the fit, fiddly dial and one-string tensioning might not be for all
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Northwave Extreme RR Road Shoe
Size tested: 41
Tell us what the product is for
Northwave says: "The new Northwave top of the range road shoes eliminate pressure point issues with the revolutionary XFrame® patented technology. The best performing model ever produced by the Italian brand thanks to a new design, a stiffer sole and the revolutionary XFrame® patented technology, finally eliminating the issue most riders conplain of: the pressure points on the top of the foot. What makes Extreme RR a game changer is the combination of ultra-soft and comfortable materials with a redesigned closure that sets new benchmarks in terms of fit uniformity around the entire foot. With XFrame, the performance of Northwave's exclusive SLW2 dial is enhanced by the innovative route of the cable on the upper, no plastic eyelets are used to route the cable, only specially positioned textile loops. A complex system of angles, designed with geometric precision through special textile loops, creates a unique frame over the upper to provide the snuggest and most even fit ever, eliminating the pressure points while being extremely easy to adjust with only one SLW2 rotor. The Extreme RR also comes with two insloes so you can use one if you have slimmer feet and one for slightly wider/thicker feet."
It's a light, stiff and comfortable shoe to wear, some of the game-changing tech is great, some of it less so.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Ultralight Carbon 15 sole made of 100% unidirectional carbon combined with a reinforced layer. With a stiffness index of 15.0, it's the bestperforming Northwave sole ever.
NW Speedplay adapter compatible for the lowest stack height between foot and pedal.
Made with Xframe® patented construction and ultralight next generation materials that are only 0.5 mm thick, the upper transfers every watt of power and provides the snuggest, even fit with no pressure points.
SLW2 dial, the only one with step-by-step and full release in a single button.
Integrated heel system containing directional fibre prevents any slipping.
As you might expect from such a pricey shoe, they're well made, and these black ones look exquisite. You could wear them with a suit.
The lightness and stiffness you'd want from a top-end shoe. Some operational quirks.
The soft-effect upper doesn't do so well against road dirt and it scuffs easily. Non-replaceable heel pads and toe bumpers.
Fit was as snug yet comfy as you'd want from a shoe.
Typically Italian in their sizing, narrower than most, with pointy toes but roomy in the mid-foot.
The soft, thin, one-piece upper made the shoes really comfortable.
While not the most expensive road shoes you can buy, they're up there with the best of them; but with their lack of weight, performance and comfort it's not hard to justify the price.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The soft black upper was harder to keep clean and free from scuffs than other more leathery shoes.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
A very comfortable, light yet stiff road shoe.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Mostly the wraparound huggy comfort, but the light weight and stiffness were also appreciated.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The tensioning dial was a bit fiddly, and the more frequent than usual tightening. The matt black with neon highlights is a pain to keep clean and the colourway was a bitch to get socks to match effectively.
Did you enjoy using the product? On the whole, yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Lovely though they are, for that sort of money I'd look around for something with fewer minor annoyances. And I'd get the neon yellow ones.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? I'd say they're worth a look.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Northwave Extreme RR road shoes have almost everything it takes to match up to their top shelf price tag. They're light, stiff soled, supportive and incredibly comfortable, but they're let down by a technical yet flawed lacing system and fiddly tension dial.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.