If there’s one thing I’ve heard from friends and PEZ readers about my recent shoe reviews (Shimano S-Phyre RC902 and Specialized Ares), it’s that they may be great shoes that the pros ride but they are bloody expensive! Pros get their shoes for free, but a lot of riders in the real world have a hard time justifying/rationalizing spending their hard earned money on a pair of $400+ shoes. And, quite frankly, shoes that expensive are probably beyond the budget of a lot of riders. The truth is that — unless you are an uber serious racer/rider capable of putting out megawatts — you probably don’t “need” the same shoes the pros ride. You can spend less and still get high level, “pro quality” shoes. Although not dirt cheap, the Northwave Extreme GT2 shoes are a good example of getting a lot of bang for your buck.
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Northwave Extreme GT2 – $249.99
For not quite $250, the Extreme GT pretty much has the kind of tech you’d find in a more expensive, Full Monty racing shoe.
At the top of the checklist is carbon fiber and Northwave uses what it calls its Morph Carbon 12 AAS sole in the Extreme GT2. According to Northwave, it uses a “full-carbon insert in the pedal area [Northwave doesn’t say what material for the rest of the sole] with a stiffness index of 12,” which is a tad less stiff than the Extreme Pro (stiffness rating 15). But sole stiffness isn’t always the be-all and end-all. Yes, you need a stiff sole to transfer power to the pedals. But if a sole is too stiff (relative to your physique and power output), the result will be what I call “carbon sole fatigue” — where the stiffness tires out your feet and makes them hurt, including hot spots and even cramping. At that point, all that stiffness isn’t going to help you put down any power.
More than Spinal Tap “all the way to 11” but less than Northwave’s maximum 15 rating
So what do you gain for giving up a little something in stiffness? In a word … comfort. For those of us not riding in the rarefied air of the pro peloton, that’s a tradeoff worth considering (along with more cash in your pocket).
Of course, the sole has a standard 3-hole cleat mount. It’s worth noting, however, that the mounting holes are fixed. So any fore/aft adjustment will depend on the cleats themselves. This is my first experience with shoes drilled this way and I have to admit I don’t understand Northwave’s reason for it. That said, I didn’t have any problems getting my Speedplay cleats set up properly (I like the ball of my foot to be ever so slightly in front of axis of the pedal axle).
Northwave also makes a Speedplay adapter that allows for a lower stack height between your foot and pedal than using the standard Speedplay 3-hole adapter plate. I ride Speedplays, but don’t have the Northwave adapter because I don’t want a stack height difference between all my different shoes that I ride. But for Speedplay users riding just one pair of shoes and looking for #marginalgains, it might be something worth considering.
The sole also two air intake ports (one at the toe and one mid foot) and an exhaust port (at the heel) to pull air through and out of the shoe. In cold or wet weather, you might want to tape these closed.
Air conditioning for your feet
Those air intakes aren’t of much use if the insoles don’t also provide air flow/ventilation
The upper is a synthetic material that we’re used to seeing on lots of shoes these days – it’s designed for support and durability.
There are two mesh inserts in the forefoot and quite a few ventilation perforations in the Extreme GT2 upper to help keep your feet cool in hot weather. But if you want even more ventilation, you might want to check out the Northwave Mistral Plus (Alexey Lutsenko’s choice of footwear at this year’s Dauphine).
Northwave makes strategic use of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) for what it calls its Anatomical Arch Support. Instead of super stiff carbon fiber under the foot arch area, the Extreme GT2 has TPU that provides some elasticity (ability to deform and return to its original shape). According to Northwave: “TPU is not as stiff as the carbon in the sole and this allows the shoe to adapt to the arch of the foot, which gets the best possible support during movement and exercise.”
Instead of custom insoles, TPU is supposed to help the Extreme GT2 adapt to the bow shape of the arch
The Extreme GT2 is available in 3 colorways:
- White (ubiquitous in the pro peloton)
- Black (for the traditionalists)
- Anthra (something different and what I got)
Both the White and Anthra versions have reflective accents for some added visibility at night
Northwave specs 289 grams for the Extreme GT2 (but doesn’t say for what size) so I don’t know if my size 42 are on spec or slightly overweight
A Word About Sizing
Whatever size you wear in other shoes, according to Northwave: “No matter what size you THINK you are, please click the FIND YOUR PERFECT FIT link for guidance on how to determine the best size for you.” They aren’t kidding.
- My foot measures 263 mm or 26.3 cm, so I went with 26.4 cm on the Northwave chart
- That put me in Euro size 41
- But Northwave says: “Go up one full size from the corresponding size on the chart to get your correct fit in Northwave shoes”
- So that meant Euro size 42 (coincidentally, the same size I wear in a few other shoes)
That worked for me, but I’m a sample size of one. Obviously, try before you buy is always best. But if you’re online ordering, I’d be sure you have the ability to return/exchange the shoes if, for some reason, they don’t fit.
What makes the Northwave Extreme GT2 a top level shoe is trickle down technology from the top-of-the-line Extreme Pro. Both the more expensive Extreme Pro and the Extreme GT2 share Northwave’s X-Frame 2 design/construction. PEZ reviewed the Northwave X-Frame design when it was first introduced (2017). The new X-Frame 2 is changed a little, but the concept remains the same: to create a snug, even fit with no pressure points.
The X-Frame is built with a 0.5 mm thick ultra-soft material that has virtually no stretch. These strips connect the sole to the upper and wrap around your foot. They are also the cable guides. This is unusual in that almost all other shoes use some sort of “hard” material. To alleviate any cause for concern about the cable guides being “soft” (meaning not sturdy), it’s worth noting that Northwave is the shoe sponsor of the Astana Premier Tech team (almost all of them riding the Extreme Pro that uses the same X-Frame) and it’s highly doubtful they’d be riding something that doesn’t work or is prone to failure.
The 0.5 mm thick material used to create the X-Frame is pretty much impossible to discern underneath the material of the upper, but the green lines give you an idea of how the X-Frame wraps around the upper and connects to the sole. The red arrows are a top strip that reinforces the seam where the upper overlaps to close.
Instead of fishing line or coated steel wire used in many other shoes, Northwave uses Dyneema for the cables to pull the X-Frame closed. Like the X-Frame material, Dyneema is very soft. But it is also very strong. According to the manufacturer, Dyneema “is up to 15x stronger than steel and up to 40 percent stronger than aramid fiber weight for weight.” Put another way: “it’s stronger at the same weight or lighter at the same strength than alternatives.” Dyneema also has a very high tensile strength and is highly resistant to stretch.
The same reasons Dyneema is used for paragliding lines make it good as a shoe closure cable: lightweight, thin, abrasion resistant, good bending properties, and low stretch. If paragliders are willing to risk their lives to Dyneema, cyclists should feel confident about risking their feet.
The final piece of the X-Frame design is Northwave’s SLW3 double dial closure (the previous X-Frame design used a single dial) that differentiates pressure across the the top of the instep and the toe area of the shoe. The SLW3 is a micro-click closure system but if you’re coming from shoes with BOA dials, the SLW3 is very different:
- You rotate the dial forward to tighten in increments (just like BOA)
- But instead of rotating the dial backward to loosen, there’s a lever on the top of the dial that you push down to loosen in increments
- And instead of pulling up on the dial to release, you pull up on the lever
It’s worth noting that pulling up on the SLW3 lever doesn’t result in a total release like pulling up on a BOA dial to open up the shoe. After you pull it up, the SLW3 lever resets to its closed position and holds the cable in place. To fully release the cable and open up the shoe you have to hold the lever up with one hand as you pull the flap that overlaps up with your other hand. So more complicated/fiddly than BOA for getting your shoes off (and on).
A short video to demo the SLW3 dials, including the way I discovered to release both dials with one hand and pull the flap open with the other … Voila!
Fit and Feel
The first thing I noticed about the Northwave Extreme GT2 is that it’s a fairly high volume shoe. Unlike a lot of other shoe brands (especially Italian), Northwave uses a wider last and a more rounded toe box to be able to accommodate more foot shapes.
My toes had plenty of room and were comfy with the more rounded toe box
I have flat-ish but average width feet. I found that while the Extreme GT2 size 42 fit me, my feet didn’t “fill” the shoes as much as some other shoes I have (more so with my right foot). Not that my feet were moving around or “swimming” inside the shoes, but I could definitely feel that there was more room — one result being that I really had to crank down the SLW3 dials to get a tight enough fit. [NOTE: I subsequently experimented with insoles from another pair of shoes that allow me to adjust the arch and forefoot varus that resulted in a better overall fit.]
Just another reminder that foot type matters when it comes to shoes. I can certainly wear and ride the Extreme GT2 but, in some ways, I feel like it might be better suited for those with higher arches and/or slightly wider (but not necessarily wide) feet. I’m not a foot/shoe expert, but I’m not sure how well they would fit people with narrow feet. Another reason why try before you buy is always a good thing … especially with shoes.
Shoe volume aside, I found Northwave’s claim of “even fit with no pressure points” for the X-Frame to be true for me. Even with the SLW3 dials purposefully overtightened, I couldn’t feel the X-Frame or cables “digging in.” As with any shoe, figuring out the “just right” tension is a bit of trial-and-error, but the micro-click adjustability of the SLW3 dials makes that easy.
A deep heel cup (left) — the inside material is very grippy — and sturdy heel counter (right) to hold you in place
The Extreme GT2 upper material is more “stiff” than “supple” so it felt firm on my foot. It wasn’t uncomfortable but I could feel the upper more around my foot than some other pairs of shoes I have (time will tell if the material breaks in over time).
Heel (left) and toe (right) pads for clattering around coffee shops, but neither are replaceable
In terms of applying pressure to the pedals, the carbon insert soles of the Extreme GT2 felt stiff enough for me. My first ride in the Extreme GT2 was actually a long-ish trainer session, which isn’t a bad initial test of shoes with the constant pedaling to put down power. Any shortcomings will be readily apparent and I didn’t experience any. Subsequent road rides were more of the same. Whether it was just spinning, out of the saddle to power up over a steep rise, or settling into a rhythm on a climb, I couldn’t feel any flex or discomfort.
Wallet Friendly Pro Level Shoes
You can spend nearly $400 on a pair of Northwave shoes (Extreme Pro) if you want to. In fact, you can spend more than $400 (on Northwave’s European website) for the Extreme Pro 30th Anniversary edition shoe (very classy looking!) that a lot of Euro pros are wearing.
Astana Premier Tech showing off the Extreme Pro 30th Anniversary edition shoes
But the Northwave Extreme GT2 is a compelling case for not having to spend 4 large to get a top level shoe. You get the same X-Frame that Northwave uses in the more expensive Extreme Pro. The double dial closure is the same. The upper design and construction is essentially the same. So you get the same exact fit as the Extreme Pro.
Maybe if you’re a cycling god like Filippo Ganna you need the max stiffness carbon sole of the Northwave Extreme Pro (he’s wearing the 30th Anniversary edition), but most of us mere mortals will probably be just fine with slightly less stiffness (and a little more comfort) of the Extreme GT2
The big difference between the Extreme Pro and the Extreme GT2 is in the sole (including the arch). With the Extreme Pro, maximum stiffness is the name of the game with its full carbon sole and carbon Power Shape arch support. The Extreme GT2 is still plenty stiff. But with a full carbon insert in the pedal area and TPU Anatomical Arch Support, it’s a little more forgiving/comfortable. Honestly, that’s probably more well suited for a lot of riders (and maybe even a few racers). Stiff plus comfortable … what’s not to like about that?
Feets don’t fail me now!
Color and graphics aside, visually it’s hard to tell much difference the between top-of-the-line Extreme Pro (top) and its $150 less expensive sibling Extreme GT2 (bottom)
If you need to be pro, please treat yourself to the Northwave Extreme Pro. But if you’re on a budget, you can can save yourself more than just a few pennies — and treat your significant other to a nice dinner and evening out instead — with the Extreme GT2. You’ll still look plenty pro and get what IMHO is a “pro level” shoe with the Extreme GT2.
• See more info at the Northwave website.
Not his shoes and not to be confused with Filippo Ganna, but the same Northwave X-Frame tech
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