The last time I wrote about cycling shoes, it was about the pain my feet had with my Shimano XC5s. Even after resorting to relocating the cleat closer to my midfoot, I still had lateral foot pain after extended rides.
JP Carino, head honcho of Gruppo Veloce Sportivo and La Course Velo, was kind enough to hook me up with a pair of Northwave shoes. He said he wanted me to give him an honest review out of them. I plan to do exactly that over the course of multiple months…but first, an introduction.
NORTHWAVE CORE PLUS SHOES
Among the Northwave models Gruppo Veloce Sportivo is bringing in, these are the entry-level offering on the road bike side, retailing for PhP7,000. They come in three colorways; mine are black with fluorescent yellow accents in a size EUR 44.
The upper is unique in that it’s not a natural or synthetic leather. Instead, it’s made of a textured, matte material that feels like an ultra-tough suede. On my black pair at least, the material hides dust and shrugs off potential toe-overlap scuffs pretty well, and Northwave isn’t fibbing when it says the upper is seamless.
At the toebox is a Velcro strap, while the rest of the tongue area is home to Northwave’s SLW2 ratchet dial closure system – basically their own take on the BOA system found on other shoes. Tightening the shoe is done by cranking down on the dial. The button on the side does two things: pushing it releases the wire tension one ratcheted click at a time, for controlled loosening of the shoe on your foot; pulling it totally disengages the ratchet and allows you to pull the shoe off.
I’ve had Italian bits and bobs on my bike before, and I think the Italians can be hit or miss with the coherence and garishness of their styling. These, though, hit the spot just right. There’s just enough visual pizzazz and color application to make the Core Plus shoes look unique.
Underneath the whole shoe is what’s called an “NRG Air Carbon Reinforced sole.” Similar to Shimano’s entry-level road shoes, the Core Plus is shaped for both three-bolt road cleats and two-bolt mountain bike cleats…on paper, at least. The sole has five mesh-covered vents along its length, then book-ended by non-replaceable heel and toe tread pads.
It’s not perfect. One of the holes for road cleats had a bit of excess plastic flash. While it didn’t get in the way of the cleat bolts, it was surprisingly resilient. A sharp knife will take care of that, but worth noting.
Also, taking a tape measure to the Core Plus’ outsole yields 5.5 cm width at its narrowest…which is just a smidge better than the Shimano XC5s I had problems with. I now notice that this seems to be a pattern with quite a number of cycling shoe manufacturers.
As a road cycling shoe, the Core Plus is drilled for three-bolt road pedal cleats out of the box. I’ve mentioned Northwave claims the shoe is also compatible with two-bolt SPD cleat fitment. However, looking up the instructions online, installing them involves cutting into the midsole with a knife to open up a pocket. You then yank out the three-bolt cleat mounting plate, in exchange for an SPD cleat nut.
I’ve read many horror stories about this cutting process being very hard or borderline impossible to do, so I decided to go the more reversible “adapter” route instead.
SHIMANO SM-SH41 SPD CLEAT ADAPTERS
Disappointingly hard to find locally, the SH41 adapters are basically hard plastic pontoons that allow any three-bolt road cycling shoe to accept two-bolt SPD cleats. One kit takes care of one pair of road cycling shoes.
As nifty as the SH41 adapters are, they aren’t perfect, either. Unlike proper SPD shoes, here you basically kiss all fore-and-aft cleat position adjustment goodbye. All you’re left with is adjustment of the cleat to have the shoe sit inboard or outboard. If you’re a fan of midfoot cleat positioning, these won’t give it to you.
Despite the cross-hatching on their surface, the hard pontoons themselves are nowhere near as grippy as the tread blocks of an actual SPD shoe. The same amount of care while walking around in road cleats still has to be taken. Then again, if you followed Northwave’s instructions and managed to mount the SPD cleats directly with no adapters, you’d gain fore-aft adjustment, but the cleat would scratch up everything you walked on as it’s not recessed any more. Pick your poison.
My feet are on the flat side, with an almost non-existent longitudinal arch. Where the XC5s were surprisingly constrictive in the EUR 44 size, these same-size Core Plus shoes are quite a bit roomier. Part of it may be due to Northwave equating EUR 44 to a US size 11, instead of a US 9.7-10 like everyone else does. Even so, these have a lot more room for adjustment, which makes dialing in the fit with the ratchet dial more effective.
The Core Plus shoes are designed with a forgiving heel hold, which should suit longer, more leisurely rides. This is personal preference, but generally a tighter heel hold is more desirable for racing. That said, I generally liked wearing these shoes a little on the loose side. The extra volume inside makes these Northwaves more comfortable right away over the XC5s. They’re better ventilated too, just short of the breezy Shimano RT33s.
So far, so good, and my first impressions are favorable. I will see what else I can find and report about them as I put them to use for most of my riding.
One thought on “First look: Northwave Core Plus cycling shoes + Shimano SH41 SPD adapters”
Nice review. Thanks a lot.