Sunday, 16 November 2008

Northwave Aerlite 3 Road Show - IMO

Northwave lie in the Treviso region, the heartland of Italian cycling manufacturing bicycles and parts. Over the years the company has made just as much impact with their memorable advertising campaigns as the products that they sell. The designs may have toned down a little and both shoes are now the same colour, but at the heart of it all is their passion to make great shoes.

Looking at their current riders list (whether they are fully sponsored or have just a kit deal) reads like a 'who's who of cycling'. Okay the company doesn't have the long history surrounding it as Sidi may have, but hey they have only been making cycling shoes since '95, first making snow board boots in '91. In that time Northwave have helped propel riders to great victories, which include Paris Roubaix (4 times), Tour of Flanders (3 times) and numerous Grand Tour stage wins.

The hard men of the sport have adopted this shoe as their own, with Boonen bringing attention to the brand whenever he throws a leg over the bike. Speaking of Boonen, although cosmetically it looks like he also rides a Aerlite 3, he doesn't. Upon some investigation I found out that the top is indeed unchanged, but the bottom comes from the range topping Aerlite SBS. The reason given is that Tom has a high instep and so prefers the adjustability that the three velcro straps offer. Although the new ratchet top strap is now adjustable, and could deal with the high instep, PRO riders will normally stick to what they know. Unfortunately the custom option is not available until you can exchange it for a Rainbow jersey or a Monument win.

Since Northwave started to make shoes the last used was pretty normal in width and length. Then in 2001 the last got a little wider around the ball of the foot, having it's widest period between 2004 - 07. For 2008 the shoe has lost some width, which depending on size is 5-10 mm across the mid section. The toe box shape is also has a little less volume and has again become more pointed like the Genetix of 2001. These comments are probably only relevant if you have had NW's shoes before, or tried them on.

Having spent the last couple of years wearing various shoes, but most recently three different models of Specialized, they share some common areas of fit. Both are wider than the norm (for me the normal width is Shimano) and both share good volume around the toe box area. Over recent years I have been plagued by hotspots in long warm Sportives. Talking with RCUK's Richard Hallett he recommended that I try a less stiff shoe. I first tried this option with a Specialized Expert shoe, which solved the sore feet problem, but compared to other options in the SBC range did not afford the same fit I needed. The quest for a more voluminous shoe began.

As all quests take you on many paths mine led to Northwave. I bought them in February and knowing that the 2008 edition of the Ronde was just around the corner I was conscious that I needed something comfy on my feet. Fitting in some long training rides presented no problems and all was good. Quickly the Ronde was upon me, and the kasseien sections would prove the ultimate test. Hitting the pave left my hands and wrists with a tingling buzzing feeling, a bit like using a large pneumatic drill, the feet had no issues at all. Seventh heaven.

Part of the comfort comes from the sole having an 8.4 rating (which is a three layer carbon number), but the unseen aid is the cork footbed that lays hidden under the insole. At one point you could find this on cycling shoes, but now many forgo it due to the extra expense. If you have ever walked on cork flooring you will be able to testify to the spring in your step as you move across it. The shoe now comes with replacement heels, as this had been a criticism thrown at the shoe in previous editions. Sometimes it is the small details that add up, and in end make a better shoe.

My only gripe is that I don't have a wide foot across the mid and heel section. At times I would have preferred a ratchet for that locked in feeling, even though the long velcro straps offer lots of adjustment. Having talked to Paul at Jim Walker (Northwave's UK importer) he assures me that switching to the SBS model would be equally comfortable. The added stiffness of the SBS sole (five layer carbon) is offset slightly by the use of a wood laminate between the sole and insole. I asked if it was made by Quickstep to which he laughed and said "No". I am hoping at some point to test the Aerlite S.B.S. model and I'll be able to tell you for myself.

I can't really fault the shoe for me. Having used the shoe pretty much exclusively since February I have not suffered a single hotspot. Depending on your foot shape it may not work for you, but if you have a wider foot it is worth trying a pair on, as if they fit in the showroom the ride should be a sublime experience.