Northwave AERLITE S.B.S. ~ a review

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Shoe choice is very much dependent on what fits your feet. I’m a fan of Sidi, the way they are made and the simple execution of the design and function. Unfortunately they don’t fit my feet. Lake, Specialized and NORTHWAVE (from herein known as NW) do happen to fit. So this isn’t a review that will work for everyone, but please take from it what you will.

The AERLITE S.B.S. is the big brother of the Aerlite which I reviewed a couple of years back, and to be honest they where a revelation. I had a small list of things I’d fix, but they would be on my ‘perfect shoe’ list. So how did the SBS fare.

For those who don’t know the NW shoes are wider across the metatarsals and offer more volume than most shoes, on par with Specialized. For me this is welcome as I used to suffer from ‘Hot Spots’, a dreaded nemesis of any cyclist. Using the Aerlite showed me clearly that my feet loved the extra room and I’ve not had any issues since I switched over. Part of fixing the ‘Hot Spot’ issue was to use a less stiff shoe as the extra flex (maybe only slightly) is welcome over a longer distance. I was a little concerned about trying the stiffer 10.5 rated big brother in case my feet started screaming at me 80-100km into a Sportive. I was informed that due to the wood laminate footbed that this should not present a problem.

So first impressions, the fit was not too dissimilar to the Aerlite except for in one key, and beneficial, area – the top strap was a ratchet. I’ve found that there is too much room/space in the heel cup area, and although I’ve never pulled my foot out climbing or sprinting for signposts it always lacked that locked in snug feeling. Over to the SBS, so problem solved, well not quite. Although the ratchet allows you to pull the heel into the heel cup to provide a better fit it just always lacked the locked and loaded sensation. Ironically in winter this was better due to the nature of wearing a thicker sock taking up some more room. Looking at the 2011 shoe (the lower down Evolution S.B.S) it looks like this has been addressed.

Sole stiffness is noticeable in that no energy feels wasted and every kilojouel of energy is being used to propel you forward. Did the laminate footbed make a difference, well it has to be a resounding Yes. The wood is a strange structure as it provides both stiffness and allows a degree of flex, in many ways like Carbon Fibre and you can see why Bamboo is being used in frames. So on a comfort front top marks, the ideal dream for the long distance/Sportive rider would be to combine the laminate footbed with an 8.5 rated outer Carbon sole, comfort heaven I reckon and present in the aforementioned Evolution SBS model.

All in all I’ve been really happy with the shoes, in an ideal world it’d have those adjustments made to it so allowing a much better overall fit. Being White they look a little grubby from hours in the saddle, which kind of adds to the character of them. I’ve cleaned them up once and they looked as good as new, but frankly at this time of the year as they are hidden under overshoes for months I’m not too bothered. Maybe when spring finally breaks I’ll perform a bout of cleaning, ready for the sunny drier days of spring. Durability wise they have been good. The soles are scuffed, the uppers a little dirty, but they still work & that’s the most important thing.

I’m keen to try the Evolution SBS and here’s why. The hard plastic toe guard on the Aerlite is something I’ve never been a big fan of. It serves a purpose but is a little ugly. Thankfully the Evolution loses it. NW have never made the lightest of shoes, but having picked up the Evolution shoe the other day its certainly been to fat camp as it feels very light in comparison. Also the most comfort I’ve had is by using the three layer shoe which is welcome no matter how fit or unfit I may be. Combined with the new stitching method which eliminates more of the overlap between the panels it sounds like a winner.

So if you want a neutral footbed, wider toe box with a top end shoe I’d suggest you take a look at the Northwave collection, I’m sure you’ll be impressed as there’s something for all budgets.

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