Northwave Airelite SBS – HIMO

I reviewed the Airelite 3 shoes getting on for 18 months ago now and I have finally got round to writing up the top of the tree version. The main reason I wanted to test these over the 3’s was the inclusion of the ratchet to deal with my fit issues. The thing that put me off was the extra stiffness as I had found the 8.5 rated sole to be just about perfect for all day Sportive riding. Here’s my thoughts and how I got on with them.

The sole is rated as a 10.5, but these are manufacturers scales and have no basis to reference between different companies. This can make a comparison hard, and only ride time being the true judge, unless you could make a test rig of some sorts. From what I’ve used these are not as stiff as the top end Specialized shoes (rated 10) but a little firmer than the carbon soled Sidis, but not much. What makes these different from the competition at this price is that they have a wood laminate footbed. What, you may be thinking, but there is some good logical sense to this. In years gone by before carbon, nylon and other mixtures of the two, wood was a common choice of sole to screw the plates into.

What the wood does for you feet is allow some level of flex under foot while allowing the sole to remain stiff. On top of this a footbed will be a foam insert. I used the regular one for a while and have both used a Specialized and ended up settling on using the new Northwave version. The only thing to bear in mind is that with the inner sole being wood you need to make sure it gets properly dried out when wet, as it can develop mould. But a quick clean with some anti-bacterial cleaner sorts it out nicely.

I don’t think I am alone in saying that I have a wider foot across the front section of the foot. This makes wearing certain shoes a no no as they are too narrow. So often I found getting the right fit a question of compromise. The SBS addresses some of this as the ratchet mechanism pulls the foot further into the healcup than regular velcro does. This for me goes in someway to deal with the issues I had with my previous Northwave shoes, being that the rear of the shoe is a little wide for me. What I have failed to mention is that the top strap is adjustable to really fine tune the fit.

Sole stiffness was my primary concern for not testing this shoe originally. The reason why is I had a spate of shoes giving me hot spots at around the 80-100km mark in a sportive. This became a pain, both physically and mentally as I knew there was a high likelihood of it happening and very little I could do about it. I’d tried different insoles, socks and then the move to the Northwaves sorted it out with their 8.5 rated sole.

The 10.5 of the SBS initially felt very stiff, but not harsh on the feet. Hitting the 80km mark proved to be no issues, reaching 100km was a different story. I had been using the excellent Specialized footbeds, but in this shoe they didn’t work as well compared to my Aerlite 3, which is strange. I then swaped these out to the Northwave footbeds, but used the SBC shims to fine tune the angle of the foot. Bingo, it worked and going over 100km only now represented a problem if my legs didn’t work.

So I have been using these for over a year now, here’s my summary.

  • The extra stiffness is great, but mainly as it doesn’t hurt my feet. I can tell a difference between the two shoes and it gives me an option if I’m feeling tied or going on a rough route.
  • Durabilty is excellent. They have proved to be really great quality. When they were looking grubby one day I cleaned them with some kitchen cleaner – they came up like new and the upper material wasn’t damaged in any way. This is great news, as the shoes are white.
  • Sole. Okay there are a few scrapes and scuffs but nothing to write home about. The heels have worn a little but if they get too bad I can replace them, which is a welcome feature on a shoe at this price.
  • I’d absolutely recommend these if you have a wider foot, especially if like myself the real of your feet isn’t wide. The Typhoon would be a cheaper option with this fit in the range if you wanted to have a ratchet (the Aerlite 3 forgoes this for 3 velcro straps)

So the lesson i have learnt is not to take things purely on face value as I would have initially been put off. The sum of the parts makes up for a greater product and so a better experience.

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