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Of all the necessary evils in cycling, winter booties rank up there as one of my least favorite. They look goofy, they feel massive, they rip and tear easily, they make it nearly impossible to adjust your dials and buckles on the fly, and they often interfere with cleats. But they sure do keep your feet toasty.
That’s why Northwave’s Extreme RR 2 GTX winter riding shoes have become my winter staple: You get all the advantages of booties with just about none of the drawbacks.
Northwave has taken a page from the winter mountain bike world by adding a high neoprene cuff, called a Climaflex collar. This seals off your feet from the elements. Further, Northwave integrates Gore-Tex Rattler membrane into that cuff. That means you still get all the ankle mobility you’re used to, combined with protection from wind, rain, and muck. Its simple design also means it’s low-profile and sleek. It works wonderfully, though it would be even better if there was a bit more stretch in the cuff, or even a zipper, to make it easier to put the shoes on or take them off.
Even though there’s lots of room in the toe box for extra sock layers or thick woolies, the shoes maintain a sleek appearance and feel. Of course, that added width does mean you might end up brushing your crank arm more than you’re used to. We’ll take that compromise for the promise of toasty warm toes.
Speaking of toasty toes, Northwave also puts a Top Flight thermal coating on the toes of the shoes to protect against the elements, as well as a water and windproof Gore-Tex Duratherm membrane on the outside of the shoe. In other words, your foot won’t get wet. Go ahead and blast through that snowmelt puddle. Your feet will be fine.
There are a few drawbacks. For starters, Northwave’s proprietary SLW2 dial just isn’t as easy to use as Boa dials. This problem is exacerbated when you’re wearing thick winter gloves. It snugs up fine and holds tightly, but to release the lace, you must press a hook-shaped button on top of the dial. Pushing that hook releases the lace in 0.72mm increments for micro-adjusting. Pulling on the hook releases the lace entirely so you can take the shoes off.
It’s not a bad system, but it’s more difficult to operate than Boa dials, which often offer the ability to micro-adjust by simply turning the dial in one direction or the other. The SLW2 dial is a more complicated closure system, especially when you are first learning how it works.
Still, that’s a minor bugaboo on an ultimately excellent winter riding shoe. Considering the price you’ll pay for these performance-oriented shoes, they justify themselves by offering protection from the elements — not to mention adjustability —you just can’t get with booties. If you’re budget-conscious, or if you spend more time on the trainer than you do braving the winter elements, booties are still your best option. But if you ride outdoors year-round and in the worst conditions, these are a worthwhile investment.