The intersection points between being a cyclist, your feet and cold weather are not unlike when you try to line up a theater, yelling and the word, “fire.” No good can come of either situation. Trying to keep your feet warm in cold weather is no small feat. Trying to keep them warm and dry is harder than finding a planet in the so-called Goldilocks zone. Isn’t it really just a matter of time before your feet get cold and/or wet on those long days?
Of course, the standard answer is to wrap it up in a bootie, right? That works well enough when I’m ticking off the miles in zone 2. But booties have a whole set of liabilities. They almost always rub the crank arm, which means I’m losing wattage with each pedal stroke and that’s doubly true of the heels of the booties rub the chainstays—never mind the fact that I don’t want the paint rubbed off. And while I can’t say they restrict movement, they do hinder it at some level. It’s easy to minimize during the ride, but the moment I get home and take them off, my ankles immediately feel like their range of motion has improved. Let’s not forget how they add weight. And seriously, on those real drenchers, my feet always end up wet, despite the booties, so having booties soak up water to make them even heavier is seriously my favorite.
Enter the Northwave Extreme RR 2 GTX. Say that three times fast. Okay, don’t. Imagine a shoe that is insulated, has a Gore membrane to keep the water out and a neoprene cuff that helps keep the ankle warm and the water out. Actually, you don’t have to imagine any of that stuff, as it’s all present in the Extreme RR 2 GTX.
Robot and I have talked from time to time about what makes for an appropriate winter shoe. I’ll admit that my heart both pitters and patters for anything that looks like a lumberjack boot with fur shooting out of the top and an SPD cleat on the bottom. Our Boston-based correspondent says he runs hot, so stuff like that makes him sweat. As I live in Northern California where it’s hard to encounter a day worse than wet and with temperatures hovering in the 40s, I can’t make use of those Nordic cycling mukluks, but I still want something warmer than a ventilated cycling shoe.
The Extreme RR 2 GTX employs many of the same features found in the Ghost XCM, which I reviewed last year. The carbon sole in theExtreme RR 2 GTX isn’t quite as stiff as that found in the Ghost XCM; the Extreme RR 2 GTX is rated a 10 by Northwave, while the Ghost XCM is a 12, which is to say, stiffer, though not hugely so. I put both shoes on and found the difference to be apparent, but mostly because I had one of each shoe on. When walking to my bike, I like a bit of flex in the sole, and actually find the Extreme RR 2 GTX to have a more natural feel. A shoe really can be too stiff.
The neoprene cuff on the Extreme RR 2 GTX immediately sets it apart from other cycling shoes. It’s a handy way to shorthand “winter shoe that excels in wet conditions.” What it really does is take the place of the upper part of the bootie so that you can enjoy some coverage between when the leg warmers or tights end and the shoe begins. It’s the shoe itself where the magic happens. Unlike traditional neoprene though, this is loaded up with a Gore-Tex® membrane called Rattler to keep water and from entering through the neoprene, so you get all the warmth and flexibility of neoprene, but with better protection from the elements. Though the cuff is snug, there’s a handy pull at the back to help you tug the shoe on.
A Gore-Tex® Duratherm membrane keeps the wet that’s outside of the shoe on the outside, along with all the cold air the wind pushes around. They say it’s breathable, but I can’t attest to that one way or another. Most Gore-Tex® stuff can only keep up with perspiration as long as your effort is confined to zones 1 or 2. A thick sock kept my feet from feeling wet.
In addition to the Gore-Tex® membrane, Northwave insulates both the toe and the footbed. The footbed is remarkable because while most footbeds are all but throwaways, this one features a combination of fleece and aluminum to create real insulation for your feet.
My one piece of advice for anyone considering these shoes is that if you own a gravel bike, I’d look at the Extreme XCM 2 GTX. These days, I’m more likely to want to take a gravel bike out on the road in nasty conditions, and the Extreme XCM 2 GTX is nearly the same shoe as this, except that it has a lugged sole and accepts only two-bolt cleats. All of my early season events are gravel events, and I’d run these shoes at the early season Grasshoppers (and this weekend’s Tour du Placer-Roubaix).
When I first looked at this shoe a couple of years ago, I held my breath because I was afraid that all the extra features would command a crazy premium. I’m relieved to say I was wrong. The suggested retail is only $259.
The Extreme RR 2 GTX uses the same non-BOA retention dial with the same spider web lacing that I described on the Ghost XCM. As I mentioned then, no other single-closure shoe has ever fit me comfortably. Somehow, this crazy zig-zag of cable is able to wrap the shoe in such a way that I don’t end up with either crushed toes or a squozed forefoot. Adjusting the SLW2 dial is easy. Turn the dial to tighten. Press the little silver trigger down to release a single click. Pull the little silver trigger up and the cable fully releases.
My wardrobe is both deep and varied. I can dress for virtually anything short of McMurdo Station. However, my hands and feet continue to be an issue. Or, well, my feet were an issue. I rolled out recently for a road ride when temperatures were in the 30s. Had I checked the forecast, I might have waited an hour, but I rolled out. My hands were a bit cold, but the rest of me was perfectly comfortable. I never once thought about my feet. There was no constriction of movement, no ponderous bulk and no cold getting to my feet.
Final thought: I may run this shoe at gravel events that don’t require me to dismount.