Inside Northwave Shoes

May 17, 2016
by Matt Wragg  



While Northwave may not be a name too familiar to those of us who follow the gravity side of mountain biking, yet on the lycra side of things they are something of a legendary brand. Having launched their first mountain bike shoes in 1993, they were one of the first brands to inject some colour into proceedings and their footwear has been ubiquitous at the sharp end of international XC racing since. Soon after an apparel line followed and their style pretty much defined the "Euro" look for much of the 90s and 00s. Recently they have begun to turn their attention to the less lycra-clad side of things, and we were impressed with their forthcoming Enduro Mid shoe that they developed in partnership with Cedric Gracia. We took a look inside their headquarters near Asolo, Italy, to understand the craftsmanship that goes into these technology-packed shoes.



Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
While their focus was always XC and road, that doesn't mean they haven't had the occasionally dabble in the gravity side of things over the years - Missy Giove ran Northwave while she was on the Cannondale team. The advert translates to "shoes of fable."

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
One unique thing that Northwave do is offer customers the chance to buy fully customised kit, so they can pick from a number of garments, then fully personalise the graphics and colours. This is all done here, in-house in Asolo.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
The first step of designing a new model begins with the raw sketch, the design team then add styling to the layout.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Northwave have a unique foot form they base all their shoes on, this is then wrapped in art tape and the layout of the shoe is then hand-drawn onto the surface. This basic outline is defined by the elements that the shoe will need to have - like closures and protection.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
The details from the template are then digitally traced to be uploaded into the CAD software.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
One thing that Northwave are incredibly proud of is their technology - they design and develop all the components that go to make their shoes. For instance, the closure system is proprietary to Northwave - designed in-house it is markedly different from other closure systems on the market. One detail they like to draw attention to is the thread that actually closes the shoes - it is a very specific material that is both incredibly light, flexible and strong. This is actually their older system the SLW, on their newer shoes they have the SLW2 which now has a more user-friendly release system that uses a single button to tension and release the closure.


Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
All of Northwave's prototypes are produced here in Asolo (as well as their custom shoes for athletes). The CAD drawings of the design are loaded onto the laser cutter - laying out the elements is like a jigsaw puzzle, the operator needs to arrange them on the material in the most efficient way possible, then the laser works its magic to quickly create the precise, complex shapes.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
The freshly cut elements are then hand-sewn together to form the shoe's upper.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
The soles are sculpted by Franco here in his secluded corner of the building.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Developing the sole and tread pattern is real artisan work, with everything crafted meticulously from epoxy resin. Every element is made by the same process, even the moulds are made in the same way - they always start with an existing design, then begin refining. The resin is mixed, then placed into the mould, left to cure, then finished with a knife to remove and imperfections.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.

Inside Northwave. Asolo Italy. Photo by Matt Wragg.
With the upper and the sole ready, the next step is to join them together. First the upper is heated and pressed around a foot form, the underside is heated and pressed onto the sole, before being sanded ready to take the sole. The sole and the upper are glued together, then machine-pressed together. Finally, the foot form is pushed open so it can be removed, and you have the finished shoe.


MENTIONS: @northwavecycling




69 Comments

  • 34 0
 @northwavecycling Thank you for making shoes wide enough to fit normal people.
  • 5 0
 I second that!
  • 4 1
 Amen! Easily some of the better shoes on the market. I like shimanos offerings for durability as well, but their fit is a tiny bit off for guys with wide feet and tall arches.
  • 2 1
 @atrokz: yeah love my roadie ones!! And they are wide enough that comfort all day isn't an issue, unlike Shimano shoes.
  • 3 0
 @cunning-linguist: Love shoes that come for wide feet. Gonna get some of those green ones to go with my new Fox gear from the other review.
  • 20 7
 I have owned a handful of Five Ten shoes over the years and although they perform well while they are in good condition, tend to fall apart pretty fast. Especially with the soles separating, which happened to every Five Ten I owned and my riding buddies have had the same issues. I still buy them for now but if NW can have comparable performance, similar price point, better reliability, I am listening...
  • 11 3
 Have you tried shimano shoes? Mine (a trekking model) are taking beating for over 3 years now...
  • 9 3
 @szusz: My Shimano shoes lasted 10 years, the sole finally wore down.
  • 6 3
 @szusz: I have a 9 or 10 yr old pair of Shimano M230's I still use for commuting. They aren't as pretty as when I bought them, and some of them adornment has peeled off but they are fully functional and comfy as hell.

I love them.
  • 7 1
 NW shoes are top quality. Have had mine for about 6 years and they are still holding up. They look pretty banged up but work just fine.
  • 2 17
flag savinka (May 17, 2016 at 3:26) (Below Threshold)
 sdfsdf
  • 1 19
flag savinka (May 17, 2016 at 3:26) (Below Threshold)
 sfsdf
  • 2 0
 @szusz: My very first clip shoe was a Shimano trial shoe some 10 years ago, so I just ordered a pair of Shimano SH-M200 in wide which is rare to find. I didn't use them yet but I have stayed away from most other brands because of the width options. But luckily, I found a wide version of this shoe.
  • 3 0
 My Northwave Artic Commuter MTB shoes have held up well after 3 cold seasons of riding.
  • 2 0
 NW could be an awesome option.. Had a five ten as well did not last long (used it for less than 2months) tried e-mailing five ten and did not hear anything about it.
  • 9 1
 Interesting.... I've had my five tens for 4-5 seasons now and they're still holding up relatively well given the abuse they've taken. Then again I've also had nothing but good experiences with Crank Bros. so maybe I'm just lucky.
  • 2 0
 4 years on my NW XC shoes. Still going strong, and these are lightweight race type shoes. Recently got a tougher, more trail-oriented one and I expect it to hold up for years and years.
  • 5 0
 Shoe Goo! I had the same problem, but you can glue the soles back on with shoe goo (or rubber cement). Works very well and is easy to do. Cheap too.
  • 1 0
 @scott-townes: Indeed, the five tens from 5 years ago or older were great. Used them everyday, any conditions during years. I decided to buy a new pair last year. The 1st pair didn't last 6 month, i bought another one and it's the same shit... Every one i know has the same issue. it's a real shame
  • 1 0
 I think it's hit and miss, my Five Ten Freerider Vxi's have lasted for four years of lots of use in all conditions and are still going strong.
  • 2 0
 @samsq: Shouldn't have to be doing that really. They need to get their house in order, it's adidas after all isn't it?
  • 1 0
 @scott-townes: love my 5/10 don't care for the Crank Brothers
  • 1 0
 @properp: I love everything and everyone. Ghandi is a pussy compared to me.
  • 1 0
 @szusz: I have used Shimano shoes for many years and they hold up well. But now, I cannot find half sizes. They seem to offer only whole sizes. This doesn't work for me.
  • 15 2
 Those "inside shoes" articles almost make me smell the essence of mountain biking.
  • 7 1
 The company seems to have their feet on the ground
  • 4 1
 Shoe we go for another round of puns?
  • 3 0
 @winko: I believe that would defeet the purpose of the article
  • 2 0
 hopefully no one will have to put their foot in their mouth with all these puns
  • 2 0
 This article will clearly go to heaven...

(Bringing out the oldies!)
  • 3 1
 You guys make me hungry... need some some shoeshi.... I'll be here all week....
  • 7 3
 not sure why the neg prop. have been to the factory in montebelluna, spent 3 days with them, they use their own plug( foot shape) for their footwear, this includes their snowboard boots too. they're one of the narrowest on the market.. neg prop away but was just answering a question on the fit...
  • 8 0
 I have wide feet. most other cycling shoes won't fit me. I find that northwave shoes have a wide last comparative to others. They are some of only cycling shoes that fit me.
  • 5 0
 I have wide feet and North Wave are the best fit for me and they last for ages
  • 2 0
 NW are wider than average. That's why we stock and sell them
  • 1 0
 Anybody know if NW make something as wide as a Sidi Mega? I've been running a pair for 8 years...time they were given a respectful retirement.
  • 2 0
 their snowboard boots are shit. I blew up 5 pairs in 2 years (all warranty) tossed them and went burton. Burtons fit wider and actually handle wear well. I'll never touch northwave anything again. it's scary when you land a drop and your boot basically explodes.
  • 5 0
 Nice to see an article with people actually making stuff with their hands instead of drawing it on a computer and sending the specs to a 3rd party manufacturer.
  • 1 0
 Exactly
  • 5 1
 Guess what, it all gets drawn on a computer anyways. And everything done in Asia is done the exact same way, it's just not an in house factory.
  • 2 0
 I have a pair of their top XC race shoe. Awesome and light with a stiff sole to get the power down. A bit on the narrow side like Sidi's. I need to find something a little wider in the toe box next time.
  • 2 1
 I like how they've made people think they make all their shoes by hand in this factory.
The article states this is where the custom shoes are made.
But the article does not state where all the rest are made.
Where are all the rest made?
  • 1 0
 have seen 1st hand them making the shoes, not just the custom ones, I can't say 100% that ALL their shoes are made there but i wouldn't be surprised if they were. montebelluna/ asolo area is the italian capital of footwear manufacture, it's not a small factory by any means and they fully have the capability to produce the entire range there.. even more so now that their snow boot division has shrunk...
  • 1 0
 the injection moulding machine for the sole units is so big and heavy that they had to build the new factory around it several years back.. it's frickin massive...
  • 1 0
 I have ridden through 3 pairs of Northwave Missions over the past 12 years or so. Such good, usable shoes. Going to test somebody eles next, but only out of interest. NW will always be my fall back plan.

Great adverts in the 90's as well, any body remember the Mario Cipollini Musketeer one?
  • 1 0
 Makes you appreciate the price of well made shoes, especially comparing to something like a stem that goes in a machine as a block and comes out a stem! There a big cost just in the labour.
  • 1 0
 It's an expensive machine.
  • 1 2
 What a coincidence that this article should pop up now. I was just looking at the Enduro to replace a pair of 5-10 Kestrels that the sole fell apart in less than a year. Just need to find a place I can try a pair. Anyone out there know what the sizing is like?
  • 8 5
 Don't kill local shops: try AND buy there or just go directly online.
  • 3 8
flag ad15 (May 17, 2016 at 0:39) (Below Threshold)
 north wave stuff tends to come up narrow, they use their own plugs that are narrower than any other brands i've seen.
  • 2 0
 @ArthurFr Not trying to kill local shops at all, just there's a prevelance of XC guys around so the NW stockists only tend to have the XC slippers on display.
  • 1 0
 @oldmanfalling you can glue the soles back on with shoe goo or rubber cement. Works good as new!
  • 1 0
 I've had north wave snowboard boots for many years. Didn't know they made biking shoes. Do they make any sort of free ride flat shoe?? Will have to look
  • 1 0
 I don't think they do which is a shame because my old road shoes from NW were awesome. Hopefully they will read the comments and consider a fiveten / shimano AM rival. I would be at the front of that queue.
  • 1 0
 Shoemakin' ain't easy! Paola Pezzo was odd - she could look so fetching one moment, and then the next....you just focus on her legs.
  • 2 0
 Hey, can I borrow a can of flat black spray paint? Perfect, now lets try these bad boys on....
  • 2 0
 I know a Chinese kid that can make like six of those shoes in the time it takes to read this article....
  • 2 1
 Inside factory? this shoes tayloring in beside my house in Jombang, Indonesia with more cheap Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Love my Nothwave roadie shoes, really glad to see them come into the mtb market. I need new shoes anyway. Smile
  • 2 1
 Have had several NWs over the years and have really, really liked them.
  • 3 1
 They look fookin awful
  • 1 0
 Any idea when the Enduro Mid will be available in the US?
  • 2 1
 If the shoe fits
  • 2 1
 sidi shoes are the best!
  • 1 0
 Paola Pezzo we miss you!
  • 1 0
 Up next on How It's made

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