Northwave Tailwhip Eco Evo Flat Pedal Shoes
The marketing copy accompanying these shoes focuses almost entirely on the environmental (ahem!) footprint of their materials. We have been told that the upper, laces and insole are made of 100% RePET, recycled polyester. The Michelin sole is 26% recycled rubber and the insole is made from 86% ReFOAM, recycled polyurethane foam. These are good initiatives but only if the shoe performs and fits well enough for riders to choose it. Many of us are interested in doing what we can to preserve this blue marble but we aren't likely to make that choice if our feet don't stay on the pedals. Environmental concerns can trump many other issues but self preservation is likely priority #1 when you are hurtling down a mountain.
If you are wondering what RePET refers to, I am in good company. PET containers are clear plastic vessels made of polyethylene terephthalate. That didn't help me much at all but more research revealed that these particular clear plastic containers are made to be recycled. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, ""PET is the most widely recycled plastic. PET bottles and containers are commonly melted down and spun into fibres for fibrefill or carpets. When collected in a suitably pure state, PET can be recycled into its original uses, and methods have been devised for breaking the polymer down into its chemical precursors for resynthesizing into PET. The recycling code number for PET is #1."
*For those young enough to be considered a digital native, much of our information in the pre-internet era came from large hard bound books that were released yearly in sets of 30 or more. The 32-volume 2009 edition of Brittanica weighed 60kg (132lb), contained 32,640 pages and can still be purchased new on Amazon for 2000 CAD.
ACBC is a catalyst for positive change, delivering tangible and measurable benefits to people and the environment in different industries, while having a science-based data-driven methodology and alignment with international regulations, global frameworks and standards. - ACBC website
Northwave, an Italian company with a very anglo-sounding name, didn't approach this intitiantive on their own. They were aided by ABCB (Anything Can BE Changed) another Italian-founded company, founded in 2018, that supports businesses that want to make more sustainable manufacturing choices in terms of materials and processes. When even the laces are made with post-consumer recycled materials, you know they are serious.
FIT and Construction
I like the look of these shoes and the fit is good, but I received a size that was at least a half size larger than optimal. If the fit was poor as well this would have been a problem but with slightly thicker socks I was GTG. I would call them true to size so a 44.5 would likely have been perfect rather than the 45 I received.
The forefoot is generous, for those of you with wide feet, and heel hold is good. My feet aren't terribly wide so I had to cinch the lower laces more than usual and the canvas-looking material folded a little below the bottom of the last eyelets. It didn't poke into my toes but a more flexible outer wouldn't have had this issue. Over time I imagine this will soften up and if I'd had the chance to try the shoes before they were sent, this wouldn't have been an issue. Everything about these shoes feels well made but when new, they felt a little stiff. Not so much that function or comfort was compromised but they did feel a little different than most other flat pedal shoes.
There seems to be an insert in the toecap that provides so decent armouring without feeling like a steel toe. You can feel similar protection around the heel along with soft foam around the collar and high heel coverage. The upper material feels robust and durable and should provide decent protection all around. My feet feel well-protected wearing the Tailwhips.
Grip (Matching Pedals to Shoes)
On my first ride I was disappointed with the grip of these shoes, both up and down. On other rides they felt better and over time they improved. Quite soon I noticed a difference based on the pedals I was using with these shoes. On Crankbrothers Stamp 7 pedals (size small), the grip was great. Both up and down I didn't have to think about sticking to the pedals at all. I stayed attached without much effort but I could recompose my position on the pedals without having to sit down. This is my happy place.
Swapping bikes and pedals regularly led to some conclusions. These shoes, at least when relatively new, are happiest on full flat or even concave pedals. On convex pedals, like my Canfield Crampon Ultimates (my current favourites) they did fine on the way down when my feet are shifted forward slightly, but when climbing in technical situations the rocker in the sole prevented good contact with all the pins at once. My ride yesterday included 804m (2637') of technical climbing and when things got steep and challenging I found my feet slipping too much. Once we started descending things were great, which means the shoes are breaking in and becoming more flexible.
The issue is that these shoes have a rocker that extends back as far as the ball of my foot. On its own this isn't an issue and the soles are relatively flexible. The problem is the upper is quite stiff, preventing flex in the forefoot to some degree. It seems to me this is entirely avoidable. Like skate shoes, flat pedal footwear should not be designed for walking. Of course we need to walk in them and it should be considered, but grip and pedal contact has to be number one. You can walk in skate shoes and many of them are almost entirely flat on the bottom for contact with grip tape but even if they have some rocker, there is enough overall flex to allow your toes to be in full contact with the board. Mountain biking shoes don't even need to be that flat because your toes are in the air, but for most flat pedal riders they need to flatten a little bit ahead of the ball of your foot for optimal pin contact.
This is less of an issue with these shoes than it was with the pair of Pearl Izumi X-Alps I tested because these are getting better over time and this is only an issue when climbing tech on convex pedals, but it remains less than ideal.
Obviously most pedals (OneUp and Canfields are exceptions) are flat or concave so this won't be an issue for most riders and overall I am quite pleased with the grip of these shoes; they are very close to my Specialized 2FO sweet spot. They are certainly worthy of regular rotation with good pedal choice and if the size was perfect (that can be hard to determine over email ) I could happily ride these all year.
I like these shoes. I like the grip, with the minor exception of climbing technical terrain using convex pedals noted above, I like the style and the construction, and I really appreciate the effort to preserve resources by using as much post-consumer recycled material as possible. These shoes are made in China and I would love more information and transparency about labour practices and overall working conditions in the factories that make our recreational goods, from every company, but that seems to be slow in coming from every industry.
I would recommend these to riders who, like me, appreciate good grip that is slightly less sticky than that provided by the gummiest five tens. And the price seems to be good as well (although I am waiting for pricing in other jurisdictions). They are available in green, black and the blue pictured here.
Height - 6'/183cm (mostly legs)
Weight - 170lbs/77kg
Inseam - 33"/84cm
Ape Index - 0.986
Age - 57
Trail I've been stoked on lately - Lower Digger
Bar Width - 760mm
Preferred Reach - 485-500mm (longer with 27.5 wheels than 29)