Do you ride in the city? Are you a commuter? Do you like to take a hike when on a weekend bike excursion? Do you loathe the rigid sole of specialty bike footwear? Are you a mountain biker who needs a good pair of shoes for platform pedals? If the answer to any of the above is “yes”, you need to read this review about the Northwave Tribe ‘flat’ bike shoes. There is likely to be a solution to the problem that has been haunting you for ages!
Northwave has introduced some rare-to-find bike footwear at Eurobike. 2019 saw the introduction of platform-pedal shoes for those who prefer not to use a clipless pedal system. Yes, there are still quite a few branches of cycling where clipless pedal are rarely or never employed. For example, BMX riders as well as extreme mountain bikers prefer large platform pedals. For the rest of us, practicality and simplicity overrides are other factors in leisure cycling and commuting. And finally there are those, who just dislike the idea of the fixed pedal-shoe connection. For the above-mentioned not marginal number of riders, choosing an advanced cycling specific shoe is not easy. Manufacturers concentrate their product ranges on the clipless market, and neglect those who think otherwise…
This year the renowned Italian manufacturer entered this segment of the footwear market, introducing not one, but two new models called the Clan and the Tribe. In this review, we’re putting the latter model under scrutiny. Moreover, two members of the BikeMag team volunteered to test the Tribe, hence you’ll be reading both accounts in one write-up.
Let’s start with the construction of the Northwave Tribe! As a bike-specific shoe, a sole with good traction is an important attribute. This allows the cyclist to keep continuous contact with the pedal, avoiding slipping especially in wet weather. In order to provide the best possible grip, Northwave and Michelin co-developed a specific rubber compound called Gecko. It’s an ideal material for a bike shoe – both in dry and wet conditions. In addition, this compound is hard-wearing providing long lifespan. The Gecko sole has a specific tread design in order to deliver the best possible interface with a platform pedal with spikes. Northwave claims, if used with such pedal, the Tribe is nearly as secure as a clipless pedal-shoe system. The sole is not only more tacky, it’s also stiffer that an average walking shoe. Stiffness allows for more stability and better power transfer from the leg to the crankarm. It also aids comfort as the rider are less likely to feel the pedal surface at the foot. As the Tribe is designed for both on and off bike use, the rigidity is not overdone: it allows for natural walking mechanics and comfort all day long. In fact, I own a pair of street shoes that has a more rigid sole.
As bike shoes see more wear and tear, the toe-cap of the Tribe is protected with welded TPU reinforcements. This is another trait which sets this shoe apart from common walking shoes. The protection is needed since cyclist tend to hit the front tire or the fenders with their shoes, and walking is usually done on uneven surfaces – otherwise one would be riding! From the perspective of a mountain biker, an effective toe and heel impact protection is absolutely mandatory. The sole and the upper are welded together, a much more effective and long-lasting technique than the more conventional gluing. The upper latter is quite breathable, nevertheless providing adequate abrasion-resistance thanks to the rubber prints.
The thick mesh tongue serves to protect the foot, in case the shoe may slip off the pedal. If this ever happened, the sensitive instep would suffer. In addition, it features customized padding, and the non-stretch laces provide secure closure and are easily stowed in the elasticated keeper, thereby preventing the lace to tangle with the chainrings.
The suede upper with large mesh inserts is good example how modern technology combines natural and man-made materials. It looks great and promises to much more durable than conventional suede. The Tribe would look out of place in an office, or as a casual street shoe. I would have no hesitation wearing the Tribe as an everyday shoe. This was the main goal of the Northwave design team, and they have succeeded brilliantly.
Do opinions differ within the BIkeMag office? Now let’s turn to Jani! “Wearing the Tribe is quite comfortable, it’s not unlike typical sport footwear. Only the weight of the shoe gives away, as it’s also meant to provide protection to your foot and increase efficiency while riding. Based on comfort, I would certainly wear it on a day to day basis.
I have to admit, that I don’t own a bike with platform pedals. If I really have to wear casual shoes for some occasion, I just use them with my road bike pedals. I have a pair of street shoes with a stiffer than usual sole for this purpose. This test came in handy to find out whether there is a better solution to the practice I have just described. First I tried the Tribe with my normal setup, the road bike pedal variant. I felt this shoe had a much better grip than my own pair, both in dry and wet conditions. Stability was also marginally better. Moreover, I don’t feel the uneven surface of the pedal, so it’s also better in terms of comfort.
Combined with a proper platform pedal, the full potential of the Tribe can be realized. The shoe can come in handy for both commuters and those who like to walk in ease while touring with a bike. On the other hand, extreme mountain bikes may find sole stiffness sub-par. For them the other Northwave model, the Clan is probably the better choice. We’ll have a review on this other “Flat-out” model soon!”
Now let’s see what Dávid thinks of riding in the Tribe! “When opening the package, I was immediately impressed by quality of both the box and the shoe placement. This is how all cycling shoes should be presented! There are also five color variants, so every rider can find an aesthetically pleasing design. You also get another pair of laces in the box in a different color.
I have put forward that testing footwear is far from an exact science. The fit and feel of a shoe is quite subjective, even if it’s the right size. I immediately felt comfortable in the Tribe thanks to the cozy inner sole and appropriate stiffness. Walking is also quite natural, the foot rolls nicely on both hard and softer surfaces. I was at ease riding and walking for quite long periods. This may be due to the relative wide toe box, relieving the foot of any pressure points.
This leads us to the quintessence of any cycling shoe: how it feels while riding. For what it’s intended, I believe it’s nearly flawless. It won’t win any awards for sole stiffness, but it wasn’t designed for competitive riding. Power transfer is more than fine for commuting and bike touring. Comfort is great, one can wear it all day without noticing any uneasiness: on the bike or off all the same. In a conventional bike shoe, each step – let’s not even talk about a flight of stairs – is an adventure. When riding, the Tribe grips well to a platform pedal. With an appropriate pedal with spikes, I wouldn’t thing twice at going on bike trails, even on technical ones.
The Tribe is best suited to everyday bike riding, especially commuting, doing errands in the city, and some light touring on the weekends with friends and family. This allows you to keep on using the pedals that came on your bike, perhaps install a better platform type for even more grip and security. BMX and extreme MTB riders get another model version, the Clan, which offers better protection and a stiffer TPU-reinforced sole. For the rest of us, the Tribe is a perfect casual bike shoe.
More information can be found on the distributor’s website.