Rapha has “done” shoes before – these were essentially fancied up Giros, and not necessarily any the worse for it, but as the company continues to grow, it has decided to take an in-house approach to developing its new footwear.
It’s taken it over two years from “sketch to shoe box”, to develop two shoes: the new Classic and Explore models. The Classic is a road shoe, so we’ll park that one for now, but the Explore has been developed for the kind of #dirtydropbargoodness we love. Apparently, they have been tested over 30000km on bikepacking expeditions and ultra-endurance races, from Dolomite trails to the sands of the Sahara. (No word on the mud of the UK, but we’ve been working on that bit).
The Explore Shoe has a shortened carbon plate of approximately 3⁄4 of the sole length secured in a rubber outsole for “walkable comfort and efficient power transfer”. It also incorporates a unique double-wall lacing system to ensure a snug fit in the midfoot. The shoes also use adjustable arch supports and the last is shaped to provide plenty of toe box volume for comfort even after hours in the saddle.
Rapha experimented with an elastic pull closure system, but in the end, lead designer Joël Salamin opted for traditional lace ups instead. It’s a traditional set up at first glance, but Rapha claims it was the best way to get the fit it was looking for.
“The upper is made with a single piece of lightweight microfibre material. In the midfoot, the fabric is double layered and folded back on itself to create a ‘double wall.’ Securely anchored to the carbon sole at the base, the double wall creates a loop along the bridge of the foot, which serve as eyelets for the durable polyester laces. When lacing up the shoe, tensional force is distributed more evenly across the top of the foot, eliminating pinch points and creating a firm yet flexible fit for comfort throughout the pedal stroke. We created something that looks seamless and improves the overall strength of the shoe.” Joël Salamin, Rapha Designer.
A sculpted heel cup secures the foot, with a signature toe strap for micro-adjustments which can also be used as to secure the lace-ends. That adjustable arch support in the midsole is designed to accommodate a variety of foot shapes and the low-cut upper section avoids rubbing at the ankle.
The Explore Shoe is available in four colour-ways: Black, Black Pearl, Dark Green and High Vis Pink. Sizes range from 36-48 including half sizes. It costs £220 and is available now.
- Signature reflective Rapha toe strap Lightweight carbon plate, cut shorter for flexibility at toe and heel
- Durable and grippy natural rubber tread
- Elastic loop keeps laces neatly away from your chainset
- Lightweight anodised titanium D-ring Lightweight at 300g (size 42)
- 2-bolt compatible cleats
- Supple perforated, seamless one-piece microfiber upper
- Reflective heel for visibility at night
- Reinforced toe and heel for durability
We’ve been using the new Explore shoe for about a month now – long enough to form an opinion, but not to make any real judgements on longevity. Here’s our first thoughts:
- Laces work, but aren’t without their downsides. We’ve used a number of laced shoes in the past, and love the way that you can balance a snug fit without getting the hotspots we sometimes find with straps or Boa closures. The Explore shoe was no different – we could tune the fit well and there wasn’t any noticeable stretch once fastened. What were the downsides? Well, you can’t loosen off/tighten the shoe on the fly in the same way that can with most other fasteners. Not a real breaker for many, but I know a few riders who are constantly adjusting their fit. And, during the recent wet weather, laces have been a bit of a pain once muddy. They are harder to undo when coated in a layer of slime, and harder to clean after.
- Rapha has got the riding/walking balance right. The shoe never felt like it was wanting for stiffness when we were riding. This was on a combination of Crank Brothers Eggbeaters (so no platform) and Candies (some platform). With very stiff race-style shoes, we have found that walking is then compromised. The Explores have got just enough flex to make a bit of hiking less of a chore. They aren’t the only shoes that we’ve used that get this right, but they are lighter than many other cross-over shoes.
- The rubber sole works well in UK conditions. We didn’t get the chance to try the Explore out in any dust, but there was plenty of pushing up slimy banks and trudging around muddy field edges. It’s the kind of conditions that can overwhelm any tread, and there was inevitably a point where we were left skating. But – in all but the worst mud, the rubber cleared well. I sometimes missed the studs of the ‘cross shoes I usually wear this time of year, but lets face it – it’s not really what the shoe is designed for.
- All day comfort. The heal cup and low cut around the ankle worked really well for me. I often find shoes rub the underside of my ankle-bone. No issues were had with the Explores. I was happy lacing up at the start of the day and didn’t really think about my feet until I got home. Being hyper-critical, the toe box was probably a little large for me, but I’ve got relatively narrow feet.
- Understated or flashy. I quite liked the muted understated look of the plain black shoes we tested… until the press release arrived and we saw the other options. Who doesn’t love a little bit of sparkle on a shoe? (Probably quite a few people actually, but we love them).
- Worth the money? Rapha is never cheap. It isn’t what the company is about. However, we felt the Explore shoes benchmark quite well in terms of price compared to similar shoes. You can definitely buy shoes that look similar for less, but once you add in a carbon sole, prices start creeping up. There is no mistaking the quality of the manufacturing, and if the shoes last well, we feel they probably justify the price tag.
- Keep pedalling. The sign of a good product is always that we want to keep using it after the initial test period. We want to keep using the Rapha Explores – they feel like they are designed precisely for what we love doing on gravel bikes.