The Rapha Classic shoes are a superbly comfortable design with a novel lacing system, good sole stiffness and durability, and – shock, horror! – a not-outlandish price.
Along with the Explore gravel/adventure model, the Classic is the first shoe that Rapha has designed entirely in-house, the previous Grand Tour, Climber's and Cross shoes having all been made in collaboration with Giro.
Rapha has switched to a last that it believes will prove comfortable to more people, with a little more volume in the forefoot. My feet are a middling width and I found them to have plenty of room up front – certainly enough to wiggle my toes freely. If your feet are narrower, you can always cinch the sides in via the Velcro forefoot strap. I guess you might struggle if your feet are particularly wide, although the supple upper offers a bit of leeway.
One of the Classic's key features – and it's one that it shares with the Explore – is the double wall lacing system. The way it works is that the one-piece microfibre upper heads up from the sole, then in the midfoot area it folds inwards, and heads back to the sole – hence 'double wall'. The top of the fold is cut away to provide the anchor points (you can't really call them 'eyelets', can you?) for the laces.
If that sounds like a bloody complicated way to go about it, Rapha designer Joël Salamin says, "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."
I can't say that I've ever noticed uneven forces across the top of my foot with other laced designs, but Rapha's system does draw the two sides of the shoe together to surround your foot really comfortably; in fact, these shoes are superbly comfortable all round.
You can adjust the laces so that they're tight in one section and looser in another – pulling tight at the top doesn't draw the sides in all the way down, for example – and several weeks in there are no signs of wear around those non-eyelets, which is something that had concerned me. The tongue is lightly padded so you don't feel the laces across the top of your foot, and it comes with an elasticated lace-keep halfway down for stowing away the loose ends so they don't get caught in your drivetrain.
The opening is cut quite low so there's no danger of rubbing against your ankle as you pedal (I'm quite susceptible to that thanks to a metal plate on the fibula. Old war wound. Don't like to talk about it). In contrast to the front end of the shoe, the heel cup is slim and grabby. I've not experienced any heel lift during use.
The upper and the tongue are perforated, but bear in mind that some of those perforations don't go right through to your foot because of the double wall construction in the midfoot area, the heel cup and a lining around the opening. If keeping your feet cool in hot weather is high on your list of priorities, these can't compete with shoes that have large mesh panels.
The sole comprises a carbon-fibre plate that runs the full length of your foot, with a TPU cover over the majority of it. You can only see the carbon in the area where the cleat attaches.
Surely, if you've got carbon-fibre soles you want to show them off? Well, the idea of the TPU is that it stops you slipping while walking and protects the carbon. It works on both counts.
I've been using these shoes for five or six weeks now and the TPU section is barely marked, unlike the bare carbon around the cleat. The sole doesn't have replaceable heel or toe protectors, but it doesn't need them because, if current indications are anything to go by, you're never going to wear through the TPU.
As promised, the sole also helps you stay upright when walking across wet pavement at the mid-ride café stop. Don't get me wrong, you're not getting hiking boot levels of grip here, but it's a sight less slippery than carbon.
In terms of on-the-bike performance, I've known slightly stiffer soles on high-end race shoes but there's certainly not a load of flex here. These feel good when you're laying down the power.
The EVA insole comes with an antimicrobial microfibre top layer and a choice of different inserts to suit the height of your arch. This makes a big difference to the shoe's feel and support.
As usual, Rapha's attention to detail is good. The forefoot strap and heel tab are reflective, although they don't look it in daylight, and the little D-ring that the forefoot strap passes through is anodised so it looks pretty and is protected against corrosion.
Rapha is hardly giving the Classic shoes away, but these are a lot cheaper than many options we've reviewed lately; there are plenty of pairs out there that cost over £300.
If we stick with lace-up shoes, the Giro Empire E70 Knit shoes we reviewed were £199.99 while the Giro Civila Women's road shoes were considerably cheaper at £129.99. Considering that there's a full-length carbon plate in the sole and the build quality is high throughout, I think the price is very good.
Overall, these are great shoes. The double wall lacing system works really well to provide a comfortable, secure fit, the sole offers good rigidity and exceptional durability, and stylish looks complete the package.
Lace-up shoes that offer comfort, a durable sole and plenty of style
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Classic Shoes
Size tested: 46
Tell us what the product is for
It's a road shoe, designed to be efficient and comfortable.
Rapha says, "The Classic Shoe has been designed from the ground up to be the most comfortable choice for road cycling.
"Previously, exposed carbon soles were slippy and prone to damage. Our strong, lightweight carbon sole transfers power when pedalling, but comes complete with a robust TPU outsole that protects your shoes and reduces the chances of slipping when you're off the bike.
"The sculpted heel cup hugs your foot, keeping the shoe securely and comfortably in place, on and off the bike, with a low-cut upper that avoids rubbing your ankles. The midfoot is hugely adjustable thanks to a unique double-wall lacing system, with durable eyelets integrated in the shoe's upper and robust laces, for a secure fit that's tailored to your foot. Adjustable arch support allows for a range of foot shapes while a spacious toe box with a toe strap for micro adjustments means all-day comfort when riding.
"Ridden for thousands of kilometres in testing, this shoe delivers the last word in comfort."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Rapha lists these features:
Signature Rapha reflective toe strap
Lightweight, stiff full-length carbon sole transfers pedalling power
Supple perforated, seamless one-piece microfiber upper
Elastic loop keeps laces neatly away from your chainset
Lightweight anodised D-ring on the toe strap
Grippy thermoplastic heel tread
Lightweight 250g (approx. weight size 42)
3-bolt cleat/pedal compatible
Reflective heel tab for visibility at night
Reinforced toe and heel for durability
Upper: 100% microfibre
Laces: 100% polyester
Sole footplate: carbon fibre
Outsole cover: 100% TPU
EVA insole with soft antimicrobial microfibre top layer
Cleat bolts: 100% stainless steel
The TPU cover to the carbon-fibre shoe plate is the big feature in terms of durability. Carbon soles are great but they do get scratched easily and can start to look old and tired quite quickly. The TPU layer doesn't eliminate that entirely but after several weeks of use it looks a whole lot less scuffed than usual.
Rapha has come up with a double wall design where the sides of the shoe in the midfoot area fold inward and head back to connect with the sole. The laces run through the fold. The double wall lacing system draws the two sides of the shoe together to surround your foot really comfortably.
The toebox is fairly roomy, although it doesn't quite cater for those with super-wide feet. You can draw the sides closer together via a Velcro strap if you have narrower feet.
I nearly always take a size 46, and that's what I got here. I'd say they're true to size.
They're not superlight. The Bont Helix road shoes that I reviewed recently weighed 520g, for example, although they're £324.99.
You get loads of comfort thanks to a supple upper, wiggle room at the toes, and the laces' ability to offer differing levels of tension over different areas of your foot. You can also choose the padding that best suits the arch of your foot.
I never thought I'd say it but I think Rapha could have got away with charging a bit more. If these were priced £200 or more, I don't think that anyone would have batted an eyelid.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
I've mostly been wearing these under shoe covers because the test period has been February and March, so they've stayed pretty clean. I have worn them without covers on a few occasions too. Dirt can get into the perforations in the uppers and into the nooks and crannies of the lacing system, but a quick wipe with a damp cloth will sort out the worst of it.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Classic shoes are stiff, comfortable and, in my opinion, stylish. As with other lace-up shoes, it's virtually impossible to adjust the fit on the fly (other than the Velcro strap on the forefoot), but that comes with the territory.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The comfort, the looks and the durability of the sole.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
These aren't as lightweight as many rivals. Unlike a Boa dial, a laced closure is nigh on impossible to adjust on the fly, and that won't be to everyone's taste.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
How many times do we say in our reviews: 'Rapha has made a great product here but the price is eye-wateringly expensive'? Well, £180 is hardly giving them away, I know, but it's a really good price when you consider that, sticking with laced shoes, the Giro Empire E70 Knit road shoes are £199.99.
We've reviewed quite a few pairs of shoes priced over £300 lately: Specialized S-Works 7, Shimano S-Phyre RC9, Fizik Infinito R1 Knit, Sidi Wire 2 Carbon, Bont Helix, and more.
I'm actually surprised to see a price south of £200 here.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Hmm, these should be an 8 or a 9 overall, given the spread of scores for individual attributes. The overall quality and performance are really high for the price, so I think a 9 is justified here.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.