The Rapha Explore shoes are strong and comfortable with grippy soles, suited to riding gravel and trails, bikepacking and urban use.
- Pros: Comfortable, secure fit, grippy sole
- Cons: Limited adjustment on the fly (as with any laced shoe)
I reviewed the Rapha Classic road shoes here on road.cc earlier in the year and liked them very much. The Explore shoes are their more adventurous cousins, sharing many design features but with off-road-friendly soles.
With the Classic, the sole comprises a carbon fibre plate that runs the full length of your foot, with a TPU cover over the majority of it. The Explore shoes have a similar carbon fibre plate but it's not as long, finishing just short of the toe and heel. This is designed to allow a greater degree of flex for walking, and it works. These don't feel like everyday non-cycling shoes when you're off the bike but you don't find yourself tottering around like you do in road shoes either. You wouldn't want to walk miles in them, but short distances aren't a problem.
The other big difference is that the Explore shoes have a natural rubber tread. This stuff is really grippy on all kinds of rocks and stones, even when wet, and it's toothy enough to provide a firm hold in all but the gloopiest mud.
It's durable enough too. I've been using these shoes regularly since February and there are very few signs of wear to the soles – certainly no gouges or anything like that. You can tell that they've been well used but there's nothing to suggest that these aren't going to last.
As you'd expect, the sole is compatible with two-bolt cleats like Shimano SPDs, and those cleats are recessed so they don't come into contact with the ground when you walk.
The supple microfibre uppers are very similar to those of the Classic shoes and use the same double wall lacing system. The one-piece microfibre upper comes up from the sole and then in the midfoot area folds inwards and heads back to the sole. This means the upper is two layers thick for the whole of the area that's laced. Make sense? The top of the fold is cut away to allow the laces to be threaded through.
Rapha says that its system distributes tension more evenly across the top of the foot, eliminates pinch points and creates a firm yet flexible fit.
Well, I've never noticed uneven tension over the top of my foot with normal eyelets, but if you have maybe you should give these a go. The tongue is lightly padded and there's virtually no chance that you'll feel any pressure from the laces through there, and these shoes provide a secure fit and a high level of comfort all round.
Rapha made its earlier shoes in association with Giro but the Classic and Explore were designed entirely in-house and use a new last with more volume in the forefoot. My feet are about an average width and I certainly don't feel like my toes are being squeezed in here. People with wider feet will appreciate the extra wiggle room while those with narrow feet can draw the sides in with the laces and the Velcro forefoot strap; a range of foot shapes can be accommodated here.
I've found the heel cup to be grippy enough to prevent any noticeable lift back there while the antimicrobial insole comes with the option of a high arch support, a medium arch support, or neither. It makes a big difference to the way the shoes feel.
Perforations in the upper provide a certain amount of ventilation, but bear in mind that the double wall means some of the holes are blocked; the chances of the perforations in the outer section lining up with those in the inner section are remote. The perforations towards the heel are covered by internal lining too. I never suffer with hot feet (I dream of having warm feet, me; don't get me started!) but if you do you might be better off with something that features mesh panels for use in high summer.
Unlike the Classic shoes, the Explores have a small amount of reinforcement at the heel and toe that adds a little extra durability. I've been using these mainly when riding on gravel tracks and little country bridleways, and have walked in them a fair bit, and the uppers are still in great condition. There are a few little creases but wipe away the mud and they're almost as good as new.
As with any laced cycling shoes, the ability to adjust on the fly is limited. You can fine-tune the forefoot strap, but the reality is that you probably won't. Once set, you'll likely never touch it again. That means that if your feet are uncomfortable mid-ride, you either have to put up with it or stop and retie your laces. I've opted for the latter once or twice but it's usually not a concern. You might be more pernickety, I guess.
Our production pedant Tass might well be described as pernickety, and she's less keen on the laces with her Explores. She says, "I can just never get it right first time. Even if I try to keep them loose, I invariably have to stop and loosen them some more after my feet have warmed up. They do look nice, though, especially the more colourful laces you get in the box."
Priced at £220, the Explores are 40 quid more than the Classics, which seems like quite a big price hike to me given that the biggest difference is a natural rubber treaded outsole rather than a TPU cover over the carbon fibre sole plate. They're still not mega-expensive, though, when you consider that the (admittedly very good and 100g lighter) Bont Vaypor G gravel shoes are £359.99.
There are plenty of cheaper mountain bike shoes out there that offer similar features, such as the Shimano XC7 SPD shoes (£169.99) that we reviewed, but these are good value considering the high quality.
Overall, the Rapha Explore shoes are a very good option for times when you're likely to be off the bike as well as on it, whether that be gravel riding, adventuring, bikepacking, touring or commuting... You know, those times when lightweight, minimalist cycling shoes aren't the best option. They're rugged, durable and grippy, and above all they're highly comfortable.
Comfortable shoes with grippy soles that balance efficiency with the ability to walk
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Explore Shoe
Size tested: 46
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says, "Designed in-house from the ground up, the Explore Shoe is not an adaptation of a road shoe but purpose-built for the rigours of off-road riding.
"A strong, lightweight carbon footplate transfers power efficiently when pedalling, but finishes before the toe and heel to provide flex just where you need it for comfort while walking. The footplate is set into an extremely grippy rubber sole with a recess for the cleat that ensures you will remain surefooted on any terrain, in all weather conditions.
"The sculpted heel cup has been designed to hug your foot, keeping the shoe 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.
"Tested over tens of thousands of kilometres on bikepacking expeditions and ultra-endurance races, from Dolomite trails to the sands of the Sahara, the Explore Shoes are ready for a sure-footed getaway."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Rapha lists these features:
Signature reflective Rapha toe strap
Lightweight carbon sole, cut shorter for flexibility at toe and heel
Durable and grippy natural rubber tread
Elastic loop keeps laces neatly away from your chainset
Lightweight anodized titanium hardware
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
Upper: 100% microfibre
Laces: 100% polyester
Sole footplate: carbon fibre
Outsole cover: 100% rubber
EVA insole with soft antimicrobial microfibre top layer
Cleat bolts: 100% anodized titanium
I took the same size as I do with the vast majority of shoes. The toe box is a little more roomy than is typical with a strap that allows you to tighten it if necessary.
The value isn't as good as that of the Classic shoes.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
The microfibre upper is easy to wipe clean.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They put in a very good performance all round.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I found these really comfortable.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Like other laced shoes, they're not adjustable on the fly. Just occasionally you might have to stop to redo the laces.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're more expensive than the Shimano XC7 mountain bike shoes (£169.99) that we reviewed, but on the other hand they're considerably cheaper than the very good Bont Vaypor G gravel shoes (£359.99).
They're good value considering the high quality throughout.
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
These put in a strong performance at a good price. I think they're an easy 8.
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 worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, 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 past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.