Rapha's new Grand Tour shoes are superbly comfortable high performers although the price tag will doubtless limit their popularity.
Working from the bottom up, the outsole is Easton EC90 SLX high-modulus carbon as used by Giro (who are part of the same group as Easton) on their Prolight SLX and Factors. It's just 6.5mm thick which means you get a low stack height here (the distance from the centre of the pedal axle to your foot). We're not convinced that stack height in itself makes a whole lot of difference to the performance although the lack of material does keep the weight down – Giro claim that each outsole weighs just 60g.
I couldn't discern any flex at all in the sole during use; it's mega-stiff so all your power is directed straight through to the pedal. The heel and toe bumpers provide some protection for the outsole and after several weeks of heavy use ours look like they're going to last well. There are a few marks from walking on gravel but nothing unexpected.
The uppers are made from yak leather. Yes, yak – those hairy fellas with the big horns. Rapha reckon this is the first time that yak leather has been used in cycling.
The leather is soft and supple, a lot like the kangaroo leather that's used by Lake, for example. Rapha claim it's stronger than kangaroo leather, though. It's certainly tough and hard wearing. After dozens of rides and the inevitable pacing to and from the bike, the leather still looks almost new. There are a couple of scratches around the toes where the uppers and the outsole meet, but that's all. I can see these lasting years, particularly if you look after by applying something like Rapha's shoe cream from time to time.
Most areas of the uppers are dotted with perforations that let moist air out and cool air in and the padded tongue and a small section at the front of the outsole are ventilated too. We've had some hot days already this year and I've not suffered particularly sweaty feet with these on.
There's good padding all around the ankle and Giro's SuperNatural Fit cork/EVA footbed provides more comfort. You get a choice of differently sized arch supports in the box – that really does make a difference to the feel – and the insoles are designed to take on the shape of your foot gradually. Mine have done that a little bit, but not much so far. The top sheet of the footbed is X-Static antimicrobial to help keep odours at bay. Our test shoes smell [does quick sniff test] leathery still; they haven't taken on any unwanted aromas... not yet, anyway.
The closure comprises two Velcro lower straps – the bottom one designed to look like a toe-strap from out of the olden days – and a ratchet buckle at the top. Loads of other brands use similar designs for easy one-handed strap adjustments on the fly, although Rapha's aluminium ratchet is certainly very neat. It works well and looks great.
The Grand Tour shoes are a little heavier than many other high-end road shoes. When we tested the Giro Factors in a size 45, for example, they weighed 510g for the pair. These (the same size) are 676g; light, but not exceptionally light. We guess that's mainly because the leather is heavier than a manmade microfibre and an aluminium buckle weighs more than a plastic one.
These do put in an excellent performance out on the road. The uppers conform to your precise foot shape for a comfortable, stress-free fit while the wide straps hold the shoes firmly in place even when you're out of the saddle and pulling up on the pedals.
I did a couple of short blasts in these to begin with then wore them on an all-day ride and they were perfectly comfy throughout. They've stayed that way ever since. Obviously, comfort will partly come down to how good a fit you get, but the supple leather, the padding, and the quality of the insole are all important factors and these score highly on all those fronts.
The heel cup isn't as rigid as you get with some race shoes, particularly those where the carbon sole extends around to the upper, so if you really do like your foot to be held ultra-rigid maybe these aren't the best choice for you. But for everyone else they provide an excellent combination of comfort, performance and durability, and we guess that the stylish looks are going to provide the biggest attraction for many.
Okay, I am going to talk about price because I know plenty of you will. So here's my take. Lake's shoes are cheaper, Bonts are cheaper, Shimano are cheaper... everyone is cheaper, really, while the Kangaroo leather, carbon, and sail cloth Fizik R1 is the same price - and with all of those you get heat moulding. So, in terms of value, you can put heat moulding up against the yak leather and go for whichever floats your boat. I found these very comfortable without any moulding. Personally, I think that if it comes down purely to technology, you could get better value for money - such as with the Factors. But if you think the style is worth paying for, go for it.
The Grand Tour shoes are available in black too, and in Euro sizes 40-48 from 10 April 2012.
Supple uppers, stiff soles, loads of comfort, durability and style... but these shoes don't come cheap
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Make and model: Rapha Grand Tour shoes
Size tested: White, size 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Here's Rapha's write-up:
"Using the highest quality components available, the Rapha Grand Tour Shoes have been developed to offer a traditional feel but with the modern, cutting-edge performance needed for long rides and optimum power transfer.
The shoes are the first to use Yak leather, a soft but highly durable upper specifically developed by specialist ecco®. Due to the Yak's ability to survive in severe conditions, Yak leather delivers unique benefits including lightness, water resistance, breathability and superb tensile strength. The nature of the uppers mean they will wear in beautifully to become even more comfortable over time. The upper also has a water and stain repellency treatment and is perforated for added moisture movement and texture.
The upper is paired with a special edition Easton® EC90 carbon sole. At only 6.5mm thick, the EC90 has been proven over many thousands of miles on the Giro ProLight SLX and Factor models. It offers supreme stiffness and an excellent connection to the pedal.
Other details include a machined aluminium buckle (with laser-etched Rapha logo) with padded leather straps and titanium D rings. The shoes are available in white or black with a contrast lower strap, echoing the toe straps of cycling's golden era. There is also a reflective Rapha logo on the heel.
Perforated Yak upper, exclusively made by ecco
Easton unidirectional carbon sole
Cork/EVA footbeds that mould to the shape of the foot
Renowned Giro SuperNatural fit with adjustable arch system
Machined aluminum buckle with leather straps and titanium D-rings
Timeless Rapha styling"
Excellent materials and build quality.
The leather and sole are standing up well to plenty of use with just minimal markings so far.
Our white pair are still looking great after several weeks of use but if you really want durable looks, maybe go for the black version.
They're not as light some high-end rivals due to the materials used.
You can get a similar level of performance cheaper. The Giro Factor, for example, is £75 cheaper. We guess it largely depends on whether you like the style of the Grand Tour shoes enough to pay the extra.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well indeed; among the most comfortable shoes I've ever used with excellent attention to detail.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Stiff soles, the comfort, the style.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
£300 is too much for me despite the high quality.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yup.
Would you consider buying the product? £300 is too much for me despite the high quality.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yeah, if they have the cash.
Age: 41 Height: 190cm Weight: 75kg
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: time trialling, 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.