Rapha has developed two new models of cycling shoe aimed at road and adventure riders. Rather than collaborating with Giro as in the past, Rapha has designed both the Classic – the road one – and the Explore – the adventure one – entirely in-house. Rapha says that they are designed to be the world's most comfortable cycling shoes.
Let's take a look at them in turn...
With a perforated upper and a contrasting Velcro forefoot strap – features found on both the Grand Tour and Climber's shoes – the Classic is recognisably a Rapha design. It's the shoe that we first spotted being worn by EF Education First Pro Cycling's Lachlan Morton at the Tour Down Under back in January.
Rapha says that it started with a familiar silhouette and redesigned all other aspects of this shoe. You get a full-length carbon plate that's designed to transfer power efficiently to the pedals, covered with a thermoplastic outsole, so only the area surrounding the cleat shows as carbon. The idea of the thermoplastic is to protect the carbon plate and to provide grip when you're off the bike. We've had the Classic shoe for several weeks now (look out for a review on road.cc shortly) and we'd say that it does both of these things successfully.
The sole takes three-bolt road-style cleats such as Look Keo, Shimano SPD-SL, and so on.
"The upper is made with a single piece of lightweight microfibre material," says Rapha designer Joël Salamin. "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 serves 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. It works so well that we chose to use the same construction and fit on both shoes.”
As usual with lace-up shoes, there's a discreet elastic lace keeper across the tongue for tucking the ends away to avoid them getting tangled up in the drivetrain. Alternatively, you can tuck the laces into the reflective Velcro forefoot strap.
Rapha says that the shoes have been in development for the past three years, half of that time being spent getting the last right. The result is quite a roomy forefoot, the Velcro strap allowing you to reduce the volume if you have narrower feet. The heel cup, in contrast, is close fitting to avoid any lift back there, and the shoe is cut quite low around the ankle.
The EVA insole has an antimicrobial microfibre top layer and you can choose from arch supports of different heights.
Rapha claims a weight of 500g per pair for a size 42. We have a size 46 and they weighed in at 681g.
The Classic is available in five finishes: white, black, black pearl, high vis pink and an RCC (Rapha Cycling Club) version. Sizes range from 36-48, including half sizes, and the price is £180... so nowhere near the most expensive shoes we've reviewed around here lately.
The Explore is clearly a close relation of the Classic but with features designed for adventure/gravel-type riding. We can imagine some people using them for touring and even commuting because of their soles. Speaking of which...
"At the heart of the shoe’s lightweight and super-stiff sole is a carbon plate worthy of any road shoe, with one key difference," says Rapha. "The plate is cut at 3cm from the heel and 2cm from the toe to allow flex at the front and back of the foot for comfort when gradient or lack of grip means walking is the only option."
The sole has a toothy rubber tread and takes recessed two-bolt cleats, such as Shimano SPDs.
The upper is very similar to that of the Classic: one-piece microfibre with a double-wall lacing system. You also get a slim heel cup, a low-cut ankle and a roomy toe box, the volume of which you can adjust via a reflective Velcro strap.
Unlike the Classic, you get external reinforcement at the toe and heel.
Rapha claims a weight of 600g for a pair in size 42. Again, we have a pair of size 46s in for review and the weight is 780g.
The Explore is available in four colours – black, black pearl, dark green and high vis pink – and in sizes 36-48, including half sizes. The price is £220.
We've had the Classic and Explore shoes here at road.cc for the past few weeks. Although we're not quite ready to publish our reviews, we can tell you that we're getting along well with both.
The fit is essentially the same across the two different models, with quite a generous volume in the forefoot. We're not talking about acres of space for those with super-wide feet, but most people are going to have enough room to wiggle their toes. If you have narrower feet, the Velcro strap allows you to draw the sides in closer.
The lacing system works really well. I can't say that I've ever noticed unevenly distributed lace tension with shoes that have standard eyelets, but Rapha's double wall design does the job admirably. There are no signs of wear to the sides caused by the laces looping through.
In pics from the Tour Down Under, Lachlan Morton wrapped his laces right underneath the sole to hold the Classics firmly in place. I didn't feel the need to do anything like that, the shoes feeling perfectly secure in use with normal lacing.
It's hard to judge durability in such a short space of time but after several weeks of use the thermoplastic sole covering looks virtually unmarked – unlike a bare carbon sole that gets scratched quickly, even if you only walk from your bike into the café and back at a mid-ride stop.
I've used the Explore shoes for gravel riding and the big difference here is the chunky natural rubber sole. It has proved to be grippy on everything I've tried it on, even wet stone, so you don't spend your time slipping around when you're off the bike.
As mentioned above, I reckon that these will prove popular with cycle commuters as well as adventure/gravel riders because, although saying they allow you to walk normally would be a push, you can easily climb stairs, nip into shops or whatever else you need to do in town without feeling that you could end up on the deck at any second.
Look out for reviews of the Rapha Classic and Explore shoes on road.cc soon.
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.