(The Gear Loop) - Rapha might be best known for being a purveyor of some of the finest road cycling clothing and accessories money can buy, but the stylish bunch also know a trend when they see one, so it comes as no surprise that they’re also big on the gravel and bike exploration scene.
The Explore Powerweave Shoe takes a similar approach to Rapha’s Pro Team footwear, with both featuring an innovative 3D woven TPU-reinforced upper that has the benefits of being weather-resistant and durable, but also offers a sort of malleability that’s difficult to find in anything other than the finest leather, which in turn can be useless at fending off the weather.
Sleek, stylish and relatively simple, the shoe is designed for "fast paced off-road riding", according to its maker, but it’s also comfortable and practical enough to wear for long jaunts in the saddle.
We lived and rode many miles in a pair over a number of weeks, subjecting them to rain, ice, mud and everything else in between, to see how they fared.
Many will look at Rapha’s price tag here and wince, but Rapha gear is never cheap. However, these are also not the most expensive gravel shoes on sale, as Specialized will charge upwards of £300/$325 for its Recon range of gravel footwear.
If you’re on a budget, Fizik will sell you a Boa Dial off-road shoe for almost half the price of the Rapha model, or Pinnacle’s ultra-budget range is even less, but it is nowhere near as good in terms of fit and high-end features.
That's because Rapha’s Explore Powerweave shoes offer something unique thanks to the woven upper, which proves super comfortable in warmer weather, yet also copes with British winters admirably.
They are also malleable and the fit seems to get better over time, they are easy to wear off the bike and look like little else on the market. Unmistakably Rapha and for that reason, undeniably good.
Rapha Explore Powerweave Shoes
- Lightweight carbon sole
- Fantastic build quality
- Really comfortable
- Very expensive
- Not as stiff as rivals
- Seems a shame to get them dirty
The shoes we were handed came in Rapha’s Black colour way, which is in fact a mix of black and light grey lengths of woven polyester fibres. It’s an interesting approach that makes the shoe look a bit like a reinforced sock, as opposed to the leather or synthetics many rivals are made from.
If you don’t like black, there’s also the choice of Dark Navy, which come with a contrasting gum sole at the front… which we quite like.
At the rear is a toughened nylon loop for assisting in getting the shoes on and off, while at the side you’ll find two micro-adjustable BOA Fit System with the latest Li2 dials. There’s a matching yarn-style lace that deals the with fastening system and although it looks flimsy, it actually turns out to be tough as old boots.
Flip the shoes over and you’ll find the lightweight carbon sole that controversially doesn’t run the length of the shoe like most, but instead cuts short at the toe and heel for added flexibility. There’s also a tough and replaceable titanium cleat bolt plate with anodised titanium hardware. All proper premium, as you'd expect.
This cleat bolt plate is neatly recessed, meaning no awkward click-clacking when walking off the bike, but it also allows the lugs at the front of the shoe to grip the ground without bunging the cleat plate up with mud. Probably not full cyclocross spec, as there isn't the option to add or remove football boot-esque studs, but it’s great for lugging a bike around when the terrain is too boggy to cycle through.
First impressions are great and it feels every bit the premium shoe the £260/$355 price tag would suggest, with the usual Rapha packaging and attention to detail only helping ease the financial hardship.
A bespoke fit
Ok, so Rapha doesn’t quite offer a bespoke fitting service, but it does provide the next best thing in an adjustable arch support system that’s nestled beneath the insole. Coupled with the sculpted heel cup, it’s very easy to get a nice, locked-in fit.
Of course, the cleat bolt plate is really easy to adjust too, while the Boa enclosure system makes it simple to make little adjustments when out on the bike.
We found that the shoes do a pretty good job of adapting to hot, swelling feet anyway, as that woven upper is surprisingly good at adapting to the climate, especially once worn in. Granted, a lot of the riding we did was in horrible, cold conditions, but the shoe adapted admirably on those rare, milder rides.
The decision to cut the carbon footplate short means there is a little more flex than you’d find with a typical road shoe - these are deliberately stiff to transfer as much power from the legs to the cranks as possible.
But it’s clear Rapha has introduced a little flex at the toe and heel for greater all-day comfort, as well as making the shoes easier to walk or hike-a-bike in when off the bike. Let’s be honest, it’s a pain having to slip shoes on and off when entering cafes or shops, especially if bike-packing or travelling light.
Only the really powerful cyclists will likely spot this flexibility anyway, and it only really reveals itself when putting maximum power down on fast sprints or really tough climbs, something we rarely encountered on our fun and fairly flat gravel loops.
What’s more, the shoes withstand muck and water really well, proving very easy to clean after forays through puddles and boggy patches. That said, they are not completely waterproof, so you still want to pack overshoes and/or specialist socks if you plan to get proper filthy.
Featuring a neat and lightweight woven upper, Rapha’s Explore shoes are fantastically comfortable and only seem to get better with every wear. Despite the use of yarn, rather than leather and plastics, they are still perfectly robust and the sole is grippy enough for off-the-bike action. Expensive, arguably not sealed from the elements enough for really cold riding and sporting a bit of flex in the sole that will bother really aggressive riders, they’re not without their flaws.