Partnering with the Giro brand, Rapha’s first foray into the world of velo-cobblery has birthed a stylish range of high performance cycling shoes for the well heeled. Not to say the suggested retail price of $450 is higher than expectations given the shoes are such fine looking kit, but the brand does carry a level of kudos amongst fashionistas with commensurate pricing attached.
Whenever you buy Rapha from their online emporium, or their selected retailers, you enter into a sensual experience of upmarket sophistication that just ‘feels like its worth more’. This brand is deliberately pitched at the top end of the market. Even the packaging carries the Rapha attention to detail, but it’s detail that lifts this brand to a lofty status. For example, if you visit the Rapha website www.rapha.cc you’ll see classy, conceptual images promoting each product in the range. Countless photos taken on location and in the studio, backed up by a casual but elegant sales pitch. At first, the on-site shoots and glamorous models may seem extravagant, excessive… but the close ups, landscapes, and personal, evocative shots of cyclists in the city and out on country roads are convincing and compelling. The result is that you leave any preconceptions of an upper class aloofness or pretentious brand behind, and lower your guard as you pass through. You may find you then leave the site impressed, perhaps gratified, but likely comfortably familiar and befriended by the brand, partners in the ‘glory and suffering’ of cycling.
Handcrafted from yak hide, the Grand Tour shoes have the glorious aroma of leather. It’s rich and evocative, like dark chocolate or freshly ground coffee. Inside the box each shoe is slipped inside its own black, brushed cotton pouch with a pink drawstring closure; pink and black are both colours distinctive of the brand. The bagged shoes are nestled in pink newsprinted tissue, pages evidently garnered from the Italian cycling sports section, and sealed with the Rapha imprimatur.
The understated elegant lines of seams tightly drawn and finely stitched, the subtle sheen of satin alloy buckles and art deco perforated vamp with black contrasting straps languidly croon of timeless style. These shoes are for the cycling connoisseur.
But enough of the marketing hype. Shoes have to fit well and cycling shoes must also perform. The Rapha shoes don’t disappoint on either front. These shoes are designed with an eye on both form and function, delivering a distinguished look and the feeling you’ll never be under-gunned.
Yak leather is said to be up to three times stronger than cowhide and as soft as kangaroo leather, but far more robust. The heel cup is lined with very soft untreated yak leather and as with most leather shoes you might wear, the Grand Tour shoes ‘wear in’ over time, the uppers moulding to the shape of your foot for a very comfortable fit. These uppers feature a fine perforation for a refined appearance. Rapha claim these perforations improve breathability, though ventilation is not the strongest suit of these shoes.
Again with the detail; the shoes come with a sample pot of shoe cream, a concoction of beeswax, carnauba wax and silicone oils to condition and protect the leather against weather and road grime.
Some carbon fibre soled race shoes are so uncompromisingly stiff you might think you were wearing plates of steel. Not the case here. The carbon outsole is the result of collaboration between Giro – shoemakers of distinction andEaston– world-leading composite experts. The linkage with Giro serves Rapha well as the resulting sole is very stiff and light, has a stack height of only 6.5mm, and provides maximum power transfer to the pedals. These size 46 shoes weighed in at 392g a piece with cleats attached.
A stiff carbon sole needs some padding and given one person’s feet rarely match another’s, Rapha have integrated Giro’s highly acclaimed SuperNatural fit system. Included with the shoes are two sets of (pink) rubberised cork orthotic arch pads to enable the shoes to suit feet of various arch styles. Flat-footed types will be happy to retain the standard, low-rise pad while those with a higher arch will appreciate the choice between the optional extras. These are easily detached and re-secured very accurately with fine black Velcro strips. I found that selection of correct insert gave a seamless, conforming and comfortable fit.
Now anatomically correct, with pink insole inserts affixed, these shoes fit me exceptionally well. I have a wide foot and usually have diver’s pains finding casual shoes or even joggers that comfortably accommodate my dainty size 11.5 dogs, let alone something as specific as cycling shoes.
A curious historical feature printed on respective insoles pays homage to the greatness of Coppi and Anquetil—another of many fine details that you find on Rapha’s products.
Three straps, two Velcro and one ratchet strap, allow a firm and comfortable fit from the toebox up the vamp (the section of the shoe that covers the bridge of your foot) and tongue. The straps have been designed to secure the foot but eliminate the chance of uncomfortable pressure points.
The centre Velcro strap does the job but doesn’t offer much leeway in adjustment. While it looks to be well secured and correctly positioned on my foot, the Velcro hook section of the strap overlaps the loop section by only around 20mm, enough to allow a secure grip, but only just. The alloy ratchet buckle is solid, with small increments to enable easy selection of the correct tension, and the quick release tab lets you take the shoes off in a flash.
For some, almost fully white shoes may be suitably ostentatious, or be just the right look to go with their Gan team strip from the 90s. They may transport others to the bowling greens of Del Boca Vista. The black with white strap variant is sure to please those more subdued characters in the bunch. Short middle strap aside, these shoes provide a comfortable, secure fit so you can casually roll down to the local café, or stomp and reef your way through hilly back country races in dignified and stylish confidence.
There’s no doubt that Rapha has a wide array of attractive clothing and accessories for cyclists, and that they have a slick marketing department who very convincingly position their products in the consumer psyche on the top shelf. But beyond the marketing shtick they have made a confident first step in development their new footwear line with these Grand Tour Shoes.
Distributed by Rapha