Ridden into the Ground

From a mountainous ultra race to a wet and wild island bivvy, three seasoned gravel riders test our new Explore Powerweave Shoe to the limit.

In 2017, before the launch of the first Rapha Explore Shoe, we knew that off-road riders needed more from their footwear. The mixed demands of an adventure away from the asphalt meant that any shoe good for riding was usually poor for walking – with or without the bike.

Through a cleverly constructed footplate, our Explore Shoe rose to meet that challenge: providing maximum power transfer when pedalling, while still allowing for adequate flex at the toe and heel. The extremely grippy rubber sole also ensured a surefooted standing on any terrain, in all weather conditions.

Three years on, when calls for a shoe tailored to the growing trend of fast and light gravel riding grew louder, we looked to the two areas that matter most for riders going long – durability and lasting comfort. Building on the Explore Shoe’s proven foundation, we had just the technology in our arsenal of innovation: Powerweave.

Debuted in the Pro Team Shoes last year, Powerweave is a pioneering 3D-woven fabric that provides maximum support, excellent breathability and a flexible, frictionless fit, all at a minimum weight. Its unique construction also means the entire upper section of the shoe can be made with a single seamless piece of woven material.

To better withstand the rigours of off-road riding, the fabric yarns used in the Explore Powerweave Shoe have been individually treated with a TPU coating, bringing a level of abrasion resistance and added strength that’s at odds with a fabric so light. And for a secure fit that’s tailored to the foot, we integrated BOA’s new Li2 fit system into the construction.

As with any new development, theory counts for little until proven on the bike. And for the Explore Powerweave Shoe, three riders well-versed in riding fast off-road stepped up to test them to the limit.

For ultra-endurance rider and racer extraordinaire Lael Wilcox, the testing period couldn’t have been better timed. Staying local in Tucson, Arizona, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the American took her prototype pair on numerous tours of her backyard trails – including one less-than-ordinary ride up Redington Pass.

“I’ve taken them out on some pretty big days,” explains Lael, “including one ride through the incredible snowfall we had. Even the saguaro cacti got covered, which was kind of incredible to see.

“For me, I’m always looking for the option that feels like it will be the most comfortable when I’m out there for the longest. If it feels like a regular shoe instead of a cycling shoe, then that’s what I’m choosing.

“I actually used platform pedals with running shoes for a lot of my early races because I’m on and off the bike so much, or pushing, so I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that comfort. But with the Explore Powerweave Shoe, it just feels normal. There’s no need for compromise.”

The feeling of freedom was a common theme amongst testers, and one echoed by long-time fan of the original Explore Shoe, Lachlan Morton. EF Education-Nippo rider, Lachlan has made a name for himself on the road and off it – taking part in a number of gruelling bikepacking and gravel events when not racing in the WorldTour.

“These are the perfect middle ground between the Pro Team Shoes and the Explore Shoes – both of which I love. I instantly really liked them, and I'm pretty picky – I normally take a while to get comfortable with something.”

Proof of Lachlan’s first impressions came with an unusual decision. After wearing the shoes just once, he chose to race Spain’s 700km off-road adventure Badlands in them the next week. The biggest test for the shoes – and Lachlan – didn’t come while racing in the event however, but in the days before it.

“A few days before Badlands, I went for a ride from Girona with the idea of testing the setup I had. I purposely went somewhere that I didn’t know, to try and get myself a little lost. But I got really lost.

“I ended up hitting the border with France in the mountains. It started getting dark, so I tried to straight-line it back to a road. At one point, I hit a cliff and had to half rock climb my way down it, lowering my bike ahead of me on this crazy edge. It was the first time I’d worn the shoes, and I was in way over my head. I think my plan was to push myself a little ahead of the race, and I guess it worked.”

Reporting a fit that allowed for hike-a-bike stints of up to 10 kilometres, Lachlan’s impression of the shoe paid off – winning Badlands around 15 hours ahead of his closest competitor.

Our third wear tester was a little closer to home. Rapha’s own sourcing & production lead, Cat Karalis, worked on the development of the shoe, and thanks to her long-distance riding experience, was eager to be involved in the process.

In 2019, Cat was forced to scratch early from the continent-crossing Transcontinental Race, making it as far as Italy. On her return to the UK, having spent months training in preparation for completing the 4,000km event, Cat decided to put her fitness to good use on a big ride of her own.

“When I got back, there was something inside me that said there were unused miles – I felt like I had to empty the tank,” explains Cat. “I decided to ride from London to Portsmouth following the Shipwrights Way. I then got the ferry over to the Isle of Wight and slept in my hammock. It rained for two days straight, and I just rode through it. I then rode back to London via Bristol.

“In total, I probably covered 750 kilometres, and not once did the shoes let me down. They were so reliable, and that counts for everything when you’re travelling light. I never think twice about taking other footwear, because I know I can walk to the pub in them. They’re so comfortable that you can wear them day in day out. I’ve worn them in torrential rain, and within a few hours they’re totally dry. They’re incredible.”

Tested to the limit in situations both in and out of our riders’ control, the Explore Powerweave Shoes held up perfectly – providing total peace of mind for the long-distance gravel cyclist in a hurry. Lightweight, versatile, and offering a level of comfort previously unseen in off-road footwear, they’re the ideal match for any dirt ride where speed and grams count the most.