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Object of Desire: Rapha Explore Powerweave shoes

Cyclingnews takes a closer look at Rapha's new off-road bike shoes - the Explore Powerweave, designed to work across both gravel and mountain bike disciplines

What is a hands on review?
Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe
(Image: © Aaron Borrill)

Our Early Verdict

Superbly built, premium shoe designed to soften the rigours associated with off-road cycling

For

  • Unique but premium aesthetic
  • Comprehensive retention system with twin Boa Li2 dials
  • Water-resistant fabric treatment
  • Grippy sole lugs for added traction
  • Excellent build quality
  • Attention to detail

Against

  • Fabric may be prone to scuffing over time
  • Pricier end of the spectrum

The rise in popularity of gravel cycling over the past 12 months has spawned a smorgasbord of dedicated gear offerings ranging from clothing and bags to bikes and shoes. Of the many brands pioneering this space, Rapha has truly embraced the concept having rolled out an entire Explore winter gravel kit range dedicated to gravel. The range, however, extends beyond just garments with a brace of shoe options available, too - the latest of which is the Explore Powerweave pictured here. Utilising Rapha's updated Powerweave formula, they're aimed squarely at toppling the chief contenders in the best gravel bike shoes space.  

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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

The Powerweaves retain the basic blueprint of the original Explore model but ditches lacing and Velcro for Boa retention (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

It also gets the Powerweave fabric treatment inherited from the Rapha Pro Team shoe (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

The Denim-like marled motif helps differentiate it from its rivals (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

A rubberised heel area adds protection and durability to the shoes (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

They are available in the choice of two colour options - dark navy or black (pictured here) (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

A reflective Rapha logo is tastefully positioned on the rear quarter of the shoe (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Design and aesthetics

Visually, Rapha has done well to retain the basic blueprint of the original Explore model. The big differences come in the way of retention - in this case, twin Boa Li2 dials - and the Powerweave fabric treatment, an attribute it's inherited from the Rapha Pro Team Powerweave shoe. In this application, the Powerweave fabric takes on more dynamic execution where a Denim-like marled motif helps differentiate it from the masses of black and khaki colourways currently dominating the gravel bike shoe landscape. 

This Denim-like pattern is beautifully offset with striped banding along the shoe's perimeter and finished off with a black tongue and rubberised heel area. While the words 'Explore' don't feature anywhere on the anatomy, a contrasting reflective Rapha logo casts aside any doubts as to who created these shoes.

The shoes are available in the choice of two colour options - dark navy or black (pictured here). While the Denim pattern remains the same on both models, the navy model is naturally blue in colour while the logo and soles come in a respective orange/tanned hue on the navy model. Other notable details include the Boa lacing which uses a similar fabric blueprint to the Powerweave, the carbon footplate and the oil-slick-coloured titanium SPD cleat box.

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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

A threaded tab on the tongue stops it sliding down (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Retention can be tailored through twin low-profile Boa Li2 dials (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Instead of a plastic wire, the Powerweaves use a colour-matched textile thread (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Details include an oil-slick-coloured titanium SPD cleat box and carbon footplate (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

The rubberised outsole has been carried over from the original Explore shoe (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Rapha branding is subtle yet effective (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

Specifications and performance

The entire shoe is built around an advanced version of the Powerweave formula, where a 3D-woven polyester structure is intertwined with a thermoplastic polyurethane yarn - the amalgam of which adds water resistance to the package. It's hard to say how the fabric will hold up over time but it all comes down to use and how much hike-a-bike comprises your off-road training routes. 

Speaking of hike-a-bike, Rapha has made a big noise about the rubberised outsole which has been carried over from the original Explore shoe. It features two rows of horizontally opposed lugs that run the length of the entire sole for superlative traction on rocky and loose terrain. The sole itself - despite being made from carbon fibre - is stiff but still provides a decent platform from which to walk.

In terms of fit, this is where Rapha has knocked it out of the park. While they lean more towards the racier side of the fitting chart, retention is evenly spread across the forefoot and heel area providing a good balance between comfort and security. Much of this comes down to the three-loop eyelet configuration of the textile wire lacing system, the retention of which can be tailored through twin low-profile Boa Li2 dials. The fit can be further tweaked using the same adjustable insole system used across the brand's complete shoe portfolio. Three settings can be applied by swapping out the interchangeable tabs located under each insole - high, medium or standard (the latter doesn't require a tab inserted). They are positioned into place by way of Velcro.

I've been using the shoes together with my Trek Procaliber mountain bike and have been impressed by the comfort and performance they offer. Power transfer is crisp but not completely free of flex - something which rears its head on harder out-of-the-saddle efforts but that's not necessarily a negative thing. Especially when considering off-road riding will at some point be met by a compulsory portage or hike-a-bike sections. In this regard, the shoes stand out in terms of the way they provide a stable yet compliant walking platform which comes down to the way the carbon fibre sole has been laid out - it finishes before the toe and heel to provide flex. 

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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Fit can be tweaked using an adjustable insole system (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

Three settings can be applied by swapping out the interchangeable tabs located under each insole - high, medium or standard (the latter doesn't require a tab inserted) (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

There's a broad spread of sizing ranging from EU36-47 (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

A closer look at the TPU yarn structure (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
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Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe

The striped banding along the shoe's perimeter is finished off with a black tongue and rubberised heel area (Image credit: Aaron Borrill)

View the Explore Powerweave gravel shoe at Rapha

Verdict

Priced at £260 / $355 / AU$450 / €310, the Rapha Explore Powerweaves are not what you'd consider affordable by any stretch but the levels of comfort and performance dialled into the recipe puts them up there with the segment's very best - we're talking Giro Sector here.

In terms of overall performance, I personally prefer gravel/mountain bike shoes to possess a certain level of comfort given the harsh terrain and often stop/start nature of off-road riding. These realities can place extra pressure on the feet (particularly the ball of the foot) which, in turn, can result in hot spots and other pain but the Explore Powerweaves have proved to offer all-day comfort and support. 

Further testing awaits - including the 72km Vittoria Mountain Bike Marathon in July - but I'm fairly confident the Explore Powerweave shoes will do the job. 

Tech Specs:  Rapha Explore Powerweave shoes 

  • Price: £260 / $355 / AU$450 / €310
  • Weight: 340g (actual, EU42)
  • Retention: Twin Boa Li2 
  • Sizes: EU36-47
  • Colours: Black, Dark Navy

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.