Rapha’s Explore lace-up was the brand's first fully in-house design as well as the road brand's first move into the world of off-road footwear. Since then Rapha has launched a follow-up gravel shoe, the Rapha Explore Powerweave.
Despite being the first foray into off-road kicks, they are one of the best gravel shoes around. Rapha did an incredible job balancing adventure-ready ruggedness, comfort, and stiffness which has made the Rapha Explore gravel shoe a go-to shoe when we are heading out for gravel adventures. That means the Explore Powerweaves have big shoes to fill if it wants to take the top spot.
For the Explore Powerweave shoes, Rapha has kept a number of our favorite aspects the same and built on these introducing some new features, from the re-worked Powerweave uppers and Boa dials. We jumped straight into the deep end putting the Rapha Explore Powerweaves to the test on Rapha’s Pennine Rally, a 500km bikepacking event, to see how they would get on.
Design and aesthetics
The most obvious update is Rapha’s Powerweave material which is used for the upper of the shoe. Its made from a proprietary 3D woven TPU yarn. This gives them an almost slipper-like fit. The upper looks to have a similar shape to the lace versions, there are a few tweaks though, the shape around the front of the foot is a little lower cut which eliminates the rubbing point that needs to be broken in on the laced version. The Velcro strap has also been replaced, instead, the bottom cable crosses to add retention further down the foot.
Rapha has specced dual Boa Li2 dials for retention, the top Boa tensions across the top of the foot while the aforementioned lower Boa’s cable is in a figure of eight layout. The dials offer micro adjustments both tighter and looser for easy tweaking while on the move.
The chunky sole remains unchanged from the lace version, with its large block tread, and deeply recessed cleat. You still get the shortened carbon footplate to aid walking and Rapha has kept the titanium cleat fixtures.
Aesthetically the Powerweaves are a big win in our books. The shoes have a lovely speckled finish and other than the nice contrasting orange Rapha logo’s on the heel, the Powerweaves are pretty understated. We like the finer detailing too like the subtle Rapha toe band color-matched cable, and see-through Boa dials.
First off, unlike the lace-up versions, the Powerweaves needed no breaking-in period – which was lucky as I only had time to fit in a few hasty test rides before we hit the Pennine Rally. They are easy to get on due to the wide opening allowed by the Boa’s, unsecured tongue, and the pull tag on the heel. There's little wiggling or moving either to get the foot located properly before tightening up for a comfortable fit.
The fit is comfortable too with the sizing to be accurate in our EU43 size. Unsurprisingly the fit is similar to Giro shoes I have worn, Rapha worked with Giro to develop its original shoes, and I found the width and toebox to work well with my feet. Like Rapha’s other shoes, there's a medium arch support in the shoe which I swapped out for the large that comes in the box. The uppers are fairly malleable which is great for adapting to your foot shape. Being knitted the Powerweave upper is decently ventilated in hot weather and while we haven't yet treated them to a proper soaking, they have shrugged off the odd rain shower and river crossing far better than we would have expected. The toes and heels are reinforced in case you do kick any rocks however, on the subject of kicking rocks, after a bit of hike-a-bike and general riding, the Powerweave material on the toes of my shoes is already looking a bit threadbare.
Boa dials offer really fine adjustment, both tighter and looser, making it easy to adjust on the fly – this is obviously a massive boon over the lace-up versions. The cables don’t move as freely through the material guides as I would like, which meant I found to get the most even fit I had to tug a little on the lower cables to eliminate any slack sections.
The adjustments didn't stop there either unfortunately and while tension remained consistent during general riding, hearty efforts up hills or sprinty fun seemed to loosen the shoes off quite a lot and which required re-tensioning. It doesn't really result in much heel lift, the heel cup does a great job of holding the foot in place, rather it gives the sensation that our feet were sliding forwards in the shoe. I suspect this is partly the cause of the tongue being unanchored causing it to slide to the outside of the foot and create slack in the upper.
We are big fans of Rapha’s chunky but soft rubber sole which is great for hooking up on dirt or rocks when clambering about on hike-a-bikes. The tread is also properly deep enough to recess the cleat meaning there's no click-clacking when you walk around, but still easy enough to clip into our pedals without any problems. The footplate is equally superb at balancing on pedal stiffness with walkability thanks to its shortened plate design allowing a more natural foot bend too.
Rapha’s Explore Powerweave gravel shoes certainly look great, and the malleable Powerweave upper means they feel great too. Still, they aren't as performance orientated as we were hoping and certainly not as durable as Rapha’s bombproof and cheaper lace-up versions.
There is no doubting that the fit and comfort are great and if you are looking for a cruisy gravel adventure shoes with a Boa that are comfortable to walk in, they will be an ideal match. However, if you are hunting for a racier version of the Lace-up Explore you may be left a little disappointed. The stiff sole hints at what they could be achieved but the tension difficulties under high power output let them down.
The fact that they are more expensive, heavier, and less durable can’t be ignored either. Unless you really hate laces or are led by aesthetics, it's hard to recommend the Powerweave version over the standard lace-ups which will continue to be one of our gravel shoe benchmarks
Tech Specs: Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoe
- Color: Black, Dark Navy
- Retention: Two Boa Li2
- Uppers: Powerweave
- Outsole: Carbon fiber cleat plate, natural rubber
- Weight: 705g a pair Men’s size 43
- Size: EU 36-47
- Price: £280 / $380