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Although I had some initial concerns about durability and warmth, the Rapha Explore Powerweave shoes have really impressed, especially in the comfort stakes. If your rides are more about high performance, though, you may find the sole isn't stiff enough.
Rapha's gravel/adventure Explore shoes have been given the Powerweave treatment – an upper made from a 3D-woven fabric. Knitted shoes have been a thing for a while now, and while they might look as though they have some drawbacks, there is a lot to like. The 100% TPU-reinforced polyester yarns used in the Explore Powerweave's construction creates a very comfortable upper.
When I first tried them on, I wasn't so sure. The 'strings' used by the Boa system for tightening the shoes didn't feel up to much, and the whole fit felt a little baggy.
After around 300 miles of riding, though, the upper has kind of moulded itself to my foot shape and they are now amazingly comfortable, even on warm days when your feet can start to swell. No adjustment is necessary as they just follow the contours.
The upper is soft, too, and gives a fit like a very supple leather.
It's robust as well. Some of my latest explorations have seen some tough hike-a-bike sections over rocks and through brambles and the like, which have had no ill effects.
These are shoes you'll likely be wearing in the warmer months when things are dry and dusty, but I've been testing them through the tail end of winter where, alongside the warmer temperature seen at the end of March, things have been cold and wet.
They aren't exactly waterproof, but off-road riding doesn't kick up spray like the asphalt does, and if it's raining your feet don't get anywhere as wet as you'd expect. In the wind, I'd say they are no worse than a pair of vented road shoes.
When it comes to the sole, I'm going to disagree with Rapha's claim that the shoe is purpose-built for fast-paced off-road riding. If you like to get a lick on or attack the climbs, you are going to find there is a fair amount of flex.
Compared with the Shimano RX8 gravel shoes that I usually wear, the Raphas are noticeably softer, having a carbon section that extends from behind the toes to just before the heel section rather than a full carbon sole like the Shimanos. That does have its benefits, but at times it can also feel like too much of a compromise.
I've got some short gravel routes I use for testing. They're about 90 minutes long, chopping and changing between road, gravel tracks and byways, and here the RX8s win. They've got the stiffness that you can use to pound the pedals and drive the bike up the climbs.
On really long rides, the trade-off with comfort can rear its head. It was here, on four to five-hour rides, where the Explores would take the edge, though I would cuss when I hit a really steep climb.
The Raphas are also more comfortable to walk in, and their chunky tread helps grip.
The finish quality of the Powerweaves is very good, and after a couple of months' worth of hard labour they are barely showing a mark on the top or bottom. That's what you'd hope for a £260 pair of shoes, though. They're £40 more than the RX8s, which are virtually the same price as the standard Explores at £220.
Giro's Empire VR70 Knit shoes are cheaper too, closer in price to the Shimanos at £229.
Although I'd disagree with Rapha's claims about the Explore Powerweaves' performance levels, I will admit they are very comfortable shoes for long or short rides out on the trails. Think more long-distance tour than gravel blast, though, and for this kind of money I would expect more of a performance edge alongside the comfort.
Very comfortable upper and surprisingly weatherproof, but powerful riders will find the sole on the soft side
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Explore Powerweave Shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says, "The Explore Powerweave Shoe is purpose-built for fast-paced off-road riding. Tested to the limit by pro riders and amateurs alike, these robust yet lightweight shoes and their innovative 3D-woven upper fabric offer an unrivalled combination of sock-like comfort and locked-in performance. The TPU-reinforced yarns of the Powerweave fabric provide high durability and weather resistance, whilst keeping weight down and comfort high. A strong, lightweight carbon footplate transfers power efficiently when pedalling, but finishes before the toe and heel to provide flex just where you need it for comfort while walking. The footplate is set into an extremely grippy rubber sole with a recess for the cleat that ensures you will remain surefooted on any terrain, in all weather conditions. The sculpted heel cup has been designed to hug your foot, keeping the shoe comfortably in place on and off the bike, while the midfoot is hugely adjustable thanks to BOA's new incremental Li2 dial platform, which is fully integrated into the shoe's upper for a secure fit that's tailored to your foot. Adjustable arch support allows for a range of foot shapes while a spacious toe box with a toe strap for micro adjustments means all-day comfort when riding.
'Tested over tens of thousands of kilometres on bikepacking expeditions and ultra-endurance races, from Dolomite trails to the sands of the Sahara, the Explore Powerweave Shoes are ready for your fastest dirt rides and adventures."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
High-performance Powerweave upper reinforced with TPU yarn
Lightweight carbon sole, cut shorter for flexibility at toe and heel
BOA Li2 fit system
Durable and grippy natural rubber tread
Lightweight anodized titanium hardware
Signature woven Rapha toe strap
Replaceable Ti cleat bolt plate
2-bolt compatible cleats
Reflective heel for visibility at night
Reinforced heel for durability
100% woven polyester
EVA insole with soft antimicrobial microfibre top layer
The sizing is in line with Rapha's guide.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
A very comfortable shoe provided stiffness isn't your defining factor for buying.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The upper moulds to your foot shape over time.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There isn't a huge number of woven gravel shoes on the market; the Giros I mention in the review are the closest fit, but they are cheaper and come with a stiffer sole. But they have laces rather than a Boa system.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, for those longer, less explosive rides.
Would you consider buying the product? I really like the fit and comfort, but it's a lot of money for a pair of shoes that are a bit soft for my liking.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, if performance wasn't their only goal.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Excellent quality and the upper is super comfortable, but for this sort of money I was just expecting more when it came to the performance of the sole.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!