Like many other Rapha items, the Climber’s Shoes can certainly be viewed as a fashion statement, but appearances (and name) alone don’t tell the full story. These will climb, descend, sprint and generally spin with the best of them.
Before you even put on the shoes, there's a tangible sense of prestige as you unwrap each layer of recyclable packaging and encounter the owner’s manual, the individual shoe bags and the backstory of the famous polka dot King of the Mountains jersey printed on the inside of the box.
A package so gorgeous that it may not just be the actual shoes you'll want to hang onto (if buying online, the shoes arrive double-boxed)
Branding, packaging and story aside, Rapha is continuing its shoe partnership with Giro and so these are essentially a special version of Giro’s Prolight SLXII (we've reviewed the first version) shoe and so we can’t help but draw technical comparisons.
Borrowed straight from Giro are the lightweight and ultimately stiff Easton EC90 SLXII carbon soles and customizable SuperNaturalFit footbeds. Where the differences lie is in Rapha’s choice of a soft, mesh-backed, perforated synthetic leather to Giro’s lighter, microfibre upper. This accounts for an approximate 34g weight penalty, putting our EU43 sample of the Climber’s Shoes at a still competitive 459g.
Even with subtle branding, it took us some time to stop feeling self-conscious about our pink and black sample shoes. We came around though, and the unmistakable, Rapha-esque styling has been a regular talking point. Other items in the brand's repertoire hide historic stories of heroic cycling moments within jersey pockets or on the inside of caps; the Climber’s Shoes, meanwhile, use designs printed on the insoles for this purpose.
The uppers are what makes these shoes unique
Three hook and loop straps are used for retention – now a style that's almost as classical as the lace-up route taken by Giro's Empire or Bontrager's Classique. However, the straps are a lighter, easier and generally more practical option for cycling.
We did have reservations over the long-term durability of the straps. There's now clear creasing at the fold point, but they still hold like new and seem like they'll continue for a good while yet. It's worth bearing in mind though that the more common buckle or Boa system is often replaceable in the event of a crash or wear. The Climber's Shoes' straps, which run through titanium loops, are likely to require a skilled repairman should something go wrong.
The soft-touch synthetic leather uppers have held together nicely in our five months of testing. The highly perforated material is comfortably breezy too, and we never got sweaty feet while riding these through hot summer days in Sydney.
To help keep things fresh, the forefoot is surrounded with an anti-bacterial mesh lining that's resistant to stretch under power and low in weight. Out back things are a little more close-fitting, with the heel section lined in softer, padded synthetic leather that deeply cups the foot and prevents it from slipping.
Soft padding surrounds the heel
During our first few outings with the Climber’s shoes, part of the upper dug uncomfortably into our ankles. But a few hours of riding later, this had completely disappeared – forever – and we’ve since become partial to the snug, soft feeling around our feet.
Fit wise, the Climber's Shoes are an unsurprisingly near match to Giro’s shoe range, which is similar to Shimano in length and width and runs average as far as toe box width goes. This tester's narrowish feet found the toe box roomy, and there’s been no pressure or pain. Half sizes enable a more precise fit too – but riders at the extremes of the foot size range, or those with enormously wide flippers, may be best looking elsewhere.
There are plenty of arch support options – and the insole emblems depicting cycling's climbing heritage are a typically Rapha touch
Moving to the underside of the foot, Giro's SuperNaturalFit footbeds are something we’ve liked in previous shoe reviews. They offer customizable arch support, with three included options to choose from, which simply attach via Velcro.
Further intricate details include the replaceable rubber heel tread with titanium hardware. This tread is angled to provide a perfectly level step with the additional height of a cleat (with our Shimano SPD-SL cleats, at least).
The three-bolt road cleat placement on highly stiff, lightweight and low-stack Giro sole is rearward, which should suit cyclists who prefer their pedal axles past the balls of their feet. As with the strap loops and tread bolts, the cleat threads are lightweight titanium.
We've punished the soles of these shoes thoroughly, and they still look pretty great
The pink soles have remained bright with only minimal scratching and the tiniest of chips to be seen – quite impressive given a few photographic adventures we've had that involved clambering up rock faces in them.
All in all, the Climber’s Shoes have proven extremely comfortable over the long haul and demonstrated that there's substance to back up their obvious style. However, if ostentatious prestige isn't your thing and performance is all you’re chasing, then Prolight SLXII shoes are not only lighter, but cheaper too.
Note: In addition to the black/pink design of our test pair, Rapha also offers the Climber's Shoes in blue or white.