The Rapha Explore is a shoe designed for gravel, touring and bikepacking – so there’s a greater emphasis on versatility and comfort than you’ll get with shoes that have a road or XC pedigree.
The Explore has a generous toe box and a carbon footplate that finishes before the heel and toe for increased flexibility, while the rubber outsole has a deep grip with a cleat recess. Its synthetic upper has a classic lace fastening paired with a Velcro toe strap.
One notable extra is that the Explore comes with two insoles of different thicknesses, allowing you to customise the fit at no extra cost. I used the insole with the greatest amount of arch support for a secure but comfortable fit, which meant my heel didn’t move even when I was walking.
The laces give Rapha’s Explore a more casual look and I know many riders prefer laces for the highly variable fit they offer, especially over the instep. However, I did find that I needed to adjust the Explore’s laces when I settled into a ride and once more if my trip involved a substantial amount of walking. But the Explore does come with an elastic loop that tucks them out of harm’s way once you’re set.
These felt harder to get on and off than the other shoes I tested, but that’s probably the flip-side of achieving the non-slip fit. Once you’ve got them on they’re not tight and they have plenty of wiggle room for your toes, but they are still secure to walk in, the chunky outsole giving you a solid grip over rough surfaces.
You might expect this to mean the Explore would suffer when it comes to pedalling stiffness, but while it doesn’t have the aggressive climbing power of the likes of a Specialized Recon 3.0, the Explore doesn’t noticeably lack performance.
Rapha’s Explore lived up to the ‘three hard rides’ rule to begin to bed in. In particular, the collar and heel feel especially stiff when new, but Rapha’s Explore does succeed in doing what it was designed to do – combine durability, wearability and comfort for the sort of riding that demands a hybrid rather than race-ready performance.
How we tested
Gravel shoes need to balance stiffness and efficient power transfer, comfort for longer rides and walkability for rugged terrain or off-the-bike use.
Throw into the mix the special individuality of fit and it is easy to see why there is unlikely to be one perfect solution so the best place, as with everything bike, is to start by considering your own skills, fitness and preferred riding in order to understand whether you might want to trade off some walking ease for stiffness or if comfort is everything.
So, to help you choose what’s best for you, we’ve mixed up country lanes with dirt tracks, bridleways and forest roads on day-long routes. Nothing too extreme technically but all calling for dismounts to push up steep climbs, open gates and to hit the coffee queue.
Also on test:
- Bontrager GR2
- Fizik Terra X5
- Giro Sector
- Lake MX176
- Mavic Allroad Pro
- Northwave Rockster
- Scott MTB Comp Mid
- Shimano XC501
- Specialized Recon 3.0