The Rapha Explore Powerweave is a new premium gravel shoe that uses the brand’s Powerweave knitted upper. The form-hugging fit of the shoe is superb, the sole is exceptionally grippy and they look super cool.
The flexible sole won’t appeal to go-fast racers, but for casual gravel riding and bikepacking they’re a great choice (though be wary of the non-repairable sole if your bike adventures involve a lot of walking).
The shoe is based on the regular Rapha Explore shoe, which launched in March 2019, and the brand’s Powerweave fabric debuted with the Pro Team shoe in February 2020.
Rapha Explore Powerweave fit and construction
I wear a 42.5 shoe with most brands and, with summer-weight socks, the fit of the Explore Powerweave shoes is spot on in this size.
I’d go up a half size if I intended to wear these with really thick waterproof or wool socks, but overall they size up as expected.
Unlike many cycling shoes, which often use a small strip of elastic to hold the tongue in place (I have no idea why), the tongue of the Explore Powerweave is free to move as much as you please. This makes putting them on a cinch.
The insole has an adjustable arch support insert. I was satisfied with the stock medium arch, but if you want to swap this, it is held in place with a strip of Velcro.
Similar to the poem by Alex Howes printed onto the inside of the brand’s Pro Team Insulated Gore-Tex jacket, both insoles feature a naff ‘motivational’ quote encouraging me to explore further. Please stop doing this, Rapha.
The toe box is very roomy, with plenty of wiggle space for my little piggies.
The foremost portion of the toe box is solidly reinforced with a thermoplastic insert underneath the upper. This protective area extends back to cover most of my big toe.
This is not quite steel toe cap-like, but it still gives additional protection from rock or pedal strikes. It is a feature I wish more off-road shoes had because taking a flying rock to the toe is excruciatingly painful.
The similarly reinforced heel cup gives a secure feel when pedalling and, even when walking, your foot remains cosseted in its knitted embrace.
The knitted upper is luxuriously comfortable and conforms perfectly around my feet – it really is more like a sock than a traditional ‘solid’ upper.
There is an additional soft reinforcement layer bonded to the inside of the upper everywhere except the lowest portion near the footbed. Here it is just a single layer of the knitted fabric.
I’ve got a gnarly bony prominence on the outside edge of my right foot from an old injury. Unlike many cycling shoes, this thin single-layer section doesn’t put any pressure on this – the supple fabric is free to conform around any odd lumps and bumps.
The transition between the reinforced and single-layer section is also smooth and doesn’t create any hot spots or chafe when riding.
The pleasingly squishy padding around the collar of the shoe is neatly executed. The lining has been bonded rather than sewn to the shoe, so there are no seams to cause chafing or discomfort either.
It almost goes without saying, the knitted upper is very breathable. Giving my shoes the kiss of life (the things I do in the name of testing), you can feel your breath flowing fairly easily through the material.
If you have gross sweaty feet (like me), you will get on well with these shoes, but for those with chilly tootsies, the shoes will feel brisk in cool conditions.
Unsurprisingly, the upper soaks through almost immediately in the rain, though this might not necessarily be such a bad thing for bikepacking.
A traditional ‘solid’ upper holds onto water and can take forever to dry out. This is uncomfortable and encourages rank smells to develop.
The knitted material is totally non-absorbent and, with no squashy foam backing, these dry out very quickly.
Despite my initial concerns, the rough texture of the upper doesn’t hold onto mud and dust any more than a normal cycling shoe. A wipe down with a dish sponge and soap shifts any obstinate filth.
All else aside, I think the knitted fabric looks super cool and that alone is worth something to this self-proclaimed cycling fashionista.
Retention is taken care of by two micro-adjustable Boa Li2 dials. Boa dials are usually paired with coated stainless steel laces for retention, but on the Explore Powerweave the shoes are specced with Boa’s TX4 lace. This is made from a mix of Dyneema and polyester.
I love these laces and want to convert all of my Boa-equipped shoes to use them.
If a typical wire Boa lace gets a kink in it, it tends to bind the whole system (though they can be replaced fairly easily). The fabric lace has a much smoother action overall and initial impressions suggest it will last much longer than a wire.
Rapha Explore Powerweave ride impressions
The tread of the shoe is made from one single piece of moulded natural rubber that is bonded to the sole.
This rubber is very soft and noticeably deforms when walking. I don’t think this necessarily improves grip, but it does make them far more pleasant to walk in than a typical cycling shoe.
The blocky square tread lugs work well in muddy or loose conditions and they shed mud effectively with a firm stomp.
Though they are quite pronounced, the lugs don’t interfere with either a trail or standard Shimano XT clipless pedal.
The rubber plate that covers the middle portion of the sole is a really nice touch. This protects the carbon sole from unsightly scuffs and scrapes, but also improves grip if you’re starting from a standing stop with a loaded bike and struggling to clip in. Too few off-road shoes feature this.
Given bikepacking and adventure riding (both of which will always involve some walking) are two of the key focuses of the Explore Powerweave shoe, I was surprised to see Rapha opted for a moulded sole. A moulded sole is not easily replaceable/repairable when it wears out.
I put this question to Rapha, who said: “the sole is made of real rubber which is much more durable than synthetic alternatives, therefore we don’t foresee the customer needing to replace the lugs”.
I’m sceptical. I’ve worn out the lugs of mountain bike shoes and, while it might take years to reach that point, I would much prefer to have the option to be able to repair a £250 shoe down the line (I will advocate for repair at every opportunity).
Unfortunately, Rapha’s free repair service does not cover future repair either.
I should stress at this point that Rapha is absolutely not alone here – brands such as Sidi and Bont, which offer easily user-replaceable lugs for most of their shoes, are in a depressingly small minority.
Nonetheless, for a shoe that explicitly boasts excellent walkability (which is what actually wears out a clipless shoe – the act of pedalling shouldn’t), it strikes me as an odd design choice that goes against Rapha’s usual approach to repairability.
The footplate of the shoe is made from carbon. Unlike most cycling shoes, this ends short of the heel and toe to improve comfort when walking. This, in conjunction with the aforementioned squishy tread, makes them so much nicer to walk in than a regular cycling shoe.
Unsurprisingly, this means the shoes aren’t as stiff as usual, and the flex is quite noticeable when pedalling, particularly during hard efforts.
Rapha Explore Powerweave shoes review conclusion
There’s a lot to like about the Rapha Explore Powerweave: the super-supple knitted upper is sublime, the fabric Boa laces are truly excellent, the flexible sole is great to walk in and the tread is tenaciously grippy.
On the other hand, the non-repairable tread is a bit of a bummer for long-term ownership prospects.
The flexible sole also means they aren’t the best choice for performance-minded riders. If bikepacking and adventure riding is your bag, or if you’re just not fussed about performance, these are a great choice. However, if you’re looking for an immovably rigid power slipper, or have comfort issues with flexible shoes, these are not the kicks for you.
Prospective buyers should also consider whether having what is essentially a mesh upper on a gravel shoe is the right choice for them – those who suffer with cold feet or bog-trotting enthusiasts will be better-served by a more weatherproof construction.
However, provided the Explore Powerweave will work for your intended riding and you’re happy to accept that, one day, they will wear out, you are very unlikely to be disappointed. Plus they look great, and that definitely counts for something.