It’s a cyclocross shoe.
A ’cross shoe.
You mean a mountain bike shoe?
Well, no. Kind of, but not really.
Earlier this fall, Rapha announced its Cross Shoes. Not mountain bike shoes. No, Rapha does not make any mountain bike apparel (though some of its “touring” apparel is pretty darn good mountain bike gear, much like Giro’s New Road is great singletrack wear). This is a cyclocross-only shoe, both in its marketing and design features.
The Cross Shoe is based off of the previous Giro Code mountain bike shoes, sharing the same last, insole, Easton EC90 carbon sole, and outsole lugs. The Giro Code happens to be a mountain bike shoe. Confused yet?
Rapha took a mountain bike shoe, the Code, changed the upper, added $150 to the price, and now calls it a cyclocross shoe.
The Cross Shoes’ Easton EC90 carbon sole is plenty stiff, and the lugs engage Shimano XTR pedals quite well, with no rocking side-to-side. Some may find the pedal interface to be too tight, and require a spacer between the cleat and shoe for an easier engagement. In trail testing, our pedals tended to eject the cleat if they or the crank struck a rock; this is likely due to the tight interface between the pedal body and the lugs on the outsole. The steel Crank Brothers’ Shoe Shields would likely alleviate that problem, but for riders who won’t be taking these off-road except for cyclocross use, rock-strikes aren’t a problem.
The minimalist lugs offer little protection for the carbon sole. The latest generation of the Giro Code switched to a Vibram sole with more protection, but the Rapha shoes are not designed for mountain biking and do not require the same level of defense. Scrambling on rocks is not commonplace in cyclocross; mud and sand are not as harmful to a shoe’s outsole.
The upper is artificial leather. The Rapha GT shoes, which are $100 more than the $350 Cross Shoes, have a supple yak leather upper. Perhaps the Yak was deemed insufficiently durable. The Cross Shoe’s upper is still soft and comfy, even though it’s artificial.
The Cross Shoe did require a break-in period of a few hours. The fit is identical to other Giro shoes I’ve worn, unsurprisingly. Rapha borrows the Giro insoles as well, which feature three levels of tuneable arch support. I found the medium support to be average, not overly high, comparable to Specialized’s lowest arched insole.
What makes it a ’cross shoe?
Well, it would be that artificial leather upper, which has no venting save for some minor perforations on the tongue. While the Cross Shoes are warmer than your average shoe, they don’t have any active insulation such as a down or GoreTex-style membrane. The all-black upper also captures the sun’s rays pretty well. With a nice wool sock, the Cross Shoes can handle temperatures in the 40s.
On the cyclocross race course, the Cross Shoes were excellent. Seemingly identical to the Giro Codes I’ve raced in in the past. I did not suffer the issue of my cleat ejecting from my pedal, like I did while mountain biking. The solid artificial leather upper was easily cleaned after its day in the dust, thanks to the smooth uppers, which lack mesh venting.
I would have liked to see several pairs of toe spikes included. If these are in fact ’cross shoes, at this price point, riders should have a selection of toe spikes on race day, like the Combo Pack from Horst Engineering.
The price tag on the Cross Shoe is startling, to say the least, particularly given this shoe’s narrow range of use — they’re not durable enough for mountain biking, too warm to ride in the summer, and not warm enough to ride mid-winter.
The upper is obviously an upgraded material from the old Giro Code, but considering that the old Code can be purchased for under $200 now, the $350 price tag on the Cross Shoe is over the top. The packaging is ornate; presentation is clearly important to the style-driven brand. It includes multiple branded boxes and is finished off with a box that would normally hold frites — an homage to the preferred foodstuff of the Belgian cyclocross fan.
The Cross Shoes are not for everyone. I feel that Rapha should have instead taken the Giro Empire VR90s, Giro’s latest and greatest in off-road footwear, and added a Rapha spin to that shoe. The all-black artificial upper with subdued colors in the stitching just doesn’t measure up to the bright colors of Rapha’s Climber Shoes or other fresh shoes on the market.
In 10 hours of testing on road, in a ’cross race, and on mountain bike rides we quickly realized why Rapha calls these Cross Shoes, as they do not hold up well on the mountain bike trail. A few brushes with rocks left a scuff on the artificial leather upper and a scratch in the aluminum buckle closure.
Traditionally, we’ve liked Rapha’s approach to apparel. Expensive, yes, but it’s generally high quality, and has heaps of style. But the brand came up a little short on this one. The shoe, which is based on an already obsolete model from Giro, is not worthy of its $350 price tag.
Suggested retail price: $350
We like: Stiff Easton carbon sole and solid pedal engagement.
We don’t like: Outsole lugs don’t offer much protection for the carbon sole. Soft artificial leather prone to scuffs. Only one toe spike set included — not indicative of a true ’cross shoe.
The scoop: This is the shoe for the ’cross and road rider who wants something that every other rider doesn’t have, but not for those who would want shoes versatile enough for mountain biking.