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A few weeks ago a box arrived at my desk. Inside the box was another box. Inside the second box was a third box. Inside that was a pair of felt drawstring bags that contained two of the most beautiful cycling shoes (thankfully a left and a right, both in my size) that I’ve ever handled.
Rapha’s new Grand Tour shoes are constructed using premium materials and several unique, well-thought-out features. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Rapha partnered with Ecco and Giro to produce the Grand Tours. After a dozen rides, I would say the partnerships paid off.
The Ecco yak leather upper is a first in the cycling industry. Most of the upper is a finished, perforated yak leather while the inner material of the heal cup is untreated and softer against the foot. Ecco makes some big claims regarding yak leather and they bear out in the real world. Namely, the super soft skin is also very light and extremely strong. It has roughly three times the tensile strength of other bovine leathers. The luxurious yak leather also has good moisture movement (wicking) properties.
Because the leather is so supple, it requires very little break-in time. Rapha says that, thanks to the material’s strength, the leather will conform to the contours of your foot and “wears in rather than wears out.” While I didn’t test the tensile strength of the shoe and I can’t speak to the durability of the shoes, they were instantly comfy and even more so after several rides. They also appear to be extremely well constructed.
Two leather straps, looped through titanium D-rings, cinch the shoe down over the wearer’s forefoot. A machined aluminum buckle, intended to be more precise and durable than a plastic buckle, takes care of the top closure. The buckle is based on Giro’s excellent clasp, requiring only one hand to operate both in tightening and loosening.
For the sole and insoles, Rapha called on Giro again. With the Easton EC90 unidirectional carbon sole and a cork version of Giro’s SuperNatural modular arch support system, one would expect a fit similar to the Giro Factor or ProLight SLX. That’s not exactly the case though.
The upper, especially the toe box, is roomier than Giro shoes (but not as roomy as Specialized S-Works shoes) and the soft yak leather heel cup isn’t reinforced with plastic or carbon fiber. With less holding your heel firmly in place, the impression is that of a pair of cycling slippers. The Grand Tours remind me of my first cycling shoes — a pair of plastic soled, leather Duegis. The upper was very supple (more likely broken down as I received them secondhand) and didn’t keep my foot locked down in one place. Personally, I like a little room for my feet to move, so the Grand Tours felt great.
On the other hand, if you prefer the feel of Sidi’s reinforced, adjustable heel cup or Bont’s super stiff carbon bathtub sole, you probably won’t like the Rapha offering. With the adjustable arch support and great closures, the Rapha shoe may be better for those putting in huge miles whereas the Bont is more of a criterium shoe.
As is its style, Rapha keeps the branding on the Grand Tour shoes to a minimum, with small logos on one of the straps, the buckle and the bottom of the sole, as well as a reflective logo on the heel of each shoe.
Rapha will offer the shoe in two colors: white and black, each with a contrasting stripe. According to Rapha literature, the stripe is meant to evoke a toe strap from bygone days of cycling. Whatever image they conjure, the subdued aesthetic is attractive.
When and how much?
The Grand Tour shoes, available in half and full sizes from 39 to 48 (except for 47.5), will go on sale April 10th for $450 a pair through both the Rapha and Giro websites and select retail locations. Included with the shoes are individual shoe bags and Giro’s three modular arch supports. Rapha also includes a small tub of shoe cream to apply to the shoes after wet rides. For the truly posh, Rapha will also offer U.S.-made cedar shoe trees to keep your shoes tip-top.