When I heard (through a somewhat cryptic email) that Rapha was going to offer cycling shoes, I need to be honest and admit that I was more excited than intrigued. My duty as a reviewer obliges me to maintain a certain skepticism about any new product. Alas, I’m a bike geek and some companies tend to do consistently good, if not excellent, work. With Rapha, quality is never really up for discussion. I’ve yet to see a product of theirs suffer from a corner cut, so I had what I believed was good reason to expect that a pair of cycling shoes by them would be very good, if not stellar. Is that more credit than an unknown product deserved? Probably, but consistency of practice is how one earns a reputation.
While their early jerseys were cut on the large side and difficult to size correctly, for the last three, maybe four years, their apparel has fit very true to size. How is this applicable to a shoe review? If I had any concern about the shoes going in, it was whether a pair of 42s would fit the same as my others. Any concern I had that way was laid to rest the moment the shoes arrived; as you’re probably already aware, the Grand Tour shoes use the same sole and last as the Giro Prolight SLX and Factor shoes because they are produced to Rapha’s spec by Giro. I can report from previous experience, the Easton EC90 sole is lighter than the touch of a pickpocket and stiffer than my first belt of Yukon Jack.
If you’re familiar with Giro’s Factor then you’ve probably noticed the more subdued appearance of the Grand Tour shoes. Rapha sourced yak leather (yes, yak, as in those big furry beasts that occupy climates less hospitable than outer space) from the shoe maker Ecco. The yak leather is reasonably soft and because it is perforated it also breathes better than a great many other shoes I’ve worn.
Like the Factor, the Grand Tour shoes feature two velcro straps and a ratcheting buckle for adjustment. This is where these shoes have to come in for a knock from this reviewer. First, let me just say that when it comes to shoe closures, the Boa has it all over everything because it does a better job of distributing pressure across the foot. It’s superior the way The Who were superior to every band you ever heard in a neighbor’s garage. Those garage bands were a fun way to pass an afternoon during high school, but they were no match for Townshend and co.
Moving right along. The bigger issue with these shoes—for me—is that they really aren’t intended to hold a foot as high-volume as mine. As has been explained to me, I’ve got a foot that is wide (E at minimum, but on one occasion an Italian crispin created a set of 41.5 EEEEE dress shoes that fit me terrifically), and that detail is compounded by a really high instep caused in part by a very high arch. The Grand Tour’s velcro straps barely pull far enough around to attach.
Turns out, that’s probably very good news for you. This shoe really isn’t designed for my ridiculous dogs. It’s designed for a typical American, roughly D width and with a bit more volume than your usual Italian shoe. But thanks to the Giro SuperNatural fit system, my high arches are well treated by the biggest of the arch supports. Like the Factor, the SuperNatural insoles include three different arch supports, depending on your personal fit requirement. I like these insoles so much, I’m willing to overlook the shoes’ other drawback just because how good my feet feel when they are within these shoes. I suspect that riders at the other end of the bell curve—those with especially flat or narrow feet will end up with little strap wings protruding from the sides of the shoes—curb feelers for the pedal set.
One natural question about these shoes is whether the yak leather will stretch. Because this is a natural leather, it’s going to stretch some, sooner or later. In the weeks that I’ve been riding these shoes I’ve been able to readjust the velcro straps and I tighten the ratcheting buckle one click more than the first time I saddled up with these. I attribute that mostly to the leather settling into the shape of my feet—getting those straps to fold around a different point at the D-ring wasn’t easy. I should mention that in only my second ride in these shoes I got caught in five hours of drizzle on a day that was supposed to be simply overcast. I was as pleased by that as the time I was hit by a snow squall while riding to work. The shoes cleaned up easy enough, though.
Now, these shoes are by Rapha, which is to say that you’re going to pay a premium for them, and by some reckoning, a painful one at that. The Factor goes for $289. The Grand Tours go for a whopping $450. I mean, Edgar J. Hoover, that’s a lot of greenbacks! The difference in price—$160—is a not insubstantial pair of cycling shoes in their own right. Everything about these shoes is top-notch, from the box they come in to the shoe bags to protect them when you travel to the leather conditioning cream included. Whether or not these shoes will work out to a reasonable balance of value vs. quality vs. luxury is an answer that can only be arrived at individually. What I can say in their favor is that they are the best-made production cycling shoes I’ve ever worn and the natural leather has made for an appreciable increase in comfort—especially for a shoe not really designed for my foot. I love the Factor, but the Grand Tour is a noticeably superior shoe. It’s easy to quibble about price, but it’s much harder to criticize anyone for producing the best product they are able.