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.
Production cycling shoes are like movies billed as “Hitchcockian thrillers.” They cause excitement, high expectations, and flashes of brilliance in preview that make you think every detail has been as expertly sculpted as the camera angles in “Psycho.” Most of them end up making as much sense as Norman Bates.
At least, that’s how it works for me.
I’ve got a foot with an arch like a war memorial, an instep higher than some treetops and the width of sheetrock. At 7 1/2 EEE, they are wider than they are long. Despite their Mini Cooper length, my feet have the volume of a Who concert. Finding a production shoe that is adjustable enough to keep them from screaming—let alone happy—requires a search befitting the “Da Vinci Code.”
While custom shoes such as those by D2 are a sure-fire solution to my particular foot problems, I remain fascinated by production shoes. After all, not everyone (cough, cough) can afford to spend $700+ on footwear. I’m intrigued by the work being done by companies to bring superior function at reasonable prices to the cycling masses.
The new Giro Factor is a prime example of why production cycling footwear deserves our interest. The cycling world has come to understand that a collapsing arch is a head-butt to pedaling efficiency. Custom-moded footbeds can solve this problem but for those who want a simpler solution, there haven’t been many options.
The most obvious parallel will be drawn between Specialized and Giro. The important difference is that no matter what arch support you need—small, medium or large—they are all included with the shoes; you needn’t purchase a set of insoles in addition to your shoes.
The arch supports attach to the insoles via a Velcro-like material, giving you the opportunity to shift the location of the support slightly, allowing you to fine-tune the fit. I used the large arch support and was surprised—nay, floored—when I actually felt support beneath my foot. That was a first for a production insole.
Construction features show a thoroughness I’ve come to expect from Giro. The insole features X-Static anti-microbial fiber to reduce the chance that your cycling shoes will smell like roadkill. The sole is manufactured from Easton’s EC90 unidirectional carbon, making it an especially thin (6.5mm), light and strong sole.
The upper is cut from Teijin microfiber, which, unlike some man-made materials does actually give a bit, allowing it to better conform to the shape of your foot for improved fit and all but eliminating pressure points. And like other ratcheting buckle systems, the closure is replaceable should the need arise. The lower two closures feature Velcro straps; I can report they are longer than most straps.
Giro claims a weight of 255g. I’d say they are on the money; my pair of 42s weighed 256g.
The only shoes in my wardrobe that are worth more than $200 are special-purpose. All three pair of ski boots (downhill, skating and back country) I own cost north of that mark and all of my cycling shoes worth remembering did too. When I think about other shoes that the Factor will compete against, the $279.99 price for these strikes me as a bargain. There are, after all, shoes out there that cost more, weigh more and feature a thicker sole, just for starters.
Did I mention the look of the Factor? In the red/white color way, it’s hands-down my favorite-looking road shoe. Ever.
I’m sorry to report you can’t purchase these shoes in time for Christmas; they’ll ship in February. I’ve been wearing mine for a month and they are absolutely the best production shoes I’ve ever worn.
Thinking back on some of the shoes I’ve worn in the past, I’m amazed at what I was willing to put up with. From eyelets that pulled through to soles so fragile I had to be careful how I walked to lasts so narrow I could have confused the footwear for climbing shoes were it not for that blessed cleat, even most good shoes really weren’t terribly great products. If I had a Wayback Machine I wouldn’t use it for cycling shoes. A Masi Gran Criterium, more likely. Or maybe a date with Brigitte Bardot. I wonder what she thinks of cyclists. I bet she’d dig these shoes.