Review: Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoes deliver on stiffness, fit & versatility

Tips & Reviews

We’ve been riding the new Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoes for the past month, and they seem to offer the greatest versatility yet from any of Rapha’s shoes. Combining a bit of the best tech from both their Pro Team road and Explore gravel shoes, the new Explore Powerweaves are comfortable and probably efficient enough to satisfy most gravel road riders, bikepackers, and all-around mixed-surface adventure riders…

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, side

The two key elements of carry-over tech in Rapha’s Explore Powerweave gravel shoes are right there in the name. Powerweave is Rapha’s flexible yet supportive one-piece 3D-woven polyester upper. It offers foot-hugging comfort and excellent ventilation.

Explore tech gives the shoes a walkable sole, roughly 3/4 length in stiff carbon sole with flex built in at both the heel & toe, and a natural rubber tread molded on top.

Read our full Rapha Explore Powerweave launch coverage for general details including pricing, color options & availability here.

In-depth look at the Tech Details

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, riding angled

The sole is efficient-enough for my style of mixed-surface gravel and even all-road riding. With a good pedal/cleat/sole interface there’s not a lot of torsional flex noticeable when riding over irregular surfaces. But a road rider will be able to feel a bit of flex when climbing or sprinting over smooth tarmac.

The soft, molded-on natural rubber tread is grippy, but it is not replaceable. That’s kind of a shame on a $355 /310€ pair of shoes, but probably doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. Sharing the same rubber, my regular Explore gravel shoes have held up really well to two full summers of riding with little noticeable tread wear.

But they will eventually wear out, especially if you do a lot of hike-a-biking over aggressively rocky terrain.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, inside and sole view

The “dialed in for dirt” Powerweave upper is said to be TPU-reinforced. It can be seen especially in the cross-hatched area, where the black stripes reveal the abrasion-resistant thermoplastic polyurethane plastic fibers being exposed over the softer white & black polyester fiber.

The result of TPU-reinforcement is that the texture of the shoe doesn’t seem quite as smooth and closed-off as the road-going Pro Team Powerweaves, a difference most evident on the inside of the instep.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, wet spring riding

That does mean that the Explore Powerweave shoes collect mud and hold dirt a bit more than the road version, but they are still easy to wipe mostly clean with a wet cloth. Only time will tell if the rougher texture or holding more grit might add up to extra wear to the shoes or even crank arms for your heel draggers out there.

Even though the weave doesn’t appear very open (shine a bright flashlight through them, and only a few pinholes of light are visible), the shoes’ ventilation feels airy when riding in cooler weather. That weave is also not waterproof, so riding in the rain will result in wet feet fairly quickly.

That said, like the road Pro Team Powerweaves, these new gravel Explore Powerweaves do a fairly good job of deflecting wet gravel road spray, and even drying quickly while riding (not in the rain). And back home none of the materials seemed to absorb much water even in the rain, so they dried out completely as quickly as I could hope.

Boa Li2 dials + TX4 laces + webbing FormTX lace guides

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, Boa Li2 detail

The new low-profile Boa Li2 fit system is really a standout for ease-of-use and performance on the shoes. The Rapha Explore Powerweaves are apparently the first gravel-specific shoes to get Li2 (Gaerne G.Snx & updated Scott RC SL mountain bike shoes already have taken Li2 dials off-road.)

The Raphas are also the first-ever cycling shoes we’ve seen with the flexible woven TX4 Dyneema textile laces. First debuted on running shoes several years ago, the TX4 textile laces are lighter and more flexible than traditional plastic-coated metal wires. And they also use simple, plastic-free “low-friction” webbing lace guides that are more tolerant of dirt & mud infiltration and won’t break if a rock hits them (ouch.)

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, 714g actual weight

At 714g for a pair of size 43 gravel shoes (357g per shoe), the Explore Powerweaves aren’t exactly superlight. My synthetic microfiber Explore shoes weighed almost the same (only 6g more) offering the exact same sole, tread & similar fit for $60/50€ less if you are patient enough to tie your shoes.

Still the stiffest gravel shoes I have reviewed, the Bont Vaypor G weighed just 648g for the pair (324g per shoe). If I ever decide to get serious about some gravel race (not all that likely), I imagine that those custom-molded carbon Bonts would make more sense for their increased pedaling efficiency. But even for long winter road riding where I usually choose the Vaypor G for its mix of pedaling efficiency and grip on snowy/icy/gritted sidewalks & stairs, these new Rapha shoes are realistically stiff enough for me.

TPU reinforcement, extra  protection & durability

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, side

Rapha’s gravel Powerweave itself is reinforced, but the heel cup also gets additional rubberized protection too. I wonder if that is simply a visual design choice though, since I would typically rather see such additional protection over the toe, or maybe just on the inner crank-facing side of the heel?

In any case, that Rapha logo on the heel adds a touch of reflective visibility, and the webbing heel tab loop does make it easier to pull the shoes on.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, details

Boa calls the new Li2 design their lowest profile design yet, and they are said to offer “unprecedented durability against impact, abrasion, dirt, and debris“. But I can’t help but think it would have been nice if a lightweight alloy version of the dial were available like the S3 dial on the S-Works road & mountain shoes. I haven’t had any wear issues yet (and don’t really expect to while riding gravel).

And in any case, Boa guarantees the dials & laces for life, and will directly ship you a replacement for free if either break. So, it’s hard to argue with that.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, toe abrasion wear

My only real caveat about the shoes is why they don’t offer extra toe protection? I’ve ridden the shoes daily for four weeks, with two longer gravel rides that involved a bit of pushing up a hill in the forest, and one sub 24-hour overnighter quick bikepacking trip. The shoes have fit and performed as well as I could have hoped for.

But a close look at one of the shoes’ toe reveals a bit of scuffing of the black polyester yarn where it appears to be woven over the TPU reinforcement underneath. The fraying was definitely minor (and tidied up with a quick melting near a flame since it’s polyester). But it was a bit disconcerting, and it could have been easily avoided with an extended toe bumper or rubberized coating like on the original Explore shoes.

Final thoughts riding the new Rapha Explore Powerweave gravel shoes

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, riding detail

All of that considered, Rapha’s new Explore Powerweaves still feel like their best all-around shoes to date. I won’t get rid of my previous generation Explore shoes just yet (or proper mountain bike shoes for real cross-country or trail riding), but the old Explores seem to have shifted into back-up mode now.

As slightly warmer weather approaches, Rapha’s Powerweave has proven itself (in the original road shoes) to be surprisingly versatile in any temperatures above freezing just by swapping from winter merino, to lighter merino, to lightweight summer synthetic socks. They are probably the best shoe construction I’ve experienced for offer the same comfortable fit in such a wide range of different thickness socks.

Rapha Explore Powerweave carbon-soled gravel shoe review, riding angled

As a mountain biker that now rides all bikes, I’m surely a bit biased and undoubtedly opinionated… but nicely-fitting, efficient-pedaling road shoes that you can’t comfortably and safely walk in for 100m are dumb. These seem like the perfect compromise for me.

So now the Rapha Explore Powerweave has taken over as my favorite everyday gravel and all-road riding shoes. You might even catch me test riding a proper road bike with them on, if I’m not out shooting review photos or actively testing new road pedals at the time.

In short, my new shoe of choice when it comes to mixed riding on dropbar bikes.

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