When it comes to branding, cycling outfitter Rapha has always stuck to the Steve Jobs approach, presenting its high-end apparel in packaging that's almost as beautiful as the product itself. But for the Grand Tour Shoes, the British company's first foray into footwear, the ante has truly been upped. Lift the lid on a black box lined with dramatic imagery of the craggy Dolomites, push back pink wrapping paper emblazoned with headlines from iconic Italian sports rag La Gazzetta dello Sport, and you'll find a set of yak-leather cycling shoes, each individually pouched in a felt drawstring bag. It's like you're discovering a pair of Rolexes…for your feet.
Such are the pains taken by a luxury cycling brand whose product can seem more suited for the racks at Barneys than the cluttered shelves of the local bike shop (not that you'll find them at either – Rapha's business model is an e-commerce-only affair). Which isn't to say that these elegant kicks aren't road-worthy. Far from it. Rather than risk going solo, Rapha worked in tandem with renowned helmet maker Giro, which recently applied its knowledge of microfibers and ergonomic design to create some of cycling's most supple shoes. The resulting collaboration? Footwear that is as functional as it is aesthetically dazzling, combining Giro's commitment to performance (stiff Easton carbon soles cushioned by cork footbeds, an adjustable arch support system) with Rapha's impeccable styling (machined aluminum buckles rather than plastic, Velcro straps that evoke vintage toe clips). One ride in them, and you'll be wondering if you should drop the hammer or throw on a tux and hit the town.
Which leads to the sole problem: These slippers are so damn stylish, you might prefer just sitting at home and polishing them with a baby diaper than ever, ever, setting foot outside in them. Believe us, we felt the same way, too, but after putting them through the ringer during August's three-day Tour of the Catskills stage race, our fears were quickly assuaged. While many cycling shoes feel flimsier the lighter they get, the 310-gram Grand Tour Shoes always felt sturdy, and, thanks to the upper's durable yak-leather construction, they withstood a gauntlet of adverse weather conditions, from torrential downpours to near 100-degree heat (not to mention a torrent of our own personal blood, sweat, and tears), with nary a blemish (nor were our feet ever uncomfortable). In short, we were immensely satisfied, but that didn't stop us from lovingly massaging the classic black facade – they also come in powdery white – with Granger's shoe cream, just another perk you'll find tucked inside the package. [$450; rapha.cc]