over the past year or so, i have managed to describe many of the reasons why i have no desire (or choice) to affix a number to the pockets of my jersey and race cyclocross. despite having received a pre-release copy of jeremy powers' 'cross clinic video for review last year and having almost religiously put many of his instructions into practice, i see little signs of improvement over my pre-powers situation. this, i might point out, is no refelection on the usa national champion, nor indeed for my own tenacity when it comes to a desire for improvement. let's face it, not everyone is cut out to be a cyclocross champion.
but despite protestations from the professionals that this is an all inclusive sport, designed for family days out and the very style of racing in which anyone can participate, there are features that separate them from us. an almost inhuman athletic ability has to be the most obvious, but for those who may have seen the excellent sram video depicting powers and his mechanic, there are a number of other details rather conspicuous by their presence.
sram's cx-1 chainset and derailleur for one. while the rest of us are struggling to change from inner ring to outer, jeremy's already leaving us in the dust (or mud). and he and his professional cohorts are all aboard state of the art carbon 'cross bikes that have been tweaked to within a millimetre of their ultimate performance. do we know how to to do that? no. nor do we have an entire peloton of the blighters to facilitate endless, smooth pit-stops. and while i have no intention of ever being seen in public wearing a rapha onesie, there has to be some advantage to such sartorial faux pas or they wouldn't do it on television.
you would be well within your rights to ask what has brought this state of affairs to my attention that i felt need of bringing it to your attention. and i feel no shame in pointing out that the arrival of a pair of rapha's new cyclocross shoes is what started it all. beginning from the ground up, so to speak. but before we enter the whys and wherefores concerning the huge chasm between me and literally any professional (or decent amateur come to that), i feel it only fair to point out the generosity of rapha's sizing policy. more often than not, i would simply specify my shoe size as 44 when it comes to arranging for review samples of footwear.
by and large (if you'll pardon the pun), that has served me well, but frequently that 44 has proven to be a smidgeon on the large size; comfortable but roomy. rapha, however, doubtless in co-operation with giro who make the shoes, offer half-sizes, for which i am eternally grateful. thus, inside the highly intriguing eggbox packaging were a pair of size 43.5 black cyclocross shoes.
just ginger peachy.
all of rapha's footwear offers two pairs of shaped cork insteps to allow fine tuning of the footbed. i'm in two minds over these; i figure i ought to use them since they're in the box, but whether i actually need them or not, i haven't quite figured out. nonetheless, it's a neat addition to the product. and in the case of shoes designed to leap tall buildings in a single bound, rapha also provide a couple of studs for fixing up front to gain greater traction when running up rocky mountains. in retrospect, i might have been better to fit those before rather than later.
the fabulous soles with sky-blue treads are configured to accept standard two-bolt cleat systems such as shimano's spd or those for the crank brothers' eggbeaters fitted to my lime green hakkalugi. up top, the synthetic leather is bumpered with a textured rubber. 'cross shoes are unlikely to be given a smooth ride, particularly when worn by the inept such as yours truly. secure, and i mean very secure, closure is provided by two front velcro straps and a main aluminium ratcheted strap (similar to that on rapha's grand tour shoes) all covering a comfortable and flexible tongue.
add all these factors together and suddenly that gap between us and them becomes a tad more explicable. though few, if any, of my adventures in the mud have been conducted at speed that would scarcely worry a garmin, the difference a well fitted pair of shoes can make is almost tangible. add to that the incredible stiffness of those giro soles and both hard pedalling and effortless scrabbling (who am i kidding?) are suddenly a lot easier than was previously the case. while you'll be less than surprised that i forgot to unclip my left foot when dismounting, what was surprising was the lack of even a single scuff mark after picking myself out the ditch. on the subsequent steep, rocky and wet leafy clamber, i managed to remain upright all the way to the top.
of course, adding the abbreviated word 'cross to the shoes' description, does not undermine or negate their use for any other form of cycling. after an aborted attempt to use my c40 for the sunday morning ride, on discovering a loose cassette (don't ask), i had need of slipping on the 'cross shoes to ride the candy pedal equipped cielo, a function they fulfilled with aplomb.
if i had need of bringing a criticism to the fore, i'd have preferred a touch more visible colour if only to draw attention to the fact that i'm wearing a pair. it would surely have been possible to have repeated the sky blue on the sole in one of those top straps?
however, such a remark is of a superficial nature; all black doesn't remove one iota of their effectiveness, comfort or remarkably understated style. maybe i should even everything up all round and purchase richard sachs' cross bike; apart from the rider, that ought to make for a winning combination.
rapha's cyclocross shoes are available in sizes 39 through to 48 with half sizes up to 46.5 in black only (size 43.5 tested). cost is £250
thursday 11 december 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................