Podcast: Jon Freeman, Rapha’s Head of Hardgoods: Shoe Design, the Explore Powerweave Gravel Cycling Shoe & More!

podcast rapha explore powerweave shoes

Our partner in podcasting, The Gravel Ride Podcast, sits down with Jon Freeman, Rapha’s Head of Hardgoods to discuss the Explore Powerweave gravel cycling shoe. We look at what it takes from a design perspective to build a shoe and what gravel cyclists should be looking for in a shoe.

Automatic Transcription by The Gravel Ride (please excuse all errors)

[00:00:03]Craig Dalton: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I’m your host Craig Dalton. This week on the show, we’ve got Jon Freeman from Rapha, joining us to talk about shoes. I’ve wanted to talk about shoes for a while now, and really dig into the ins and outs of what makes a great gravel shoe.

[00:00:21]I’d been riding a comfortable, but not maybe high performance shoe. That was great for all day rides. Great for hiking. But I was curious to get into something a little bit more high performance without giving up that comfort.

[00:00:33]So it was great to hear from an expert about how the shoe was designed. We talk about the Explore power weave shoe from Rafa. One of their most recent models focused on the gravel

[00:00:45] Before we jumped in, I needed to thank this week sponsor. This week, the show is brought to you by Athletic Greens, the most comprehensive daily nutritional beverage I’ve ever tried. You’ve heard me before and I’ll say it again. I’ve been an Athletic Greens customer for a number of years. It’s my go-to kind of nutritional baseline that I take every day, just to make sure with all the corners I may cut in my diet that I’m getting what I need.

[00:01:12]Athletic Greens is definitely part of my big ride day plans. I’ll do a drink in the morning just to get on top of my hydration early, before the ride. And then when I come back, I know I’m always crushed and really depleted. I’ll do yet another serving of Athletic Greens. One scoop of Athletic Greens contains 75 vitamins minerals and whole food sourced ingredients.

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[00:01:48]All without the need to take multiple products or pills. That’s what does it for me, it’s just simple one scoop every day. And I feel like I’ve got my bases covered.

[00:01:58]So that’s my pitch for Athletic Greens.

[00:02:00] You know, I love it. You know, I recommend it. Simply visit Athletic Greens.com/the gravel ride. And get your free year supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs today. Again that url is Athletic Greens.com/the gravel ride.

[00:02:18]Big, thanks to Athletic Greens for their continued support. And thank you for going to check them out. With all that said let’s dive right in to this week’s interview with Jon from Rafa.

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[00:02:29] Jon welcome to the show.

[00:02:31]Thanks.

[00:02:32] Jon Freeman: [00:02:32] Thanks,

[00:02:32] Craig Dalton: [00:02:32] I haven’t me.

[00:02:32] Yeah. I’m excited to get into shoe technology with you. It’s something that I think I’ve ignored a little bit in my gravel life. I used to think a lot about it from a road shoe perspective and a mountain bikes you perspective, but it took me a while to come around to really understanding what I wanted out of a gravel shoe.

[00:02:48] So why don’t we start by just getting a little bit about your background and what led you to Rafa?

[00:02:53]Jon Freeman: [00:02:53] Yeah, sure. I think there’s Two parts of that, really. So it’s my background in design. And then a background in terms of bikes and it basically converged at Rapha, which is A great thing to be able to call a job.

[00:03:03] Cause they’re two big passions of mine, but yeah. And bikes have always been a part of my life. I grew up riding DMS never to any kind of great level, but just as a teenager, it was really immersed in that sort of culture of BMX building dirt jumps, hanging out in skate parks, that kind of thing.

[00:03:18] I grew into mountain bike a bit as I got older. I always loved taking bikes apart and building bikes and learning the mechanics of how bikes work as well. And I think that sort of passion for taking things apart and problem solving led me down the degree of or the road of kind of a degree in industrial design.

[00:03:37]So I, yeah I studied and industrial design and graduated and then went on to work for one of the. Large design agencies here in London working on a broad range of industries, different product categories. That’s the nature of agency work is that it’s super varied, but I spent quite a while back and working on a lot of things have been consumer electronics, wearable tech, and those kinds of other areas.

[00:04:01]Just getting an understanding of what, where am I kind of passionate land design, but at the same time, I. I purchased the road bike and had my eyes open to just like how much further and how much faster you could travel on a bike with kind of skinny tires and drop bars. And that was just this like spotless passion for road riding, and I started down that journey of just becoming. Really immersed in the sport and the culture and trying to consume everything that goes along with it. So it became this thing where I was working in, in, in design, but I was writing was everything else outside of work.

[00:04:37] And it was waking up early to get training rides in before work and then sneaking off early to go and race like local criteriums and that kind of thing. It was everything. And I think around the same time, I. Got introduced to the then creative director at Rapha and I knew of raffle.

[00:04:52] I was really aware of them, but I think like purely as a sort of an apparel brand at that point. And they were doing really well at the time kind of rappers always. And on this quite, quite steep growth card, which is great. And they were starting to think more seriously about expanding into other categories outside of apparel.

[00:05:11] So we started discussing this and yeah, after a while I basically ended up making the jump to joining Rafa full-time and then helping them to grow the side of the product offering that we categorize as hard goods and accessories. So it’s essentially everything that sits outside of the apparel.

[00:05:27]And covers a number of different categories, but a big part of that’s definitely been the kind of push into footwear.

[00:05:34] Craig Dalton: [00:05:34] Nice. What were just out of curiosity, what was the first kind of outside of apparel product that Rafa released

[00:05:43] Jon Freeman: [00:05:43] very first? There’s always been bits in the range, I think like from a small accessories point of view and things and there’s has always.

[00:05:51] In an ambition to have parts alongside the apparel. It’s like this idea of dressing the rider from head to toe. And so there’s been packs and things like that there for a while. And I think w when I joined actually the main focus was in Iowa. So we spent quite a bit of time trying to think about how we could transition into like fully on bike performance, Iowa.

[00:06:11] So that was quite a focus. And I think that was where we. The first time we really started thinking like ground up, in-house kind of development about a true kind of hard, good product.

[00:06:22] Craig Dalton: [00:06:22] Gotcha. Then when you decided as a company to move into the shoe category, is my recollection collect the correct that you were working with another manufacturer to realize the design originally?

[00:06:34] Jon Freeman: [00:06:34] Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. So she’s been in the range for quite a while. 2012 I think was the first. Our first kind of entry into the market and yeah, you’re right. That was in collaboration with Giro in those early days. Yeah, that was a great partnership. I think, creating around footwear comes with a lot of like unique complexity and there’s a lot of investment involved in the tooling and things like that.

[00:06:56] So it was really good for us at the beginning to be able to collaborate with someone who had, have those expertise and had some parts in place that we could share essentially. So the basic premise of those early early styles that we had was using the Giro sole units and narrow on they’re lost, which is the part of the shoe or the part that, that the shoe is built around, then it defines the fit.

[00:07:18] So we were using those kinds of elements from them and then creating our own unique offers to go on the shoes. So yeah, that, that was before my time with Rafa, but I think, yeah. The approach to those styles was definitely the same as how Rapha entered into the apparel market in terms of just like seeing a category of product that was visually quite cluttered and over branded and just trying to simplify and refine.

[00:07:44] And I think we saw the same opportunity in footwear, and that was what led the design of those early shoes. But GT shoes, The first one. And I think, yeah, I think that, I think it’s really stood the test of time. We still see people in that shoe today. And I think it’s really good.

[00:07:59] And largely what we’ve gone on to do since it’s been an evolution of that, is that it

[00:08:04] Craig Dalton: [00:08:04] that’s interesting when you talk about that design process and as you were describing, collaborating with Giro on that foot bed makes a lot of sense to decouple having to tackle every element of the shoe.

[00:08:17] I think as the listener, if you can look down at your footwear right now, you can start to see the different parts that we’re going to be talking about and how the sole and the foot bed might be one thing. And the uppers might be another thing. And taking on that entire design challenge, particularly with all the size ranges of shoes, seems like a pretty monumental challenge.

[00:08:35] Monumental challenge from the jump.

[00:08:38] Jon Freeman: [00:08:38] Yeah. Yeah, it is absolutely. It’s massive. And it’s got quite a lot of unique complexity versus other kinds of categories. Yeah, you need to know what you’re doing, going into it. And I think, yeah, as I say it was, yeah, we’re really proud of the work we did with JIRA.

[00:08:52] I think it was a great kind of way of starting out. We learned a lot until we came to the point in mid 2016, when he decided we were a place as a company where we’d grown and. And we built the confidence in the category through those collaborations to say, okay, I think it’s the right time for us to move away from this partnership and go alone into footwear.

[00:09:14] So can’t started down that road of creating our own kind of built from the ground up in house range of shoes. Now

[00:09:23] Craig Dalton: [00:09:23] imagine part of any partnership decision and product development decision there’s economics, right? So there’s the economics of working with a third party for that foot bed. And that soul was it, was there parts of the design that you could not realize because it was someone else’s foot bed that led you to bringing it into your own house and developing it from the ground up?

[00:09:44] Jon Freeman: [00:09:44] Yeah, I think so. Yeah. That’s yeah, I think definitely like you, you are working with. A fit that someone else is defined when you’re working in that way. And Jerry, she is a fantastic, there was nothing that we were struggling with really.

[00:09:58] But I think we just, yeah, we had our own opinions through the things that we’d learned and we had our own kind of vision for where we wanted to take footwear. So yeah, going it alone and making those investments in the tooling and the. The molded components of the shoe does enable you to, have the scope to define everything with regard to how that shoe performs

[00:10:19] Craig Dalton: [00:10:19] with that particular partnership with JIRA.

[00:10:21] Had you introduced to gravel Shu at that point or was the gravel shoe a ground up Rafa design?

[00:10:27] Jon Freeman: [00:10:27] Yeah, we had an, that was a ground up one. We had the GT sheet, which is a good, our grand tour shoe. So it was very much road specific or round shoe. And then later on, we’d followed that again with Giro with the climate issue, which was a lighter weight version of that shoe intended for kind of those big days in the mountains, weight saving focus.

[00:10:48] So yeah, we just had those two with JIRA.

[00:10:50] Craig Dalton: [00:10:50] And then when do the gravel shoe come into the lineup?

[00:10:53]Jon Freeman: [00:10:53] So yeah, it was in 2016. We decided we were. Looking to do our own footwear and what we first launched with the classic and Explore shoe. So they were They were the first two models and Explore is the category, which we define as adventures off-road.

[00:11:09] So that kind of a big part of that is gravel kind of encompasses that. So that’s a big focus of what that Explore shoes intended for. So let’s break

[00:11:18] Craig Dalton: [00:11:18] down gravel shoe technology and what the listeners should be thinking about when choosing a shoe. Do you want it in pick wherever you want to start?

[00:11:26] If you want to start from the uppers or the soul?

[00:11:29] Jon Freeman: [00:11:29] Yeah. Yeah, sure. I think it’s interesting when you think about what gravel means in relation to, to footwear is there’s definitely some crossover with other disciplines and kind of cyclocross and cross country mountain bike shoes. But then at the same time, it’s, there’s definitely some really unique requirements for gravel specific shoe.

[00:11:48] I think one of the main things That’s should be a fundamental consideration that kind of applies to all cycling foot lab before we’re just specifically gravel is the sets. And I think, shoe brands are going to have a slightly different set and different approaches to fit.

[00:12:04] And feet vary massively even with one size bracket. So I think for anyone looking to, to purchase a gravel share, it’s super important that kind of really considering the fit and. Taking the time to probably try different brands, and that’s why getting into your local store, trying out different shoes and wherever you can try on different models yeah.

[00:12:24] Spending the time to do that, obviously can be, not always possible to ride in those shoes, but even just putting them on and walking in them can tell you a lot about how they’re going to work for you. It was an individual. And I think, in gravel, that fear is even more important because.

[00:12:40] There are, the shocks from the road that you’re experiencing repetitively over the duration of a long ride can really like, be quite tiring on the foot and accentuate any issues that might be there that you might not experienced saying on the road ride so much. So it’s super important, I think as well that walking in the shoes I think it brings you onto a second point, which is really relevant to gravel riding. And that’s the kind of walkability of the shoe is actually, the kind of traction off the bike is a really important thing. So a lot of the times in gravel, you can find yourself having to navigate sections where it might be like hike a bike or something where you’re not riding.

[00:13:17]And so it’s really important that the shoes comfortable for you in those situations as well. Sometimes a shoe that’s focused entirely on. On kind of pedal efficiency and power transfer can be really unforgiving if you try and walk in it off the bike. As well if you’re camping overnight or if if that’s the kind of, part of the gravel ride, then having something which, you can wear the whole time and not having to take an additional pair of shoes can.

[00:13:43] It’d be a huge benefit. So yeah. Yeah. I feel

[00:13:45] Craig Dalton: [00:13:45] like the modern road shoe is basically this sheet of carbon fiber that doesn’t flex on the bottom whatsoever.

[00:13:53] Jon Freeman: [00:13:53] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of times gravel shoes that kind of go down the same road with a little bit of token tread on there. But really, I think when you look at gravel as a whole it it does often encompass that time off bike.

[00:14:05] So I think that’s really important.

[00:14:07] Craig Dalton: [00:14:07] Yeah, I was just going to ask. In the soul, you mentioned shock absorption as part of it as well. Are you changing the amount of carbon fiber or material in the soil or increasing the padding in some way so that you can get some, shock absorption in the shoe?

[00:14:21]Jon Freeman: [00:14:21] It comes down to the fit, really?

[00:14:23] Both of our Explore shoes have. Have a carbon sole. And then there’s the insults when we have varying arch supports in there to make sure that the foot is properly supported. But it’s not tuned per shoe necessarily, but there are some kind of things that we’re doing specific to, to that come for off bike within the soul.

[00:14:42] Craig Dalton: [00:14:42] Yeah. Obviously you’ve got, it looks like maybe two different durometers of rubber and the sole on the Explore shoe.

[00:14:49] Jon Freeman: [00:14:49] Yeah. Yeah. So we’ve got a front and a rear section of the rubber outsole on that shoe. Yeah. And we’ve also got the carbon footplate that sits under the rubber is cut a little bit shorter at the toe and at the heel.

[00:15:03] And the intention for that is so that you still have that real, a strong connection between the foot and the cleat with the carbon plate. Cause the other part. With this, you’re constantly trying to balance the walkability, but with paddle efficiency. So you want to make it comfortable off the bike, like I mentioned, but you don’t want to make it feel really sloppy and not well connected when you’re paddling.

[00:15:25] So with the plate that we’ve created, the idea is to make sure that you’ve got that real Steph carbon connection under the ball of the foot, but then it stopped short at the toe and the heel. So that you’re just as you roll throughout the throughout the motion of walking onto the toilet onto the talent on the Hill, you’re just putting your weight down on that rubber section.

[00:15:45] And it’s able to flex a little bit more, which just helps if.com a little bit.

[00:15:49] Craig Dalton: [00:15:49] Yeah. This seems like it’s yet another one of those parts of the gravel sport that you just, you need to make choices based on what you’re looking to achieve. So if you’re only looking to race in a shoe, you might go towards something super stiff.

[00:16:03] If you’re only looking to walk in a shoe, you’re going to get something way Lexi and somewhere in the middle is probably the right choice for most riders.

[00:16:11] Jon Freeman: [00:16:11] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It’s really true. There’s so many different kind of Mindsets, within gravel that they, there are different products that cater to those different sort of approaches to the discipline, I think.

[00:16:23] Yeah. And it’s all,

[00:16:24]Craig Dalton: [00:16:24] This better than anybody it’s in design, it’s all trade offs.

[00:16:28] Jon Freeman: [00:16:28] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And those are the other, when you, what are the other considerations, when you think about what you’re looking for a gravel shear, you get into that place of How much do you want to spec up or spec down the purchase and what are the unique kind of things that you’re looking for?

[00:16:41]Do you really want to optimize the performance that you’re going to get out of the shoe in terms of you really looking to eat out every little bit and seeing it? Yeah. It’s a, an all out like high end yeah. Race shoe. Or do you want something which kind of maybe prioritizes the comfort a bit more and there’s a bit more of an all around shoe.

[00:16:58]That influences a lot of the decisions. I think you need to make with regard to materials and closure systems and those kinds of things.

[00:17:05] Craig Dalton: [00:17:05] So speaking of that, so on the Explore shoe lineup, you’ve got two models. The, I think it’s just the regular Explore and then the power weave. Do you want to talk about those two different uppers and the effect on performance?

[00:17:18] Jon Freeman: [00:17:18] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. They’re the two that we’ve got. So the They Explore. She was the one that came first. And then we more recently followed that with the Explore pathways and a lot of the a lot of what kind of informed the Explore power wave actually came from the learnings that we made when we created the pro-team sheet.

[00:17:36] So a few seasons before we released the protein shoe, which was we worked really closely with a lot of our protein athletes on the development of that kind of. One of the insights that came from them really early on was that they wanted a shoe that could fit like a glove. And you would essentially feel like you’re wearing nothing at all on your feet and which it seems quite obvious, but it’s actually quite interesting when you think about an athlete at that level, that name priority is comfort.

[00:18:06] And so we’ve hold sort of direction that we’ve built around foot wear. And particularly within these later models is. Prioritizing comfort without kind of sacrificing performance. We’re looking at it from a comfort first point of view and how that can enable you to perform better.

[00:18:23]I think it’s all well and good. A lot of the like creating the lightest shoe in the world or the Steph Fest out on the market. But a lot of the time in pursuit of those kinds of things, you end up like, for kind of weight saving, for example, you ended up looking at issue and thinking, what can we afford to remove here?

[00:18:44] And it becomes this game of trying to take things away and inevitably, like you do sacrifice a bit of comfort when you’re going down that road. And I think you might reach that bar of the lighter shoe, but, if you’re. As a customer, if you’re ATK into a long ride and something really starts to neglect you, then we’ll experienced how frustrating that can be and how that really does affect your performance on the bike.

[00:19:08] So we really focused in on how we can achieve this performance through comfort and That kind of took us down this road of developing this power we fabric, which is essentially like trying to create something which would fit incredibly close to the foot and really be supportive and hold the foot, but have this sort of sock like feel.

[00:19:28]And so power weave is a it’s an engineered woven upper that we produce. It’s a single layer construction. And yeah it’s very close fitting to the foot. It breves extremely well and also repels water from getting in. So it’s it was a really good development that we came up with the protein that we were quite proud of them thought that was a lot more scope to grow it.

[00:19:51] And that’s where we came away thinking, okay what else can we do with us? And we started looking to how it could lend itself to off-road performance. And so then we started a new development working with the same process of weaving the material that was specific to the demands of off-road riding.

[00:20:08]So that’s where the Explore power weave was built out of, in terms of the materials that were actually. Weaving in a really highly durable kind of coated yarn into that alpha, which just makes the shoe much more resistant to scuffs and abrasion. And then in addition with dash, that style versus that the Explore style, it’s it uses the double boiler dial, which is obviously another kind of element that, if you are looking to really if you’re a rider, who’s looking to push that on a performance on gravel and seeing it as a terrain to essentially like a new terrain to kind of race on and ride as flat out as you can then having that, like on the fly adjustment that, that the bullet dials afford is.

[00:20:52] It’s really K there’s not, that I was pretty leading in that regard. There’s not really another closure system where you can get that level of kind of fine tuning on the fly. Yeah that’s why we’ve incorporated those pilot dials into that model as well.

[00:21:06] Craig Dalton: [00:21:06] Gotcha. Yeah.

[00:21:07] Two comments about my experience with the shoe thus far, you mentioned this notion of it feeling like a sock, the guy named to the first ride on Strava that I did testing out some new slippers. Because it very much did feel it could flex with the bones in my toe as I was moving around, but I felt with the double boa system, very secure and on the first long ride, I was out for four, five hours on them.

[00:21:35] And I do remember, like I made an adjustment on the lower Bo because it was, I sorta over tightened it at the time and it was a really great adjustment to be able to make that.

[00:21:45] Jon Freeman: [00:21:45] Yeah. Yeah, definitely

[00:21:48] Craig Dalton: [00:21:48] the execution of the bow, as I have another set of shoes with bow as that that’s the lacing system seems to be connected throughout the entire shoe.

[00:21:56] Whereas having the two separate lacing systems on this shoe, I think is great because I can really make more micro adjustments to what’s going on then having the, my whole foot bed grabbed by the, the boa

[00:22:08] Jon Freeman: [00:22:08] system. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. There’s kind of lots of different configurations that you can do with the Butler dials.

[00:22:15] And we’ve settled on the one that we have as being optimal and we have it on both of the models that we have on the Explorer and the protein. And just like you say, it gives you that opportunity to really lock the foot down, both kind of the But it’s in step the mid foot and then towards the toe at the front as well, and have kind of adjustability at both of those points.

[00:22:37] Yeah. And then

[00:22:37] Craig Dalton: [00:22:37] on the standard shoe, it’s a lace-up shoe with one Velcro strap, right?

[00:22:42]Jon Freeman: [00:22:42] Yeah. That’s right. So it’s got the tow strap that we have, which is yeah. The idea there is that the tow strap is something that you set and you might set it when you first get the shoes and then you sometimes call it this kind of set and forget sort of fixture.

[00:22:54] So you tune it to yourself and then you can actually come in and out of the shoe without always having to undo that quite a lot of the time. So it’s just like a way of fitting it to you and controlling that volume in the toe of the shoe. But, and then the license become your main closure and laces.

[00:23:11]Fantastic closure. That, that pretty unrivaled in terms of not creating any bulk on the upper, there’s no requirement for molded parts when you have a laced setup, so you can get a fit, which is like incredibly supple and moves with the foot.

[00:23:31] Craig Dalton: [00:23:31] Thank you for that additional description.

[00:23:32] I remember when I think it was Giro maybe with their empire shoe kind of re-introduced laces into the world of cycling. Obviously they’ve been around forever, but that’s interesting that, that feedback from a design perspective about what you don’t have to do when you put laces in and obviously laces give you a ton of flexibility in terms of how the shoe is going to fit to your foot.

[00:23:55]Jon Freeman: [00:23:55] Yeah, absolutely. And the amount of. Contact points you’ve got through the, just the number of eyelids that go down the throat of the shoe. It means that you’ve got that, a lot of very well distributed tension down the shoe, which is which is great. Yeah. And it’s yeah, I they’re fantastic.

[00:24:12] It’s interesting. Actually, we on the pro-team shoe that we have, we started out with the notion of that being a laced shoe, because. There are so many benefits to it. We feel that we actually found out pretty early on from working with our athletes that kind of, for them, for those guys who are like, taught level, the requirement for Butler is a non-negotiable.

[00:24:33]So for that shoe we changed tact and went down the Butler route and it was the right decision. That on the fly adjustability, as I mentioned is it’s key for that kind of riding, but Yeah. Licensed definitely have their place as well. I think I ride lace shoes a lot and love them.

[00:24:49] Craig Dalton: [00:24:49] Yeah. You always see the pro tour riders on the road in the last two kilometers who are gearing up for the sprint reached down and strap that bow a dial.

[00:24:57]Jon Freeman: [00:24:57] Yeah, definitely. I think part of that’s a psychological, as it is it definitely like gearing in flat five and spread,

[00:25:04] Craig Dalton: [00:25:04] right?

[00:25:05] Exactly. It’s signals. It’s on people. Yeah. Development of the shoe, obviously. I don’t imagine. Are you developing these in Asia? Is that where the manufacturing happens?

[00:25:17] Jon Freeman: [00:25:17] Yeah. So that w we’re producing and yeah, we’re producing in China. We work, it’s yeah we have some parts that are made in Europe and then we’re finally producing in China.

[00:25:28]Yeah the power we fabric, for example, that were weaving that in Italy with a partner there. And then we assembled the shoe in China. We have a really close relationship with the factory over there. Yeah. It

[00:25:40] Craig Dalton: [00:25:40] seems like it’s one of those things like tires that at a certain point, you’re all in because you’ve bought the tooling.

[00:25:46] You’ve put the pieces together and, I imagine there’s a limited amount of tweaking you can do at that final mile.

[00:25:52] Jon Freeman: [00:25:52] Yeah. Yeah. There’s definitely a point where you have to make that leap to committing. And like I said before, the tooling is pretty significant. When you think about shoes, when you consider all of the different sizes.

[00:26:04] So yeah, you want to be confident that you’ve that you’re happy with it and it’s. Performing how you want before you press that button on on opening the tooling. So we stay in one size quite a long time, actually like at the beginning. So to, to really refine before you spread it out to all of those all those other sides.

[00:26:21] Craig Dalton: [00:26:21] Oh, got you. So you might have a 42, that’s your sample size and you keep drilling on that one until you get the product that you want and then expand the molds out to the other sizes.

[00:26:31] Jon Freeman: [00:26:31] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. That’s the normal process and yeah. If there’s a specific when I test the rock fleet that we want to work with, who is a different size than them?

[00:26:39]Kind of invested, not that size earlier on, but yeah, normally a 42 is the starting place. And then we have a kind of Network of people that we’ve got built up over the years who are that size and who can give us really reliable feedback. Yeah.

[00:26:54] Craig Dalton: [00:26:54] Did you have some athletes on the gravel and adventure side that were working with you early on in the shoe?

[00:27:00] Jon Freeman: [00:27:00] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So we yeah, we worked with a range of athletes. It’s, we there’s kind of stages to the testing, I guess it’s we’re lucky in London, we’re in normal times, it’s 200 quite engaged cyclist under the roof and in London, which is, a really great resource to have.

[00:27:16] It’s not a requirement that you’re a cyclist when you join Rafa. But yeah, that helps. And I think those who are quite quickly get swept up by it. And yeah as a kind of resource for testing, that’s amazing. Cause we’ve got people from complete novice through to domestic pro levels.

[00:27:32]

[00:27:32] Craig Dalton: [00:27:32] So as you send your CV and do you have to indicate your shoe size

[00:27:37] Jon Freeman: [00:27:37] definitely helps definitely. On the foot wet. Yeah. Yeah. No it’s brilliant. Having that kind of like pool of people to work with and everyone in the buildings, on the payroll as well. So they have to test things, even if it fails on them.

[00:27:51] So that’s normally our sort of starting point, and once we built up the confidence that, and we’ll move into athletes because you don’t want to do that too soon because those guys are got jobs to do and they don’t want, they want to be sure that the product is going to support them in that.

[00:28:07]Yeah, we worked internally with the team in the company and then like a group of. Kind of writers who are just close to the brand, who we know are really reliable and can give really good feedback at the beginning. And then yeah, once we get to that point of confidence, then we’ll open up to, to ask.

[00:28:25] Yeah. Yeah. And we did, we definitely did on the Explore shoes. We work with, so we have the protein ETF, Nepo who, where we sponsor, and then we have a really good kind of, quite a long relationship with those guys now. And we’ve often. You use them for testing. Lack of Morton, I don’t know if, he’s a super strong, dedicated writer, but also just a really interesting character and just a great guy.

[00:28:49] And like me, we worked really closely with him on the testing actually. And he’s one of these pros is like really up for just trying stuff and also really able to. Articulate feedback quite well. And I think that’s really important because sometimes pros and like understandably, so can be a little bit reluctant to change that care, which, completely get that.

[00:29:11] But others are just they love it and they want to try stuff and see how it works out. And he’s definitely testing stuff, which is brilliant insights. Yeah, we work closely with him on. On the Explore shoe in particular, actually I can remember we so he, we’ve been working quite closely on him with him on this alternate Palander, but then if you’ve seen that we’ve released in partnership with BF where it’s the idea is to allow writers to take part in other events that sit outside of the normal calendar and just to let them encourage them to do the things that.

[00:29:43]That passionate about and bring out that characters through, through these sort of events. And so Lachlan identified quite early on. I think they wanted to do the Badlands race, which is like a 700 odd K unsupported, gravel race in the South of Spain. It’s like crazy kind of intense that it goes across like the only desert and in Europe, I think it’s it’s pretty serious ride.

[00:30:09] At the same time as he was gearing up to that, we were at a point with Explore power where we’d we were quite confident in them through that internal testing. And we decided to get them over to him and said, these are early prototypes. First time we’ve gone to an athlete and get familiar with them, take them for a ride, be interested to know what you think.

[00:30:29] And. Quite quickly got a note back just saying, yeah, I love them. I’m going to ride bad lines with them. It was like I’m home and I’m like, okay, you sure that’s going to be great feedback, but like quite, hope they lost hope. They’re not going to be the cause of you having to scratch midway.

[00:30:45] Yeah. I’m sure you

[00:30:45] Craig Dalton: [00:30:45] all looked around the design team and said I hope we got this one, right?

[00:30:49] Jon Freeman: [00:30:49] Yeah. Yeah. Use this arm if it speeds or wok toss it for him. But yeah. Yeah, no, yeah, I think he wasn’t the only one having sleepless nights during the race, but I mean he ended up like obliterating, it just like smashing the rest of the field.

[00:31:02] I think he came in a day ahead of like second place. It was incredible performance. But I think the video is out there if anyone’s not seeing it as worth watch, but yeah, it was fantastic. And sometimes you need those moments. I think in the process to really. Validate an idea.

[00:31:18] Like we were really confident in them, but it can take that for the company to be like, okay, like these are legit. Like we, we need to move on this. There’s a real kind of, if they’ve performed at that level, then they’re doing the job and we need to. Get them out.

[00:31:32] Craig Dalton: [00:31:32] Yeah.

[00:31:32] That’s great to hear all this backstory and great when companies invest so much in the athlete community to get the real world feedback. It’s not these aren’t marketing strategies of putting different bits and bites on the shoes. It’s really about what’s the highest performing thing our riders would want to wear.

[00:31:47]Jon Freeman: [00:31:47] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We spend a lot of time with them just trying to get an and you saw it on that as well. And Yeah, it’s exactly that it’s building the relationships with the ones who are really thoughts coming with that and can articulate exactly what they’re having.

[00:32:01]A lot of people can say it’s uncomfortable here, I’m having an issue here, but really being able to explain that and articulate why they’re experiencing that is, is really valuable for us. And it’s amazing with those athletes, like the. The level to which they’re in tune with their equipment is just they’re riding their bikes all day, every day, pretty much.

[00:32:21] So they there’s the tiniest little difference. They can pick it up and things like us mere mortals probably wouldn’t even register, they, they can flag exactly what’s different.

[00:32:32] Craig Dalton: [00:32:32] Yeah, exactly. Particularly as you’re pushing this category forward, these real nuanced tweaks to the shoe, or what elevates the shoe to the next level.

[00:32:41] And yeah. I think I’d be a loss it’s expressing like what my footwear is, where it’s pinching me or what it’s doing. And I could see that lining up with athletes who can really understand how to speak the design language is critical.

[00:32:56] Jon Freeman: [00:32:56] Yeah, no, it definitely is.

[00:32:58] Craig Dalton: [00:32:58] Yeah. Jon, I appreciate the overview of the shoe.

[00:33:00] This was amazing. I loved getting the backstory of the design process and how the athletes weave in there. So I appreciate all the time.

[00:33:07] Jon Freeman: [00:33:07] No, no problem. It’s absolute pleasure. Yeah. Thanks.

[00:33:10] Craig Dalton: [00:33:10] Cheers. Great, Jon. That was fun.

[00:33:13] Jon Freeman: [00:33:13] Yeah, that was really good. Thanks very

[00:33:15] Craig Dalton: [00:33:15] much. Yeah, I appreciate that. That, that, that was great.

[00:33:17] I loved all the backstories.

[00:33:20] Jon Freeman: [00:33:20] I realized one thing as I was going, and I didn’t want to backtrack, but actually I mentioned that we hadn’t done an explosive with GRI, but it was before my time. And that was a, that wasn’t a cyclocross shoe kit in collaboration with GRI. Sorry, that’s going to be a bit of a inaccuracy there, but I don’t know if there’s a way we can.

[00:33:40] Yeah, I don’t,

[00:33:41] Craig Dalton: [00:33:41] I don’t think it’s particularly important or game changing in the discussion. I think. If you hadn’t sung the praises of the Giro partnerships so strongly, like maybe it would be worth correcting in some way, but I you were very clear that you admire what they do and the partnership was great.

[00:33:56] So yeah, no, I think we’re good there. I think I’ll ping Ryan on the marketing team and include you on it. But I think since Ryan was saying the shoes were coming back in stock, so I wanted to get the episode out, I think at the end of the month,

[00:34:11] Jon Freeman: [00:34:11] Yeah. Yeah. They all, yeah, that’d be great timing.

[00:34:13] Yeah.

[00:34:14] Craig Dalton: [00:34:14] Yeah. Cool. Have you been riding in them? I have, yeah, I’ve put two, maybe three rides in them and I’m really enjoying them. I, it’s funny. I had very high end road shoes and I had mountain bike, race shoes, and I was just riding gravel in some Enduro shoes that JIRA had given me.

[00:34:31] And I just picked this shoe versus that shoe. There’s a very noticeable weight difference. And I’m excited to take these out on longer days just to test that concept of, is this an all day shoe for me? Because it’s definitely going to be stiffer than the one I had been riding.

[00:34:48]Yeah. But so far so good. I felt great, like to be able to do four hours right out of the box and was a good sign.

[00:34:55] Jon Freeman: [00:34:55] That’s cool. Yeah. I’m glad to hear it. Yeah, definitely. Let us know if you, what you find as you spend a bit more time with than this. So it’s really helpful.

[00:35:02] We’re thinking about where we go with them next as well. So yeah, it’d be really appreciated. Yeah.

[00:35:07] Craig Dalton: [00:35:07] Yeah, absolutely. pleasure Jon, thanks again for the time.

[00:35:11] Jon Freeman: [00:35:11] Yeah. Cheers

[00:35:11]Craig Dalton: [00:35:11] I hope you appreciated that deep dive into gravel cycling shoes. As much as I did. I learned a heck of a lot in terms of how they’re constructed and Rapha was generous enough to supply me with a pair of the power. We have Explore shoes and I’ve been riding them for about a month.

[00:35:28]I’ve been super impressed with the comfort level of the shoe. I’m really enjoying the boa strap system and how it’s been implemented. I feel like I can get a lot of fine tuning. So I’ve been out for at least a five-hour ride at this point with the shoes and I’ve made some micro adjustments along the way, but it does have that all day comfort that I was worried was not going to be there super happy with these shoes.

[00:35:51] I understand they’ve just come back on stock online on the Rapha store. So check that out online. I’ll put a link in the show notes or go check out your local Rafa clubhouse. That’s going to do it for us this week. If you have any feedback for the show, please visit the ridership.com. We’d love to have you as part of the community.

Until next time here’s to finding some dirt onto your wheels.

Craig
The Gravel Ride Podcast