The humble overshoe. It’s not really a piece of kit to get excited about in my opinion and I have resisted buying a pair for the last couple of winters now. My objections are entirely sartorial and probably reflect badly on my inner peacock but to be perfectly honest I’ve always thought they look a bit like clown shoes. When your own shoes are already size 11 to start with these things matter! Quite simply I don’t think they look good and, I will admit, I’d rather risk numb and wet feet for a 3 hour ride than spend £30-40 on some kit that makes me look like a clown on a bike… albeit a clown with cosy feet. So it’s ironic that when I finally give in to the inevitable, I buy a pair that couldn’t shout “LOOK AT MY FEET…WAHEY!!” any louder if they came with a siren and flashing lights. So what changed? Well, basically I succumbed to the sirens call from the financially ruinous rocks of Rapha. Rapha, as I read somewhere this week, is a marmite brand. You love it or you hate it. Or, as loyal devotees will tell you, ‘You either love it… or you can’t afford it’. And I think that, right there, is the nub of it when it comes to Rapha. I don’t think any other brand of cycle clothing is quite so aspirational. Serious cyclists love the functionality, the attention to detail and above all the styling because, let’s be clear here, style is very important in a sport that holds its heritage so dear. But the cost is a barrier to entry and envy can be an ugly thing when stoked by the sight “all the gear and no idea” types riding around Richmond Park on the latest piece of Di2 shod carbon (Ha! … ahem) covered head to toe in Rapha kit. Rapha have managed to pull off a masterstroke by making their clothes both understated and subtle and yet at the same time instantly recognisable to anyone that has ever lusted after them. So in summary, it looks good, it works well and it costs a bomb. You either love it, or you can’t afford it. But I digress – this is supposed to be about overshoes. Rapha make their overshoes in two colours – black like 95% of all other overshoes or ‘high viz pink’. I saw a pair of the pink ones when we were doing the Team Time Trial event in the Chilterns the other weekend and I must confess that for the first time in my life I saw some overshoes and thought that they actually looked pretty smart. The colour isn’t actually quite as repulsive as you might think and has a rather hypnotic effect when the feet are bobbing up and down tapping out a rhythm on the pedals – you can’t take your eyes of it! If you go to the website there is a reassuringly hard and manly cyclist sporting a pair of the items in question and apparently carrying the look off with a certain amount of nonchalance (despite apparently being dropped by 2 girls in the process) So the seeds were sown, maybe it was possible to have cosy feet and look stylish with the added benefit of genuine high visibility on the gloomy winter roads around the UK. The deal was sealed when I learned that Rapha were offering 30% off on all women’s clothing items. The website was too polite to enquire further about my gender even as I entered a size 11 into the appropriate box and so it was that a bright pink pair of neoprene overshoes found their way to me just a couple of days later. Even allowing for the sort of P&P charges that only a brand like Rapha can charge without blushing (£5?!) they were still broadly comparable in cost to their high street brethren… ish! So, since this is my first experience of the Rapha brand … what to make of it all? Packaging is pure class and anybody who tells you that packaging isn’t important hasn’t heard of Apple. Everything about it oozes quality from the printed receipt that looks and feels more like a formal invitation and which gets extra points for making no mention of the price. “Oh these? Just a tenner darling … “ There’s a pre-printed returns slip and even a nice tactile post card with an interesting quotation on it extolling the virtues of cycling in cold weather. As for the overshoes themselves … well, there’s not much you can’t tell from the picture but they are bright. Seriously bright. With a reflective Rapha logo on the outside edge just in case you hadn’t already noticed them. My 8 year old daughter could scarcely disguise her mirth at the thought of her unfathomably old man wearing pink slippers and the more I tried to explain that actually these were pretty cool, the sadder I sounded so I just gave in gracefully … or at least as gracefully as it’s possible to do whilst trying to argue the benefits of wearing pink slippers while cycling. Fast forward to the next morning and I was almost delighted to see that it had been raining hard overnight. Perfect overshoe weather since the temperature had clattered southwards over the last couple of days and was low single digits yesterday. So I pulled it all on – there was a base layer and bib shorts, leg warmers and a gore tex shell. Merino socks and of course pink overshoes. On opening the door I realised instantly that I’d overdone it because it must have been 12 or 13 degrees easily and I was dressed to (over)kill. No turning back now though as I escorted my still giggling offspring to the bus stop for their first test. Test #1. Private school mums. This really is the style test because they have no interest in form or function when it comes to footwear but will pass judgement mercilessly on pretty much anything that was designed to clothe ones feet. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they passed. They certainly got attention and started conversation and I’m pretty sure that none of it was outright insulting but perhaps they’re just too polite! Bottom line I think they respected the neon pink-ness of them (very on trend I’m told) and the sheer spanking new-ness of them (“they look amazing … but they’ll be in a state by the time you get work!”) So I think that was a pass. Time for…. Test #2. How they make you feel. Now this was the surprising bit. I felt bloody fantastic in these clown shoes! I was riding up behind vans just to get a look at my own reflection! Deep down every MAMIL will privately acknowledge a poorly understood desire to look like a pro. You’re not of course, but you like to look the business and at some level in your mind lose yourself in the fantasy that you’re actually a serious athlete ready to dance your way up HC alpine passes. These overshoes can help you with that fantasy! I don’t know why. They’re pink bits of neoprene. They should have exactly the opposite effect but they don’t. From the moment I slipped them on I felt as though my cycling credentials had moved up a notch. It’s all utterly illogical. Test #3. Cut the crap – are they actually any good? Here I have to point out that I have zero point of reference when it comes to overshoes. They are the first that I’ve owned and so far I’ve not exactly had them out in sub zero conditions. But let’s take it as read that cloaking your feet in pretty much any neoprene overshoes is going to keep them warm. Durability is something I could only attest to after prolonged use but the Kevlar re-inforced bits on the base look hard wearing and the stitching also looks to be heavy duty. The zip, which I believe is the weak point in most of these things, doesn’t appear to be under any undue stress when doing them up even though the fit over your cycling shoe is very snug and streamlined – minimising the clown effect. Keep in mind though that they are neoprene. That’s a wetsuit to you and me. So they will keep the showers off but don’t expect water proof protection for your shoes and feet. When the rain gets heavier, what you will have is damp shoes/ socks. But crucially they will be WARM damp shoes/ socks and that really is the point. So there you have it – I’ve managed to write far more than I would have thought it was possible to write about a couple of pink bits of neoprene but as a first experience of Rapha goes, it’s a very positive one. Turns out that even if you can’t really afford a wardrobe full of Rapha… it’s still possible to fall in love with the brand.
A short post-script to this piece having put these through a winter of use. They are still remarkably bright and pink and clean up very easily after a ride. There was a small issue when I managed to tread on one of the zip pulls at the back. The piece of plastic that you hold on to in order to open/close the zip snapped off which made zipping up that particular overshoe a pain unless you had a pair of pliers to hand. As it happened towards the end of the winter I struggled on and then put them away for the summer. But heading into the Rapha store one day last week I remembered to bring them with me in the hope that they could get them fixed in time for winter. Rapha did a little better than that. They just exchanged them for a brand new pair on the spot! So yes, the stuff is expensive but what price do you put on after sales care like that?