The Giro Empire VR90 Shoes are excellent all-rounders that are aimed at XC but capable of so much more. I’ve done everything in them from road to mountain biking in the alps and they have stood up to the abuse admirably. Whilst the lace-up closure might not be to everyone’s taste, there’s no doubting that these are incredibly stiff shoes thanks to the Easton EC90 sole unit, whilst maintaining practicality with the recessed cleats and grippy Vibram rubber.
Probably the most striking thing about these shoes is the fact that they use laces instead of more “traditional” ratchets or dials. This does involve a bit of a learning curve – in particular, the fact that the shoes aren’t easily adjustable on the fly means you need to get the lacing just so from the beginning. Whilst I have largely got the hang of this, I still find myself faffing sometimes getting the tension right. Surprisingly though, once you’ve got it, the laces stay exactly where they’re supposed to.
Once you’re set up, the shoes are very comfortable and the laces allow for excellent adjustability and fine-tuning of the fit. The Teijin microfiber upper conforms nicely to the foot and feels snug and supportive. I have to admit that the Giro last isn’t the absolute best shape for my feet, which are on the wider side, but by loosening the laces in the forefoot it’s nonetheless possible to accommodate them comfortably.
The best shoe shape is always going to be a personal thing – it’s very much a matter of try before you buy – however I would say that these shoes can accommodate a wide range of foot types. Whilst they are slightly narrow in the toe box, it has never caused me significant issues even over the course of longer rides.
I actually found the toe area strangely high volume (despite being narrow) at the front, leading to some bunching of the one-piece upper. Nothing majorly problematic, and again your personal foot shape will dictate how well they fit. The laces allow a huge adjustment range that wouldn’t necessarily be possible with dials or ratchets.
The lack of stitching and use of laces, along with minimal padding combine to create a shoe that is noticeably lightweight compared with competitors. I was surprised at how feathery they feel when I first put them on. Obviously, whilst this comes at the expense of some protection, it doesn’t seem to have sacrificed the durability of the shoe.
Whilst on the rest of the shoe your foot is relatively exposed, the reinforced toe box does provide some shielding. In a plus, the position of the vents means your feet don’t get wet at the first sign of a puddle or rain. Despite this, my feet never feel like they are overheating or sweaty. Further nice details include the spare black laces – for a slightly more understated look and the toe spikes provided in the carry case.
The biggest let down for me on these shoes is the heel counter. I have quite narrow heels and often experience heel slippage in whatever footwear I’m using. The smooth internal fabric used on these shoes doesn’t help here. It wouldn’t require too much to incorporate a sliver of the cats-tongue gripper fabric to just provide that additional bit of security. I found that initially, I was cinching the laces quite tight to feel more secure in the heel – which led to the rest of my foot going to sleep. A bit of a balancing act to get it just so.
In a nod to getting the fit right, Giro has included their insoles with adjustable arch support. These Velcro tabs fit underneath the insole. I stuck with the medium support but it’s nice to see the options available. Of course, this will never match the comfort possible with a custom insole but does allow you to modify the fit.
These shoes are stiff – despite a fairly minimal appearance, the Easton EC90 sole is very solid, though remains practical with decent rubber courtesy of Vibram and some of the best rubber lugs that I have seen. This provided good grip in almost all conditions, excepting the slick mud of Grinduro (where nothing had good grip anyway). Despite the stiffness, I have found these shoes surprisingly alright for walking in as well.
I’ll admit these shoes did face some significant abuse in the rocky terrain of Valberg, but the exposed edges of the carbon sole did get a bit chewed up. This is more cosmetic damage than anything else, but it wouldn’t take too much extra rubber (or added weight) to just extend it to the edges and protect the sole a bit more. However, there is rubber in all the key places, including the middle of the sole if I happen to miss clipping into my pedals.
The rubber seems to very durable and shows no noticeable signs of wear so far. The fabric used for the upper has also held up very well, and whilst it has some gouges taken out of it (again sharp rocks are to blame) it is all still in one piece.
The construction quality of these shoes is exemplary and the one-piece upper is very easy to clean. However in muddy and dirty conditions expect the laces to collect a lot of dirt, and expect this dirt to continue coming out of the laces for a while after. The only major issue I had was the cleat threads and plate was a little stiff initially and took a little welly to loosen up.
These are excellent shoes and for longer days out riding and covering large distances have become my shoe of choice. They are very supportive and when the lacing is sorted there are no pressure points or hot spots. Whilst it may take a little while to get used to, once you get them right, the laces are really just fit and forget. I can’t claim that these shoes have the ideal last for my foot shape, but they are still adaptable enough to fit well. The lack of ratchets and dials makes these shoes noticeably lightweight meaning you can just focus on getting the power down with that supportive and stiff EC90 sole.