On the Hoof

On the Hoof

I’m going to be honest. When Giro unleashed the Empire road shoe on the world, I wasn’t exactly sold. I commented to a friend at the time that, “We stopped using laces for a reason, several of them, as a matter of fact.” I noted that back in ye olden days, laces broke, they occasionally got caught between the chain and the chainring and if you were wearing a real leather shoe and using it with clipless pedals, the eyelets usually started pulling through after a while.

Then the folks at Giro asked me to give them a try.

The first thing I noticed was that with seven points of adjustment, I was able to make a standard-width shoe work for me with far less futzing (that’s a technical term for non-technical fit adjustments) than with other shoes. Then there was the fact that the laces weren’t cotton and therefore unlikely to snap under repeated tying. Also, the last two eyelets are reinforced, so they won’t pull through. And, finally, there’s a little lace retainer mid-way down the tongue that will prevent the laces from flopping in errant ways. Basically, they’d found a way to counter every criticism I’d had. SMH.

I’ve encountered riders who look down at my foot in wonder and exclaim, “How do you adjust them as you’re riding?” My answer, “I don’t.” I’m not a person who adjusts my shoes while I ride. Getting the tension right before I leave home has always been my policy and while I probably run my shoes a little looser than some people, I’ve never had to worry about pulling my foot out of the shoe. That might have something to do with the width of my foot, which could be termed husky, or thick. That said, I’ve found the laces allow a far more precise fit at the outset than I get through a three-strap or two Boa system.

Not long after introducing the off-road variant of the Empire, Giro retooled it with a Vibram sole. The revision got stickier rubber, which is apparent in stream crossings where wet rock can topple a rider without any prior notification. I’ve also noticed that the tread is affixed to the shoe with a far sturdier glue than is used on many competing shoes. There’s nothing like stepping off a pedal only to realize you’re dabbing that hunk of granite with bare carbon fiber.

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I’ll also confess, were I still riding in the mud bogs of the South, un-caking the caked-on mud following a ride in these shoes so that I could either untie or retie those laces would be as attractive as diving into said mud bog with an open mouth. I’d have to resort to my old practice of hosing my feet off before removing the shoes and then spending the entire summer with wet feet. That, however, is the only criticism I can level at these shoes.

Giro’s Supernatural foot beds, with their adjustable arch support, mean that you get the correct footbed with your shoes, not after an additional purchase; that’s no demitasse feature.

At this point basically everyone’s top-shelf shoe has a carbon fiber sole. That’s a bad thing as often as it’s a good thing. I’ve worn some shoes that were so stiff I felt like I’d been walking a tradeshow floor after a three-hour ride. The Easton EC90 carbon sole has been specifically engineered to offer some strategic flex to provide support without fatiguing the foot. To date, the longest day I’ve had in the offroad version of the Empire was Giro’s own event, Grinduro. From when I first put them on to when I took them off after the event was over, more than eight hours passed. My feet felt surprisingly good at the finish, though I was pretty desiccated otherwise.

I’ve worn these for cyclocross racing as well, and while my courses were mostly dry (eliminating the need for toe spikes), running in these was not an issue. Typically, if a shoe is too stiff your heel ends up starting to pop out of the cup and, at least in my case, it causes me to alter my stride.

For reasons I don’t understand, cycling shoes can be some of the ugliest footwear on the planet. Often, I’m relieved when a pair of shoes is understated, so they don’t attract unnecessary attention. The Empire, thanks to its one-piece Teijin Microfiber upper, makes for a better-looking shoe and it fits every bit as well as those that are market-adjacent. The Teijin is also notable because you can ford streams in these and they won’t stretch a millimeter, unlike real leather. Giro’s use of a single, bold color on the shoes is a good deal more welcome to the eyes than some of those shoes that mix black, gray, red and white in an overly complicated Star Wars Storm Trooper uniform reject.

Someone out there is going to sneeze at the $300 price tag, but Giro has an answer for that, and it’s not a handkerchief or polite, “Bless you.” They are offering a 60-day comfort guarantee. If for some reason, these shoes don’t work for you, they’ll work with you to find a solution. It’s a policy that compares only to some of the custom shoes I’ve encountered. Also, for online purchasers, Giro offers a shoe size conversion table so that you can put in one of five different size standards (including your foot length in centimeters) and it will convert that into the appropriate size in Giro shoes. I can attest that not all 42s are created equal. The men’s sizes run from 39 to 48 in whole sizes and half sizes from 39.5 to 46.5. Colors change like the winners of American Idol.

Final thought: Road performance in a walkable platform.

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1 comment

  1. Davo

    I have a pair of Empires for the road and VR90’s for multi hour gravel rides. The fit just fine out of the box and after a few rides they form to your foot and the love affair just grows. When they fit so well you don’t have to cinch them tight to feel secure. The result is comfort for hours. When our group finishes a ride everyone pulls off their shoes like they are on fire. My VR90s are still feeling fine. Laces are for races and I’m sold.

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