The Giro Empire is a blast from the past, forgoing Velcro straps, buckles, and the ever popular BOA system... for old-school shoelaces. Borrowing carbon expertise from its sister company, Easton, Giro has created a top of the line shoe that marries new-school technology and classic good looks – and appears to be good enough for WorldTour riders such as Taylor Phinney and Bradley Wiggins.
In the past, laces would pose many problems for cyclists, including untying, stretching, breaking or simply getting caught in chainrings. The top eyelets could stretch, causing the laces to become longer and longer. And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, after a ride in the rain the shoes would grow a size or two.
The designers at Giro have cleverly solved each one of these issues. A metal ring reinforces the top two eyelets, while the included anti-stretch laces are stout and do not grow like cotton ones of old. To prevent the laces clogging your drivetrain, Giro has incorporated the ‘Lace Garage’ – a small elastic loop on the tongue to tuck the laces under. Finally, the one piece ‘Premium Evofibre’ upper keeps its shape, even in the wettest conditions.
Giro claims its Easton EC-90 ACC carbon outsole is one of the stiffest and lightest on the market. At 6.5mm the EC-90 sole offers an extremely rigid platform, and a low stack height that puts you right on top of the cleat.
The three-hole mounting system is slightly further back on the Empires compared with most competitors
Following suit with all Giro shoes, the standard three-hole cleat mount is farther back than many other brands – the vast majority of people will never push their cleats all the way forward. Mounting Speedplay cleats under the balls of our feet, there was plenty of fore and aft adjustment available.
For a shoe that appears to have minimal ventilation the Empires left us pleasantly surprised. The combination of perforated upper and vented sole enabled our feet to breathe, and the air flow – which increased considerably at speed – was certainly enough for sweltering days.
Support where you need it
Stock footbeds are usually not up to scratch, but the included Supernatural Fit insoles offer interchangeable arch support that will accommodate most feet. The red supports, the tallest of the three, seemed to fit our feet best.
Included with the Supernatural Fit insoles are three separate arch supports that attach via Velcro
The foam arch supports are attached to the bottom of the footbed with Velcro; to swap them simply tear one off, and stick a different one on. The system is quick, and allows for a more customisable fit in an area that usually requires an aftermarket purchase.
The insoles are infused with X-Static silver fibres, which we found defended odour well. Because the fibres are woven into the foot bed, the antimicrobial properties are permanent, so will not wash away like some coatings and treatments do.
Over the course of a wet week we discovered one unfortunate flaw in the one-piece microfibre upper – it’s not quick to dry. While this meant we had to put on wet shoes every morning, however, the upper did not deform or stretch.
Most shoes that use BOA, ratchets or velcro straps for adjustments offer two or three points of adjustability along the shoe – using laces offers seven. On our initial ride we pulled the laces a little too tight and they held our feet like a corset. These kicks don’t need to be cranked down like a pair of ski-boots; the laces and deep heel cup keep your feet planted.
Untying and retying the laces for every adjustment seriously slowed down the fitting process, though.
Keeping the carbon sole flat allows for what Giro calls the ‘spillover effect’
The laces also pose a problem for mid-ride adjustments; it’s not possible to loosen or tighten them without pulling over and sitting down. But we found, barring the first ride, that we didn't need to make adjustments – owing in part to what Giro calls the ‘spillover effect’.
Room to manoeuvre
By keeping the the outsole of the shoe flat, not rolling it up around the edge of the upper allows for your foot to spill over the edge of the shoe. This means that when your foot expands, whether that's from pedaling or foot swelling, it’s not pushing up against carbon, thereby eliminating hot spots and pressure points. While this comes at the cost of lateral support, the added support from the footbeds more than compensates.
Weighing in at 504g (for a pair of EU44), the Empire’s may not be a weight weenies dream. But they're competitive to similar offerings from Sidi, and Specialized.
One tester remarked the Empires are the most comfortable cycling shoes they’ve ever worn. They are comfortable from day one and, as the material loosens, they only become better.
The matt white finish on the shoes picks up dirt and other marks quickly – a problem the other two colour ways would not have
Forgoing the loud colourways from the previous year, the 2014 Empires are subdued (though we expect to see a few crazy limited edition versions). For those wanting an extra pop of colour, a second bright set of laces is included.
The Empires sacrifice a bit of functionality for classic good looks, but offer WorldTour-level performance alongside brilliant comfort.