If you’re a roadie looking to save every gram, you’ll find a lot – or, uh, very little – to like in the Giro Empire SLX. They’re undeniably feathery at just 374g per pair (size 43.5), impressively stiff, and luxuriously comfortable – though you do give up some support compared with more conventional shoes.
Invariably, the first question that always came up from fellow riders surrounded the Empire SLX’s lace-up design. Put succinctly, it simply isn’t a problem and, in fact, makes for an exceptionally comfortable shoe.
The lace-up, one-piece uppers do a fantastic job of conforming to your feet and accommodate a wide range of shapes, provided your feet aren't overly wide
True, the laces make it slower to get the shoes on or off but they also distribute pressure very evenly across the top of your foot while also letting you make specific regions tighter or looser. Combine that with very soft and thin ‘Evofiber SL’ one-piece synthetic upper material and what you get is one of the most sock-like fits we’ve ever experienced in a cycling shoe.
There were also initial worries about how to adjust the shoes’ fit during a ride but even that turned out to be a non-issue – at least provided you’re not a racer who likes to cinch your shoes down before a big sprint finish or climb. Simply take the time to dial in the fit before heading out and they stay comfortable for hours on end with virtually no loosening or hot spots even after six hours in the saddle. We noted just a bit of stretching during the first few rides but it’s been smooth sailing since then with no further shape changes noted, even after long rides in the rain.
Moreover, the laces can be easily (and cheaply) replaced if one breaks – and unlike proprietary straps, buckles, or reels, you can buy one nearly anywhere. Granted, you’re unlikely to find one made of the fancy microfiber material that Giro uses here but in a pinch, cotton would certainly get the job done.
That comfy upper is paired with Easton’s EC90 SLX2 carbon outsole, which is remarkably rigid despite its very flat and thin profile. And unlike many other shoes whose ultra-thin stack height claims don’t ring true (often because companies misleadingly equate plate thickness with stack height), the Empire SLX really does put your foot closer to the pedal, even if only by a couple of mm. Some pedal brands might even require shorter cleat hardware so as not to end up with bolt shafts protruding into the insole, and you’ll likely have to lower your saddle a smidgeon if you switch from something more conventional.
The Easton carbon sole is extremely thin and yet very stiff
The Empire SLX shoes even do quite a good job of keeping your feet cool despite lacking the usual vast expanses of open mesh. The synthetic leather breathes well and although the looks would suggest otherwise, all of those little pinholes throughout the upper bring in a surprising amount of air.
If there’s any one area of weakness on the Empire SLX, it’s support – but even that’s up for debate.
Instead of building the arch into the shoe itself, interchangeable arch ‘cookies’ are built into the included SuperNatural Fit Kit footbeds, which in this case are made of lighter weight foam than the company’s standard insoles. The arch inserts certainly help, but even then offer only a semi-rigid foundation that’s prone to squishing under heavy loads. As with most foams, we’ve also found that they pack out a little over time.
The included lightweight footbeds feature interchangeable arch 'cookies' for a customized fit
Similarly, that supple upper material is ultra-comfortable but also very minimal. In addition to being more prone to abrasion damage than some other synthetics we’ve encountered, it also allows for more foot movement than something more substantial. Whether that soft feel actually manifests into reduced power isn’t clear, though, and some might argue that that added movement is what actually makes the Empire SLX so comfy.
Whether or not the Empire SLX’s minimal support is a problem will undoubtedly depend on your foot shape and preferences. Riders who have long used Sidis, for example, will likely have no issues at all but if you prefer shoes with more of a built-in arch like Bont or Specialized, you might not get on so well with the change. In fact, the Empire SLX may as well be the anti-Bont since the two shoes couldn’t be much more different in that respect.
That said, as always with cycling shoes, try before you buy. People certainly vary far and wide but barring personal preferences with fit and feel, these are some of the best cycling shoes we’ve ever used.
For more information, visit www.giro.com.