The Giro Empires hark back to the old school with their laces and simple, but stylish two-tone design. Thankfully though the retro styling is merely skin deep as the technology involved is right up to date, ensuring that the Empires meet the demands of a premium road racing shoe. The best of both worlds you say?
The obvious standout feature that distinguishes the Empires from pretty much all other road shoes out there is the laces. The supposed benefits include a more customisable fit due to the seven pairs of eyelets in contrast to the two or three straps or BOA dials usually found on shoes these days, while the downsides are increased fiddle time when putting on or taking off the shoes, and the inability to adjust fit on the go.
Addressing the benefits first, I found that the lacing system did indeed enable a more tailored fit along the length of the foot, though it takes a bit of trial and error to figure out the right tightness for each person or even each foot. I found that personally, once I'd set the correct tension on the forefoot, I only ever had to adjust the final three pairs of eyelets which had to be loosened off in order to get in and out of the shoes. For those with more unusually shaped feet, the degree of flexibility in the fit will really come into its own.
The laces themselves are light years ahead of the cotton laces of old – there's no chance of these breaking or even of stretching over time. The top two sets of eyelets are metal reinforced while the one piece 'Evofiber' microfiber upper is non-stretch as well, which all adds up to a fit that stays consistent from first use to last, in the dry or in the wet. Giro have included a little elastic loop halfway down the tongue to keep the laces neat and tidy and out of the chainrings. Those with OCD will have fun getting everything to look just so.
To be sure, laces are much slower than BOA dials for example, so you need to be prepared to spend a little extra time dealing with them pre or post-ride. It's only a minute or so's worth of extra effort, but particularly after a long, hard ride when you just want to kick your shoes off the instant you walk in the door, it is a little frustrating.
As for the lack of on-the-fly adjustment, I found that this was never really a problem, mostly due to the excellent 'SuperNatural Fit Kit' footbed and the suppleness of the microfiber uppers. While foot expansion due to heat can occur, most of the time the need to loosen off the shoes as the ride progresses is due to a collapse of either or both the medial and longitudinal foot arches which will widen and lengthen the foot respectively. With the three interchangeable arch inserts that come with the kit, arch collapse can be eliminated, negating the need to loosen off the shoes mid-ride.
Too often, shoe companies neglect to include a well-designed footbed – a key contributor to both comfort and performance – so it's good to see that Giro have put in the effort here and haven't cut costs by including a super thin insole with barely any support. Not only does a well-supported foot reduce the risk of injuries in key joints such as the knees, but it also reduces the chances of hot spots developing due to the pressure being distributed over a wider area of the foot.
Giro's partnership with carbon specialists Easton is made use of as the Empires utilise the company's top-level EC90 carbon outsole, the same model as you would find on Giro's other premium shoes, the Prolight and the Factor. With a stack height of only 6.5mm, the sole places your foot close to the pedal axle for improved stability, while the carbon fibre does its job of providing a pedalling platform stiff enough for even the most demanding riders. Taylor Phinney and Bradley Wiggins are both fans of the Empires and neither of them is wanting in the wattage department.
Te size 45 pair tested hit the scales at 600 grams which is light enough to justify its asking price and position at the premium end of the cycling shoe scale.
The soles are drilled for three-bolt pedal systems, a la Look, Shimano and Time, so Speedplay users will need to run the standard conversion wedge. The bolt holes themselves are located a little further back than you often find, more in keeping with, shall we say, modern ideas on bike fitting. Together with the adjustable arch support, it's clear that Giro have put considerable thought into the ergonomics of this shoe, and with some success.
In terms of fit, the Empires are fairly standard and run true to size so there shouldn't really be any surprises, but the best advice is always to try before buying. The uppers themselves are quite supple, accommodating quite a range of different foot shapes, especially considering the fit options provided by the laces. Heel hold is very good, despite quite a low cut ankle improved range of motion at this joint, and doesn't require that the laces be cranked down tight to prevent any slippage. Indeed, the first time I rode the Empires I found I had over tightened the upper eyelets and now run them much looser, with no ill effects when sprinting out of corners.
Despite a lack of mesh on the uppers, the perforated upper and vented sole ensure that ventilation is quite good and certainly more than adequate for most conditions. I did experience some discomfort on a couple of occasions when racing through the Alps in scorching temperatures, but then I've yet to try a pair of shoes that wouldn't leave my feet grumbling.
First and foremost, the Empires are intended as a performance road shoe and in this they satisfy all the prerequisites, while the lacing system adds something unique and distinguishes the Empires from nearly every shoe out there. The only real downsides are increased fiddling time pre and post-ride, and the fact that the matt white colour tested shows up stains and marks very easily. An even more old-school all black colour is available in addition to models with neon heel sections.
Excellent fit and performance with classy, understated looks to set them apart
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Giro Empire Road Cycling Shoes
Size tested: Size 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Empires are a top-end road cycling shoe which manufacturers Giro claim are the "redefinition of performance and style"
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
One-piece upper design; Premium Evofiber™ breathable microfiber; Laced closure
Easton® EC90 ACC carbon fiber; Replaceable heel pads
SuperNatural Fit Kit with adjustable arch support; X-Static® anti-microbial fiber
300 grams per shoe (size 45 weighed)
The one-piece Evofibre upper is a wonder to behold and is neatly bonded to the Easton EC90 carbon outsole. The design of the laces and indeed, the whole shoe is both well thought out and well executed
The EC90 sole is both light and thin while still being stiff enough for the most powerful riders. The lacing system and supple uppers ensure a consistent fit over the whole of the foot for comfort and power transmission. All in all, the Empires tick all the performance boxes.
The heel pads are replaceable while the lack of buckles or dials should ensure that they are still useable in the event of a crash. The matt white colour does show marks very easily though.
The weight is comparable with similar top end offerings from other brands. That said, this is not an area that particularly distinguishes the Empires.
The seven points of adjustability offered by the laces make it very easy to customise fit but will require a bit more time pre and post-ride. Tweaking the tension mid-ride isn't an option but then I never found this to be a problem. The Supernatural footbed offers three different arch heights and goes some way to negating the need for aftermarket orthotics
The performance and comfort on offer justifies the high asking price, with the added bonus that they are quite a unique looking pair of shoes.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Looks and lacing system.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
A bit fiddly to put on and take off.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
About the tester
Age: 22 Height: 190cm Weight: 69kg
I usually ride: Canondale EVO Red My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Semi pro
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, mtb,
For 5 years, racing was my life and I went all the way from a newbie bonking after 40 miles, to a full-timer plying my trade on the Belgian kermesse scene. Unfortunately, the pro dream wasn't meant to be and these days, you're more likely to find me bimbling about country lanes and sleeping in a bush on the side of the road.