Retro-Look Lace-Up Super Shoes from Giro
It’s “throwback Thursday!” So, what better product to review today than Giro’s retro-look Empire ACC shoes — their most distinguishing features, one-piece uppers and lace closures.
I actually stumbled onto these beauties while hunting for the right vintage-look black lace-ups to complete my 1974 Masi riding kit. You’ll pay a pretty penny on eBay if you can even find the right-size good-condition used leather shoes.
I figured it made a lot more sense to get new ones with the aged look plus modern upgrades like super-durable synthetic leather and ultralight and stiff carbon soles.
Tip: Modern shoes are drilled to accept cleats for clipless pedals. If you want to use them with conventional pedals with toe clips and straps, you need these special cleats: http://www.yellowjersey.org/tocleat.html
Little did I know
In requesting a sample pair to try, I half wondered if Giro might only have a limited supply or even have decided not to produce them anymore. Instead, I received the following reply from our contact:
“The Empire is an incredible shoe. What started as something of a gamble on our part has actually helped us to have more informed conversations with riders about fit and the evolution of cycling footwear. While the idea of laces seems retro, they are remarkably effective and provide unrivaled fit and feel. Plus the look is timeless and unlike leather that changes with wear and weather, modern materials hold their shape superbly in varied conditions. In short, it’s become our favorite.”
My teammate Stefano Profumo’s favorites, too
You’d expect Giro to be pumped about their products. But not long after receiving the Empires, I noticed that the most successful racer on our Spokesman Bicycles team had starting showing up with them. His name is Stefano Profumo. He’s 36 years old and a physics professor in the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) Particle Physics Department. So, he’s got a technical mind. He’s also Italian (keep reading).
Stefano is an amazing story. A few years ago he was a heavy smoker. He managed to kick the habit and get healthy through running, then took up triathlon and then focused fully on cycling after he showed up to a few of our weekly training rides and got hooked.
It was the right choice because he went from a Category 5 to a Cat 2 in a year and recently won the Everest Challenge Stage Race in his Giros. That covers 150 miles in 2 days with a total elevation gain of 29,035 feet (slightly higher than Mt. Everest).
Since I have only been spinning around on sunny days in my Empires and retro woolies, and Stefano has been dominating in his, I’m going to give him the handlebars and let him steer this review for a bit in his own words:
I think the Empires are great shoes. They’re significantly lighter than my previous Specialized S-Works shoes (the latest S-Works iteration has comparable weight). They come with 3 different inserts, with one that was perfect for me. That saved me the cost of acquiring separate ones (as I had to do with my S-Works). And I think the price point is great, too.
The look is just awesome. If it appeals so much to an Italian, it has to be good. It’s a great combination of retro and sleek. Really well done! [Jim’s note: my Matte Black / Gloss Blacks came with a second set of laces in Neon Orange for adding flash.]
The comfort/performance: I think it takes about a week to find the right tightness in the laces, and to get the leather to adapt to one’s foot. After that I found them extremely and consistently comfortable. I race and train in them and have always been very satisfied. They have great sole rigidity and perceived power transfer. I never felt I needed to micro-adjust the fit even during very long rides.
Room for improvement: This is a small thing, but it was not obvious to me how to tuck the laces under the elastic band located on the tongue. And you know that laces can get caught in the chain. Luckily, one (and only one) of the guys in the store figured it out. Also, on one occasion, probably in the first few weeks, I tightened the laces too much on a very long ride and the shoes overheated my feet, but that was a really isolated episode. It hasn’t happened again, but here in Northern California, we don’t have really hot conditions.
I agree on all counts
With their EC90 full-carbon soles and one-piece uppers, these are stiff, high-performance shoes. Plus, with the way Giro’s microfiber molds to your feet, with the superior fit-tuning of 7-eyelet laces, you can truly customize the fit and feel as much as you want. And, it should mean that with wear and tear you won’t run out of adjustment as can happen with some strap closures.
Depending on your riding skill, you may need to stop to change the lace tightness. So that gives straps, ratcheting buckles and BOA closures a bit of advantage on days when changes are needed. Incidentally, Giro provides flat, not round, laces since flat ones are less likely to come untied.
Adding to the custom fit are Giro’s X-Static footbeds with natural silver and antimicrobial properties to fight odors, plus their SuperNatural Fit System with adjustable arch supports that Stefano found fit so well (mine, too). There are also toe and replaceable heel pads for walking traction.
If you’re in the market for superlight, ultra-efficient, high-end road shoes with some old-school cool, I think you’ll love the Empires as much as Stefano and I do. And, if you want even higher performance Empires, check out their Empire SLX shoes ($350) available soon. The claimed weight is a mere 350 grams per pair – almost half the weight of my ACCs!
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.