If we take the Draisine (1817) as being the first bicycle then the shoelace predates it by a good 27 years. But, broadly, the lace up shoe has been around as long as the bicycle. And when people started riding bicycles they used lace up shoes and carried on using lace up shoes until well into the 90’s. So, this is less of a new fangled thing and more a welcome return to simplicity. And it’s cool, so very very cool. Weird that, how the humble piece of string can infuse something with so much cool.
The VR90 is Giro’s MTB version of the luscious Giro Empire Road shoe which received much fanfare when Taylor Phinney brought it proudly back to the Pro Peloton. And like the road Empire, it’s available in some pretty natty colourways. The Empire is not a subtle shoe but, if you really want to, black is available. But, come on, these are all about the colour. And, if you can find them, I really do recommend the Grinduro Purple version. I mean, look at them.
I decided on the ‘orange,’ though Giro refer to it as Vermillion. For those interested in colour it’s essentially mid way between red and orange. I’m becoming a bit of a fan of orange recently. And lime. All the benefits of high vis without wearing a dayglo vest. As per all of Giro’s shoes I take a 45. I found these slightly roomier in the toe box than the equivalent road version but otherwise the fit is the same. In terms of comfort they have been referred to as slippers. That’s ridiculous hyperbole. Slippers are floppy pieces of fluffiness. But, in terms of comfort, it’s not a bad comparison. Despite their stiffness they really are very comfortable thing.
The uppers are magnificent. A seamless one piece upper made from Premium Evofiber Breathable Teijin Microfiber. I’ve no idea why that’s more premium than non premium Evofiber etc but it’s a hugely durable material and, crucially, wipe clean. There are a number of crucial design cues here. The first is that, like the Giro Factor I recently reviewed, Giro have chosen to make the interior lining black. That’s a good choice, it stays clean, looks box fresh for ever. The top two eyelets are reinforced, the remainder are not. That’s fine in practice as I’ll get to in a bit. Unlike the road version, these have a massive great toe bumper at the front to stop scrapes and dings. It works and adds very little to the overall weight. Mine come in at a shade over 350g for the 45. There are a number of micro perforations to assist with ventilation but, obviously, these won’t be quite as ventilated as something with mesh. But it’s a marginal observation.
You may wonder how you stop the laces getting caught in your chain and the answer is that little Giro ‘pocket’ half way down. It’s an elasticated bridge and you thread your tied laces down and through it keeping them neatly out of the way.
Round the back we have a nice high ankle. Again, like the Factor and road Empire, there’s none of Sidi’s fancy heel retention stuff going on here. But, subject to what I say below, there’s simply no heel slippage at all. The microfiber upper moulds itself to your ankle really nicely so these are something you can wear for many miles without any rubbing.
The underneath is essentially an off road version of Easton’s EC90 carbon sole with a Vibram outsole bonded to it. There are bolts for XC or CX spikes (which are supplied).
And you even get a nice pretty bag in which to keep them, some spare laces, the aforementioned spikes and additional inserts for Giro’s supernatural insole system. It’s a pretty impressive package overall but then you expect that for an RRP of £229. Shopping around should see you nab them for £179 or so.
Now, you may wonder, why laces? Let’s be clear, velcro, rachet and BOA dials are the answer to how tight you can get a cycling shoe and still be able to adjust it on the fly. Those things are not fashion statements, they have a purpose. So can the humble lace still cut it?
The answer to that is an almost unqualified yes, almost. The qualification is that you simply cannot mess around with these once you’re on the bike, so you have to do them up properly to start with. If you’re on a very long ride, and your feet will shrink during that, you may have to stop to do some adjusting. So, on my first few rides I did them up as tight as I thought I needed and found that I needed to stop to do them a little tighter. Once that learning process was out of the way I experienced no issues at all. And, further than that, I found that these are simply the most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve put on. That includes the Factor, the Sidi Drako and others. Indeed, the only shoe that pushes it close is, well, that review will be coming soon, and it’s also a Giro………
There is a bit of art to getting them on. You need to loosen them to the half way, pull tight, then do up and tuck away. The only other issue that could be improved is the abrasive property of the laces. They are a little too slick so getting them tied is simultaneously utterly easy and also potentially a bit slippy, causing you to try again. And that’s two paragraphs on how to lace your shoes. It sounds like an issue but it’s really not. It’s just my reflection on tying your shoelaces the right way. Get it right and these are an absolute dream. Get it wrong, it’s just slightly less brilliant. And, let’s be clear, even broken a fastening part on a shoe? Then you have to find, order and wait for a spare. Not these, just get any old correct length lace. Hell, jazz it up a bit as well, chuck some lime yellow in there.
The stiffness is superb. The EC90 is one of Easton’s stiffest soles but, for me, the difference is largely academic. What really sets these aside from other really stiff MTB or CX shoes is that sole. Giro happened on a superb partnership with Easton, but the tie up with Vibram really pays off. So there’s none of that semi hard rubbery plastic here. This is full on cushy, vibration cutting lushness. Want to get off and walk? Piece of cake regardless of stiffness. Grip on rocks, mud, dirt and grass is excellent. And, unlike others, their catwalk looks don’t make you wince about getting them dirty. Run them under the tap and they look good as new. There’s a bonus as well in that all over vibram plate, you won’t dent the midsole when you cock up a remount. Durability seems good so far, I haven’t truly hammered them, but I’ve racked up some decent miles.
I’m pretty pleased with these. The looks are just a bonus overall. It’s the comfort that’s really outstanding. No fatigue, no hot spots and, providing you get that tieing right, they just mould to your feet and get on with being invisible. They’re not cheap, but, well, look at them. So, that’s two for two from Giro and my feet recently. And it got me thinking of whether a ‘cheap’ pair of Giro could cut it for commuting, getting really dirty, wet and cold. Could Giro make it three from three? Well, stay tuned, potential hat trick incoming…..