I like Giro shoes. I’ve worn them since they first released the Factor. I adored the Rapha version when going through my pink phase. The Empire VR90 are exceptional CX shoes. My Factors were getting a little worn and I needed something new for the Marmotte. On that score, it’s unlikely to come off now. A little episode of Afib in late March sees me waiting on a cardiologist. It’s all fine, I get the occasional skipped beat and palpitation, but haven’t returned to the heady highs of 200bpm for 24 hours. Even more draining than the Marmotte it turns out.
So, that was the plan. But the shoes stay. And they are quite brilliant shoes. So, taking the highest priced first, let’s delve into the Empire SLX.
I went black chiefly because I’m done with white shoes, and particularly white socks with shoes. It’s a good look, when they’re clean, but you can get away with the dirt better with other colours. I’ve popped back to the Madison brand to get a shedload of new Sportive socks in many different colours to match up with these three pairs of shoes. If you pop over to cyclestore.co.uk there are some quite brilliant offers on.
The Empire SLX have been round a while now. Mine are size 45 and, typically, I find that 45 is consistent across the Giro range. Toe box size can vary but these are typical Giro in my view.
The uppers are made from a synthetic Evofiber material which is a one piece cut with no seams. Creating that one piece cut creates some wastage by all accounts and I’ll come back to that later on in this review. The uppers are perforated for breathability. There’s a nice contrast with the Giro lettering too. Aesthetically they do appear to be marmite. The pros and cons of laces are a well worn discussion. Sure, you cannot adjust them on the fly, but get them right at the start and they are perfection. Even if you get them slightly loose they are fine. The only issue that you may find is getting them too tight and cutting off some circulation. For me, never happens.
You get a pair of contrast laces, depending on colour choice. Mine are the same grey as that top eyelet. You can buy spares for £6.99. I’ll probably plump for ‘sick green’ in due course, but I’m in no rush. The weight is, well, superlight, 175g for a size 42. Mine are only a shade above that. They are easily the lightest shoes I’ve tried, they might actually be the lightest shoes that exist, I haven’t really checked.
Part of that lightness comes from the Easton SLX EC90 carbon sole. Yes, it’s stiff, very very stiff. It’s also very light. Lighter than the ‘mere’ EC90 of the Factors and lighter than the EC70 of the knit. Stack height is fairly low too so there’s not too much to interfere with your connection to the bike. There are replaceable inserts at the back but not at the front. So take care. But most of the impact is taken by the cleats and rear anyway. There are guides to assist with positioning and most riders should be able to get the right position. There’s a vent, it does a bit, but not an awful lot.
The heel cups are plush, comfy and the right height. Get the lace tension right and there’s no heel lift. The heel is cradled nicely inside that cup anyway, so there’s little risk. I’ve been out of the saddle bashing it on real hills and Zwift and there’s nothing but total control.
Lace duties are easily taken care of by the little elastic holder. Thread the tied laces through and nothing interferes. That’s present on every Giro laced shoe.
Price? RRP is £274. That makes them bloody expensive. But cheaper than high end Sidi and almost always on offer at around the £200 mark. Still not cheap, but they are lighter than Mavic’s £900 Comete affairs. And boy are they comfortable. They literally are like slippers, that upper moulding to your feet on every ride with no slip and no wastage. You still get the Giro Supernatural fit kit (extra soles and arch supports) and a very nice shoe bag too. They are my favourite cycling shoes, certainly for those fast dry days. But there’s a new contender in town for their crown………..
And, spoiler alert, it isn’t the Empire E70 knit, incredible as they are. So you pretty much know what’s coming later. The Giro knit range does a few things really, provides even more slipper like comfort, that bit more breathability for summer days and does its bit in cutting down wastage. At the end of the prototype process Giro realised that they could pretty much stamp every one piece upper out of a piece of fabric with very little off cuts left. It did take them a while to get to the final product because the knitted mesh itself wasn’t always sufficiently hardwearing or supportive. So they added an internal TPU skeletal support to give it some strength. The rubberised Giro brand, front protector and heel cup add to that.
They’re available in a few colours, black, red, grey and, umm, heather? Again, each come with spare contrast laces, but, in my case, the contrast were already on, the others are red. One of the great things about these is that the inner is black so they’re not going to show up the dirt. But, hang on, I hear you say. How the hell do you keep fabric shoes clean? Well, they are DWR coated and the water, despite the holes, runs off. It’s really odd seeing that. And they do wipe clean. How long will all that last? I’ve no idea, but Giro are confident given that they offer this in an MTB version too. I’m not overly sold on that one yet, it takes some getting used to.
The toe bumpers should see you shrug off most tyre/foot interfaces. It also provides support to the part of the shoe that may face the most likely deformation. The soles are no different to the Empire, other than being slightly heavier EC70. The replaceable inserts and vent are still present.
They’re actually quite a bit heavier than the Empire, a combination of the sole and upper, coming in at 250g for a size 42. That’s still among the lightest of shoes. They are superbly breathable and like knitted slippers. And the price is very reasonable, coming in at sub £200 but obtainable on offer at around £150. There are women’s versions too and at least one of those has the best colourway. You won’t feel that weight on the bike so, in many ways, these are actually a better bet than the Empire SLX. They’re particularly good on the turbo as they are superbly breathable.
And yet, they’re not quite as good. I don’t really know what it is. It’s something that’s very hard to put your finger on. They are exceptional, just, as a package, there’s something about the combination of upper, fit and sole that doesn’t gel quite as well as on the Empire SLX. It’s purely personal and subjective, you may feel differently, and they are quite brilliant. But for a long sportive, the SLX would be my go to. For a cafe stop, a long summer ride with mates, heart allowing, these. It’s probably the comparison too that makes them feel slightly less successful. If you’ve never worn the SLX then you will adore these, if you have you may find them not quite as good if only marginally so. It may seem slightly unfair, the E70 really are only designed to fit it out with lesser shoes than the SLX but, given intended usage, these are fair comparisons.
And yet. For whatever reason, the knit design works on the Republic shoes in a way that elevates it above the normal Republic and makes them a rather wonderful shoe indeed.
That’s also a tad unfair. These shoes are being used for different things. They are SPD, not SPD-SL but there’s no reason not to run SPD on a road bike, especially on something like an Audax. They are not as stiff, not as advanced, so you tend to expect less. But they deliver something special in my view.
The Republics are based on the same basic ideals as the E70, but there are some more pieces. The upper isn’t as overtly structured, but it is all still there. The sizing is the same, but they feel a bit more everyday. When I first walked in them I could feel more of the sole, I wondered if it would protrude. It doesn’t.
Sadly, they only come in two colours. A blue and a rather classy black. I’m a bit torn. I have a blue bike, I now have a Brompton (more on that later). In some ways I may have preferred the black but these are lovely. I do think you could, at a push, get away with commuting in jeans and wearing these all day. At a push.
The inner surround and the rear are a ‘nubuck’ like affair. The tongue is padded for additional comfort and, I guess, the last has been increased a little to take that padding into account. The laces are reflective too, which is a nice touch.
The outsole isn’t carbon, just co-moulded nylon and rubber. It’s sufficiently stiff for cycling and more than adequate for walking. Weight is 310g. That’s still only 60g per shoe more than the Giro Factor, and lighter than Sidi Drako. If you want an all day canal ride in the summer with some light blue shorts and a steel frame, these really should be your go to shoes. The rubber sole isn’t replaceable but I doubt you’ll wear it out any time soon. RRP is actually good. £140 ish, but you might see them down in the £120’s or so.
So, three excellent shoes from Giro. Depending on your use you can’t go wrong with any of them. If you’re a commuter then, for most of the year, the Republic R Knit are a very good choice. You will get wet inside on the wet days, but they do dry very quickly. The E70 knit are superbly breathable for the warmest of days. The SLX really are the best all day sportive shoe I’ve worn.