Giro officially unveiled its new Empire VR90 cycling shoe today, a shoelace-based high-performance mountain bike and cyclocross shoe. It’s the successor of the limited edition Empire mountain bike shoe released earlier this year.
After releasing the more casual Rumble and Jacket laced shoes with success, racers like Zach McDonald eyed the style of those shoes and wanted something similar for their cyclocross racing. Giro briefly released a limited-edition Empire mountain bike shoe, but cyclocrossers wanted their own shoe that had some staying power.
The Empire VR90 shoes feature a stiff, Easton carbon EC90 sole, with a Vibram tread. Paired with an Evofiber synthetic upper by Teijin and shoelaces, the result is a lightweight package. Our size 46 (US Men’s 12) shoe weighs just 363g per shoe.
The shoes come in their own carrying bag, removable metal spikes, and a SuperNatural footbed that comes with different arch supports for a customized fit. Don’t like the standard laces? There’s an extra set of contrasting color laces included, especially helpful in case you shred one.
Giro sent us a bright-orange set pictured that just so happened to match the latest orange iteration of Cyclocross Magazine CXM Socks, but the retail version, coming this fall, will be available to the public in black or silver.
First Ride, First Run Empire VR90 Shoe Impressions
Our initial impressions are that the shoe is very light, quite stiff, and thanks the laces, conforms to your foot just like a glove. For low volume feet, this is a godsend, and really reduces heal slip and upper-foot hotspots—no more maxing out ratchets, buckles or dials.
They’re extremely comfortable with flat feet or high arches with low volume feet, but we can’t comment on the fit if you’ve got a wide or high volume foot. Our sense is they tend to run a bit narrow, but the upside is that the included laces are quite long, and should accommodate many foot types.
Of course, the downside with laces is that in-ride adjustments are nearly impossible while riding, but the custom fit allowed by laces lets you to get it right before the ride, unless your feet swell on a long adventure. The shoes are really stiff, yet the Vibram sole has enough flex and grip that running does not feel like you’re running on planks.
So far, we’re thoroughly impressed by these new (and pricey at $300 MSRP) kicks, and after trying a lot of shoes throughout the years, we welcome the return of shoelaces after companies like Lake and Specialized have long discontinued their laces-under-Velcro-straps mountain bike shoe models (MX160, Ground Control, respectively) that were good insurance policies for exiting the mud pit with your shoes still on your feet.
The shoes offer a little lace clip to hold down the ends of the laces, but on low volume feet, the laces are so long that you may be better off tucking them in the shoe, cutting them, or replacing with shorter laces.
Which leads us to another salient feature—should you break a lace, any drug store has a replacement. You don’t need to worry about finding proprietary buckles or dials should you be in a bind, or want to be in one. This could be handy, should you be ’crossing it up in a faraway place like, say, China.
Stay tuned as we give the shoes a full test this season, and we’re sure you’ll see them on select athletes shortly, perhaps as soon as Cross Vegas.
Giro is also releasing the Empire SLX, a road version of the Empire VR90, which retails for $50 more, at $350.