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Giro Empire VR90 - Women's Review

Stiff powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, Vibram soles, and customizable foot beds make for an Editors' Choice.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | $154.95 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, great power transfer, customizable insoles
Cons:  Minimal foot protection, expensive
Manufacturer:   Giro
By Jenn Sheridan ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 12, 2018
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 5
  • Power Transfer and Grip - 30% 10
  • Comfort and Breathability - 20% 7
  • Traction and Walkability - 20% 6
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Weight - 15% 10

Our Verdict

The Giro Empire W VR90 is a sleek, lightweight, comfortable shoe designed for racers pedaling their way to the top of the XC podium. The combination of stiff, powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, and added feature such as Vibram soles, and customizable footbeds earned these shoes our Editor's Choice award. And, not that looks effect the performance at all, but these metallic pink slippers earned us compliments on every ride. Though this shoe is definitely at home on the race course, we found it to be capable of most everyday trail riding.

Gravity inspired riders might seek something with a bit more foot protection, like the Specialized 2FO Cliplite Lace.

Updated Colors

These favorites are now available in new color selections. Note that these changes are simply color updates; the design of the shoe hasn't changed since our testing period.

May 2019


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $154.95 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$120 List$44.83 at REI
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$74.83 at REI
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$69.95 at Competitive Cyclist
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Pros Lightweight, great power transfer, customizable insolesComfortable, solid power transfer, water resistant, extended cleat slot allows for more adjustmentInexpensive, comfortable, versatileUnbeatable grip, solid power transferInexpensive, comfortable, grippy
Cons Minimal foot protection, expensiveBody Geometry footbeds are awkward to walk in, no on the fly adjustmentsVelcro closures are not long enough to close securely, minimal protectionComfort, durable soleLess rigidity and power transfer
Bottom Line Stiff powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, Vibram soles, and customizable foot beds make for an Editors' Choice.It’s designed with enduro riders in mind, but the 2FO Cliplite competently handles all styles of trail riding.The All-Road v4 is Pearl Izumi’s answer to the jack-of-trades mountain biking shoe.The Freerider Contact is a great all-mountain flat pedal shoe with unbeatable grip.The Freerider is comfortable, grippy, no frills footwear for riders who want who want an affordable, competent all-mountain shoe.
Rating Categories Giro Empire VR90 - Women's 2FO ClipLite Lace All-Road V4 Five Ten Freerider Contact Five Ten Freerider - Women's
Power Transfer And Grip (30%)
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Comfort And Breathability (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
9
Traction And Walkability (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
Durability (15%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
4
10
0
7
Weight (15%)
10
0
10
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
Specs Giro Empire VR90 -... 2FO ClipLite Lace All-Road V4 Five Ten Freerider... Five Ten Freerider...
Closure Laces Laces Velcro Laces Laces
Style Clipless Clipless Clipless Flat Flat
Measured Weight (g) 269 315 292 320 337
Upper Material Premium EvoFiber Thermobonded synthetic Synthetic Textile/Sythetic leather Suede/mesh
Footbed Super Natural Fit Kit EVA Foam EVA Foam EVA Foam EVA Foam
Sole Easton EC90 Carbon fiber Stiff Lollipop nylon composite Carbon fiber EVA Foam EVA Foam
Outsole Easton EC90 carbon fiber, Molded vibram rubber high traction lugged outsole, Mid-foot scuff guard, Accomodates steel toe spikes SlipNot rubber 85% rubber/14% nylon plastic/1% steel Stealth Mi6 rubber Stealth Phantom rubber
Size Tested 38 38 38 7 7

Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison


The Giro Empire was the lightest and stiffest shoe we tested, making it our top choice on days where we planned to spend a lot of time pumping the pedals. We were most impressed with the way the Easton carbon fiber soles transferred 100 percent of our energy into each pedal stroke. For a stiff, high-performance shoe, we thought these were comfortable and appreciated the customizable footbed options.

These shoes performed well with both small platform pedals, like the Shimano M530, and no platform pedals, like the Shimano M540. We took these shoes on long XC rides, laps in the backyard, a road climb and even couple runs at the bike park, because why not? They performed well in all situations but excelled when it came to long climbs and technical pedaling.

The efficient Empire transferred every bit of our energy into each pedal stroke.
The efficient Empire transferred every bit of our energy into each pedal stroke.

Power Transfer


Of all the women's shoes we tested, The Empire VR90 is the stiffest, and provides the best power transfer, channeling 100 percent of our energy into each pedal stroke. The carbon fiber outsole is incredibly lightweight without sacrificing any flex no matter how long your work the pedals. It dominates this metric as a result.


We appreciated the support on technical rides, and during long days in the saddle. A slight flex upwards from the ball of the foot to the toe makes walking in these shoes easier despite the uncompromisingly rigid sole.

Testers were impressed by the Empire VR 90's breathability.
Testers were impressed by the Empire VR 90's breathability.

Comfort and Breathability


Our testers were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the Giro Empire shoe is, particularly after hours on the trail. The synthetic uppers quickly conform to one's foot or a custom fit, like no other shoe we tested. The shoes come with a set of Super Natural footbeds with varying arch support for an even more customizable fit.

There are comments online noting that the toe box is narrow. We didn't have this problem but we don't have especially wide feet. If you do, you may want to try these on first.


The Empire features minimal padding around the heel cup and ankle, which keeps the weight down but also provides very little protection from rock strikes. The toe box does have light rubber reinforcement. We were skeptical that the one-piece, synthetic uppers would not breathe very well. However, perforated sections of material on the sides and tongue provided plenty of ventilation even on the hottest days.

Testers were impressed with the way the Empire VR90 conformed to their feet after just a few miles on the trail.
Testers were impressed with the way the Empire VR90 conformed to their feet after just a few miles on the trail.

Traction and Walkability


Due to the uncompromisingly stiff nature of these shoes, they didn't score as high in walkability as other shoes we tested. We would not recommend taking these shoes on extended hike-a-bike adventures.


Still the soles provide enough traction for creek crossings and short walks. The Empire VR90 features a Vibram, lugged sole which provided plenty of bite on slick muddy trails. Optional toe spikes are included should you desire more traction. The sole flexes up from the ball of the foot to the toe which is helpful when walking.

The exposed part of the carbon midsole started showing signs of wear after the first ride.
The exposed part of the carbon midsole started showing signs of wear after the first ride.

Durability


After miles and miles on the trail, these shoes look nearly the same as they did when they first came out of the box, with a little more dust. The uppers have no scuffs or marks of any kind. The uppers constructed in one piece, so there is very little stitching to come apart. In place of boa, or fancy ratchets, which could break, the laces on this shoe are cheap and easily replaceable.


The Vibram outsoles similarly show no signs of wear. However, there is not full coverage, meaning some of the inner carbon sole is exposed. The exposed sections of carbon sole are easy to scratch and began to show some signs of wear almost immediately. This wasn't a problem over our two month test period. However, we can't comment on whether it might cause issues with durability down the line.

Weight


The Empire VR90 is by far the lightest shoe we tested. Giro's claimed weight was 305g in size 39. Our test pair weighed in at 269g in size 38. These shoes feel incredibly light and nimble on the feet without sacrificing power transfer. However, they provide minimal foot protection, and all mountain style riders may want to look for something slightly heavier with a bit more coverage. We recommend the Specialized 2FO Cliplite Lace.


Best Applications


We took the Empire V90 on a variety of rides from long XC trails, laps in the backyard, enduro style rides, and even a lap in the bike park. They are capable of handling anything we rode, but they excel when on technical sections of trail. These shoes are best suited for riders looking to hit a PR in their next XC race.

Efficiency and comfort combine in the Empire VR90.
Efficiency and comfort combine in the Empire VR90.

Value


At a whopping $300, these shoes are not cheap. You get what you pay for in the form of a high-quality, well-designed shoe. Giro spared no expense in creating a lightweight, durable shoe with unmatched power transfer. They're comfortable to boot. The shoes also come with three customizable footbeds, toe spikes, and a travel carrying case.

Conclusion


The Empire VR90 is a high-price and high-quality shoe that is built well for its intended purpose of XC racing but also tackles most riding styles with ease. We recommend this shoe to riders looking to shed weight without sacrificing power transfer. All-mountain and gravity-fueled riders will likely prefer the beefier 2FO Cliplite Lace.

These shoes come with three customizable footbeds  extra toe spikes  and a zippered carrying case.
These shoes come with three customizable footbeds, extra toe spikes, and a zippered carrying case.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Empire VR90 is also available in a less flashy black and marble galaxy color option ($300) and the Empire SLX LTD, which is even lighter than the standard Empire VR90 ($350). Colored lace options are available ($6). You can also get replacement toe spikes ($15).


Jenn Sheridan