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Giro Empire VR90 - Women's Review

Stiff powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, Vibram soles, and customizable footbeds make these an excellent XC shoe
Giro Empire VR90 - Women's
Photo: Backcountry
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Price:  $300 List | $134.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Super lightweight, exceptionally breathable, stiff, customizable insoles
Cons:  Minimal foot protection, narrower fit, too stiff for hike-a-bikes, expensive
Manufacturer:   Giro
By Jenn Sheridan ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 14, 2020
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68
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Walkability - 25% 4
  • Stability and Control - 20% 9
  • Protection - 15% 3
  • Weight - 15% 10

Our Verdict

This shoe provides exceptional breathability and stiffness. The Easton EC90 carbon sole is not only stiff and efficient, but it also helps keep the shoe's overall weight to a minimum. However, the EC90 sole performed poorly on hike-a-bikes involving rocks, where we found them to be slippery and lacking grip. Our testers typically wear a EU40, but found these shoes both too narrow and too short and had to size up to a EU41, and still had fit issues due to the shoe's narrow nature. For the rider with a narrow foot who is looking for a performance cross country shoe, the Empire VR90 definitely worth consideration.

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Pros Super lightweight, exceptionally breathable, stiff, customizable insolesComfortable fit, large cleat opening, good power transfer, excellent trail absorptionLightweight, good power transfer, easy to walk inComfortable, excellent protection, excellent power transfer, easy to clip in and out of, great for hike-a-bikeLightweight, very good power transfer, breathable
Cons Minimal foot protection, narrower fit, too stiff for hike-a-bikes, expensiveLacks breathability, expensiveNot the best lateral stabilityHeavy, not waterproofLacking side protection on the mid-foot
Bottom Line Stiff powerful soles, a minimalistic and comfortable feel, Vibram soles, and customizable footbeds make these an excellent XC shoeThis comfortable shoe impressed our testers with its fit, trail absorption, and power transfer and is a great match for short trail rides and all-day epics alikeThis unassuming shoe combines on and off the bike performance with good power transfer and walking comfort at a relatively reasonable price tagA high-performing shoe that offers comfort paired with excellent stability, protection, and walkabilityA solid performing shoe packed with features typically reserved for shoes with a much higher price tag
Rating Categories Giro Empire VR90 -... Mallet Boa - Unisex 2FO Roost Clip - Un... Traverse Scott MTB Elite Boa...
Comfort (25%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Walkability (25%)
4.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Stability And Control (20%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Protection (15%)
3.0
8.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
Weight (15%)
10.0
6.0
9.0
3.0
7.0
Specs Giro Empire VR90 -... Mallet Boa - Unisex 2FO Roost Clip - Un... Traverse Scott MTB Elite Boa...
Measured Weight (g) 298g 379g 322g 450g 351g
Outsole Easton EC90 carbon fiber, Vibram rubber outsole Match MC1 SlipNot FG DST 8.0 MID GRIP Rubber Sticki rubber
Closure Laces Boa, Velcro strap Laces Laces/Velcro Boa, Velcro strap
Upper Material Premium EvoFiber Synthetic synthetic leather Synthetic & D30 Microfiber, 3D nylon air mesh
Footbed Super Natural Fit Kit not specified Body Geometry EVA Foam ErgoLogic
Sole Easton EC90 Carbon fiber EVA midsole Soft Lollipop Nylon Composite Plate D30 High Impact Insole Fiberglass-reinforced nylon
Size Tested EU 41 US 7 EU 39.5 / US 8.5 EU 39.5 / US 8.5 EU 39

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Giro Empire VR90 Women's is an exceptionally breathable, and lightweight performance shoe that would be right at home on the cross-country racecourse. The PremiumEvo fiber upper laces allowing the rider to dial in the fit, however, the shoe is built on a narrow last that will not work for all riders. Our testers typically wear a EU40, but due to the shoe being both too short and too narrow had to size up to a EU41, which allowed enough length but was still too narrow. We do enjoy how lightweight and breathable this shoe is, making it a great choice for hot and humid days. The EC90 carbon sole is stiff for efficient power transfer but falls short when hiking is necessary due to its lack of flex and grippy lugs. For the cross-country rider or racer, this shoe may be a perfect choice, but we do recommend trying it on for fit first.

Performance Comparison


Standing up on the pedals was no problem thanks to the super stiff...
Standing up on the pedals was no problem thanks to the super stiff Easton EC90 sole.
Photo: Byron Adams

Stability and Control


These were the only carbon-soled shoes we tested, and we did enjoy how easy to pedal and lightweight they were thanks in part to their carbon sole. The EC90 sole is efficient and stiff without sending any feedback into the foot. Our testers were able to stand, push and pull easily on the pedals, which provided us with very good control and stability. Thanks to the stiff sole, we never felt unstable in these shoes and could not feel any flex under our feet.

The Empire's cleat opening measures 1 1/16" allowing for minimal fore-aft adjustment, however, we did not feel our pedal stroke to be toe down as we did with other models whose opening is only 1".

There is 1 1/16" of fore/aft cleat adjustment.
There is 1 1/16" of fore/aft cleat adjustment.
Photo: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Comfort


As with other Giro shoes, the Empire VR90 Women fit better on women with narrow to average feet. It takes a few rides for these to break in, but afterward, they provide good comfort. Our testers with wider feet struggled with getting a good fit, as sizing up for the appropriate width in the toebox lend to annoying slippage in the heel.

The upper is made of Giro's PremiumEvo fiber which feels quite supple and wraps the rider's foot like a glove. Our testers find VR90's shoes' best feature to be its breathability thanks to the highly perforated uppers which allow air to flow through the shoe, keeping our feet nice and cool.

The shoes come with two pairs of laces, which allow you to tighten and loosen areas to dial in your fit and an elastic lace holder keeps things tidy. Like other shoes, the tongue has slits in it so that you can cut away at them allowing it to better fit your ankle. To top things off, Giro provides multiple insole inserts to allow you to customize the insole to your arch. Our feet are relatively flat, so we did not need a different insert, but for those with a higher arch, it would definitely allow for greater customization. Overall, the Premium Evo fiber feels nice on the foot, and if the shoe fits, you'll enjoy miles of comfort.

Premium EvoFiber upper are super breathable uppers, but offer...
Premium EvoFiber upper are super breathable uppers, but offer minimal impact protection.
Photo: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Walkability


Being able to hike a bike is important for our testers which is why it has a high value in our metric. Frequently, we are off the bike to session features or are hiking up parts of the trail that are unrideable to mere mortals. We found the Empire VR90 to be the poorest performing shoe for walkability. The stiff EC90 sole, while great for weight savings and power transfer, makes walking over and on rocks difficult due to both the lack of flex and the lack of soft lugs to grip the rock.

The Empire VR90 Women's comes with two toe spikes designed to be used for additional traction while hiking or racing cyclocross. Giro provides the tool for the installation, but we found them to be a bit finicky due to the screw plate design. The toe spikes do provide additional bite while walking loose dirt trails but interfere with the shoe's ability to hike on rocks. For walking in grass or dirt, these shoes performed well; however, when it came time to truly hike, we preferred models with more flex and sticky rubber.

We also experienced a fair amount of heel lift while hiking, most likely due to our need to size up in these shoes. Our heel would lift with each step, however, we were unable to walk in the shoe that is one size smaller due to its being too short. Again, we can't emphasize enough making sure these shoes fit your foot before purchasing.

Installing the toe spikes provided to be a bit finicky due to the...
Installing the toe spikes provided to be a bit finicky due to the screw plates design.
Photo: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Protection


Keeping with the lightweight theme, the Empire VR90's minimalist design does not have any reinforced foot protection save a small textured area directly in front of the toes. While this may be fine for flowy trails, we have experienced the stray rock hitting our foot and the occasional crash. In these circumstances, we prefer to have some protection around our foot, especially in the toe box and side of the foot. Fortunately, we did not crash in these shoes to truly put the uppers to the test, but we would prefer some extra padding between our feet and the impact object. Of all the shoes we tested, the Empire VR90 offered the least amount of protection.

As mentioned, the PremiumEvo fiber upper breathes very well since it's highly perforated, as with any perforated fabric this also means the shoe's upper allows water to easily enter. Making this one a poor choice for wet weather rides.

A elastic lace retainer keeps things tidy and perforations in the...
A elastic lace retainer keeps things tidy and perforations in the uppers allow air to flow through the shoe.
Photo: Tara Reddinger-Adams

Weight


The Giro Empire VR90 Women's minimalist construction paired with the Easton carbon sole makes them an exceptionally lightweight shoe that breathes incredibly well. Weighing 298-grams (without toe spikes) for a size EU41, this is the lightest shoe we tested. As you may expect, a lightweight shoe comes at an expense, and in the case of the Empire VR90, that expense is any real form of reinforced foot protection. For riders favoring lightweight and efficient power transfer over features, this shoe rises to the top.

Value


The Giro Empire VR90 Women's is the most expensive shoe we tested. The shoe is constructed of quality materials such as the PremiumEvo and an Easton EC90 carbon sole. These materials are what allow the shoe to be so lightweight, but they also raise the price.

Conclusion


We found the Empire VR90 Women's best suited to cross-country riding and racing shoes due to their excellent power transfer and lightweight design. For the rider looking for a race day shoe, we would recommend considering the Empire VR90 Women's. We do recommend anyone considering this shoe try it on for fit, due to its narrow last. However, for the rider looking for an all-around shoe that can be worn on local laps and all-day epics involving hike-a-bikes, we recommend looking for a shoe that offers more protection and walkability.

We enjoyed the super stiff carbon soles and how little impact from...
We enjoyed the super stiff carbon soles and how little impact from the trail was felt in our feet wit these shoes.
Photo: Byron Adams

Jenn Sheridan