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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).