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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
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Price:  $300 List | $224.96 at Competitive Cyclist
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Pros:  Super lightweight, exceptionally breathable, stiff, customizable insoles
Cons:  Minimal foot protection, runs small (need to size up), too stiff for hike-a-bikes, expensive
Manufacturer:   Giro
By Jenn Sheridan ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 14, 2020
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#5 of 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Walkability - 25% 4
  • Stability and Control - 20% 9
  • Protection - 15% 3
  • Weight - 15% 10

Our Verdict

The Giro Empire VR90 women's offers exceptional breathability in a lightweight and stiff shoe. The Easton EC90 carbon sole is not only stiff and efficient, 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 an EU40, but found these shoes both too narrow and too short and had to size up to an 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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Our Analysis and Test Results

Performance Comparison

The Giro Empire VR90 Women 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 an EU40, but due to the shoe being both too short and too narrow had to size up to an EU41, which allowed enough length but is 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 on for fit first.

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

Stability and Control

These were the only carbon-soled shoes we tested, and we did enjoy how easy to pedal and lightweight the shoe is, 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.


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 riders foot like a glove. Our testers find VR90's shoes best feature to be it's 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 to 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 more customization. Overall, the Premium Evo fiber feels nice on the foot, and if the shoe fits, you'll enjoy miles of comfort, at least for your feet

Premium EvoFiber upper are super breathable uppers  but offer minimal impact protection.
Premium EvoFiber upper are super breathable uppers, but offer minimal impact protection.


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 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, makes walking over and on rocks difficult due to both the lack of flex and lack of soft lugs to grip the rock.

The Empire VR90 Women comes with two toe spikes designed to be used for additional traction while hiking or racing cyclocross. Giro provides the tool for installation of the toe spikes, 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 shoes 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 screw plates design.
Installing the toe spikes provided to be a bit finicky due to the screw plates design.


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 its highly perforated, as with any perforated fabric this also means the shoes 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 uppers allow air to flow through the shoe.
A elastic lace retainer keeps things tidy and perforations in the uppers allow air to flow through the shoe.


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 toespikes) 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 weight over features, this shoe rises to the top.


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.


We find the Empire VR90 Women's best suited to cross-country riding and racing shoe due to their excellent power transfer, walkability, and the 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-round 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 the trail was felt in our feet wit these shoes.
We enjoyed the super stiff carbon soles and how little impact from the trail was felt in our feet wit these shoes.

Jenn Sheridan