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Giro Empire VR90 Review

This model has an incredible blend of light weight, stiffness, and comfort, making it one of the best shoes we've ever tested
Giro Empire VR90
Photo: Backcountry
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | $239.96 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, stiff, great power transfer, vibram soles, customizable insoles
Cons:  No on-the-fly adjustments, limited foot protection, expensive
Manufacturer:   Giro
By Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger  ⋅  Jul 22, 2019
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84
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 19
  • Power Transfer - 20% 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Traction Walkability - 25% 6
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 15% 9

Our Verdict

The Giro Empire VR90 is an incredible shoe. This purebred XC race shoe wowed our testers with its light weight, unparalleled stiffness, incredible comfort, and surprising off the bike traction and durability. The Empire VR90 is very well suited to its intended purpose of XC racing and doubles as a road, gravel grinding, or cyclocross shoe. We also found that the Empire is a capable everyday trail riding shoe and ideal for anytime you want to lay down some power—which is all the time. The stiff Easton Carbon soles transfer 100 percent of your input directly into the pedals while the synthetic uppers conform quickly to your feet for a glove-like fit. The package comes complete with customizable "Supernatural Fit" insoles for personalized comfort and grippy Vibram soles for off the bike traction.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Giro Empire VR90
This Product
Giro Empire VR90
Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $239.96 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 3 sellers
$180.00 at Competitive Cyclist$200.00 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$160.00 at Competitive Cyclist$94.98 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable, stiff, great power transfer, vibram soles, customizable insolesLightweight, comfortable, versatile, Boa closures, styling, reasonable pricecomfortable, versatile, great traction while hiking, boa closures, good styleLugged //Vibram// sole, versatile fit, stiff but walkableVersatile, robust construction, easy adjustment, casual style
Cons No on-the-fly adjustments, limited foot protection, expensiveRoomy toe-box, slip-not rubber could be more grippySometimes too grippy for a clipless focused shoe, heavyLimited on-the-go adjustmentsSingle boa closure, limited traction in wet conditions
Bottom Line Lightweight, stiff, and comfortable, this shoe is one of our favoritesThis uniquely styled shoe is packed with features and performance and is one of the best in the testStiff, comfortable, and protective, this shoe is a great choice for the demands of enduro-style ridingA lightweight and sturdy shoe to take on the backcountryComfortable fit, casual style, and great on-trail performance make this a versatile option for trail riders
Rating Categories Giro Empire VR90 Specialized 2FO Cliplite Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa Specialized Rime 2.0 Pearl Izumi X-Alp Launch SPD
Power Transfer (20%)
10
8
8
7
8
Comfort (25%)
8
9
9
8
9
Traction Walkability (25%)
6
8
9
10
8
Weight (15%)
10
8
6
8
7
Durability (15%)
9
9
9
8
9
Specs Giro Empire VR90 Specialized 2FO... Five Ten Kestrel... Specialized Rime 2.0 Pearl Izumi X-Alp...
Closure Laces 2 Boa S2-Snap dials, velcro strap over the forefoot Boa dial plus velcro at toe box L6 Boa and Laces L6 Boa
Measured Weight 388 grams 426 grams 511 grams 419 grams 436 grams
Width Options regular and high volume Regular Regular Regular Regular
Upper Material Microfiber Thermobonded upper Synthetic XPEL Hydrophobic Mesh Recycled Cordura fabric
Footbed molded EVA footbed Specialized Body Geometry OrthoLite Specialized Body Geometry Pearl Izumi Insole
Sole Easton EC90 Carbon Fiber Lollipop Nylon Composite Carbon-infused nylon shank Lollipop Nylon Composite Composite shank
Outsole Vibram Mont Molded Rubber High Traction Lugged Outsole, Mid-Foot Scuff Guard, Accomodates Steel Toe Spikes SlipNot rubber sole Steatlh C4 rubber Vibram Vibra, ECOSTEP
Size Tested 45 43.5 10.5 44.5 45

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Giro Empire VR90 is a race-inspired clipless mountain bike shoe with a lightweight and minimalist design that does not compromise on comfort or performance. Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Empire VR90 is one of the lightest, stiffest, and most comfortable shoes in our test selection. While the Empire VR90 is at home on the racecourse we found it to double easily as road, gravel grinding, or cyclocross shoe and found it to be comfortable enough for everyday use on any length of XC trail ride. The styling and minimal foot protection of the Empire VR90 definitely won't make this the first choice of enduro or gravity oriented riders, but anyone who likes to lay down the power will appreciate the performance of this shoe.

We found the Empire VR90 to work best with small platform clipless pedals, and also with pedals with no platform like the Shimano XTR M9100 Race. We put the Empire VR90 through its paces for countless hours and miles, everything from quick backyard laps, all-day backcountry epics, long road, and gravel rides, even raced them to the podium at the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder and the Downieville Classic All-Mountain World Championships.

Performance Comparison


Testing the Giro Empire VR90 and Scott MTB Team Boa back to back on...
Testing the Giro Empire VR90 and Scott MTB Team Boa back to back on the xc/trail bike.
Photo: Dillon Osleger

Power Transfer


The Easton EC90 carbon sole of the Empire VR90 provides the stiffest sole and some of the best power transfer of any shoe in our test selection.


The uncompromisingly rigid sole transfers all of your energy directly into the pedals no matter how long you mash on the pedals or how hard you sprint. There is the slightest bit of flex up towards the toe of the sole to aid in off the bike walkability, but otherwise, the sole is all business. The Shimano S-Phyre XC9 is equally stiff and another great option for the XC racers. The Scott MTB Team Boa features a slightly less stiff carbon sole in a somewhat heavier package at nearly half the price.

More than stiff enough to put the power down over rough forest...
More than stiff enough to put the power down over rough forest service roads
Photo: Dillon Osleger

Comfort


Comfort is one of the Empire VR90's strong suits; in fact, it was the most comfortable shoe we tested. The glossy synthetic leather uppers look stiff but are quite supple and conform to your feet over the course of your first couple of rides. The Supernatural fit customizable footbeds allow you to choose between three sizes of arch support to dial in the fit to your liking. There is virtually no padding in this shoe, except the tongue, and around the upper ankle cuff and heel pocket, which keeps the shoe light and molded to your feet. This model offers little in the way of protection from rock or debris strikes, although a rubber rand and light reinforcement of the toe box offers some protection in that area.


The shoes look reminiscent of a lace-up pair of soccer cleats, and we have to admit that we were skeptical of the lack of on-the-fly tension adjustment. We were surprised never to need to tighten them mid-ride, even on three-plus hour trail rides, a 90+ mile gravel race, or on a road/gravel century ride, you tie them tight and put the laces under the elastic and you're ready to go. They are ventilated with hundreds of small holes perforated in the uppers on both sides of the foot and the tongue and while it looks inadequate, we didn't find these shoes to be notably hot on the feet. The cleat mount area offers a range of adjustability in the sweet spot for most riders, although riders who like their cleats way back may be left wanting more(and would also be looking at different shoes anyway).

Width Options
The regular fit Empire VR90 shoes have a snug fit that works best for people with narrow to average width feet. They also make a High Volume (HV) version for riders with wider feet.

The Empires are comfortable enough for all-day rides, no matter the...
The Empires are comfortable enough for all-day rides, no matter the riding style
Photo: Dillon Osleger

Traction Walkability


Vibram rubber bonds to the Easton EC90 carbon sole of the Empire VR90 with a tread design that features larger lugs under the heel and ball of the foot on either side of the cleat mount area with smaller lugs wrapping up under the toes and a strip of rubber under the mid-foot/arch area.


The rubber outsole isn't full coverage, and some of the carbon sole is visible and potentially vulnerable to damage if walking on rocks. That said, the Vibram rubber is very grippy and provides ample traction on all hard surfaces. The large lugs of the outsole also offer bite in soft and muddy conditions and are not prone to holding on to mud or other trail debris. The Empire VR90 has little flex in the toe, similar to that of the XC-oriented Sidi Cape, and lost points for walkability accordingly, although the grippy rubber outsole still makes for a high level of confidence when the terrain forces you off the bike.

Testing the Giro Empire VR90 during an XC race.
Testing the Giro Empire VR90 during an XC race.

Weight


The Empire VR90 is an impressively light shoe, weighing in at 388g per shoe for our size 45 test pair.


Updated treads on the Giro Empire VR90 have beefed it up over years...
Updated treads on the Giro Empire VR90 have beefed it up over years past, but at 388g it can still be considered svelte for a size 45.
Photo: Dillon Osleger
Not only does the Empire VR90 feel amazingly light on the feet, but it also does so while providing the best power transfer and most comfort of all shoes in our test selection. Enduro racers and all-mountain style riders seeking more foot protection will likely shy away from this shoe for slightly heavier options such as the Ride Concepts Transition or our top pick for enduro racers, the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa.

Durability


We have put the Empire VR90 through literally thousands of miles of riding, and they look almost the same as the day we pulled them out of the box.


The one-piece glossy "premium Evofiber breathable Teijin Microfiber" synthetic uppers clean up very quickly and are only stitched on the back of the heel and around the tongue, so there is little stitching to rip or pull out of the shoes. The upper material is incredibly resistant to abrasion, and our test pair shows no signs of wear whatsoever, even in the strike-prone pinky toe area. The laces are still in perfect condition as is the Vibram rubber sole and there are zero signs of the sole delaminating from the uppers. The exposed portion of the carbon soles do show some minor scratching from contact with rocks while walking, but that is to be expected, and that is the extent of the visible wear on these shoes. The Empire VR90 has seen lots of use and still basically look brand new.

Whether XC racing, gravel or road riding, or everyday trail riding...
Whether XC racing, gravel or road riding, or everyday trail riding, the Empire VR90's are comfortable and will help you maximize your efficiency.
Photo: Dillon Osleger

Value


The Empire VR90 doesn't come cheap, but this is one of those cases that we think you get what you pay for. The Giro shoe offers the best power transfer, most comfort, surprisingly good traction, and durability, all in a lightweight package. The Empire VR90 also comes standard with an extra set of laces, a toe spike kit, and a zippered carrying bag.

Putting down race power in the Empire VR90
Putting down race power in the Empire VR90
Photo: Dillon Osleger

Conclusion


It was a good battle, but in the end, it was the Empire VR90's combination of weight, comfort, power transfer, traction, and durability that made it one of our favorites. It doesn't come cheap, but we feel it is worth the expense for its outstanding performance for riders of nearly all disciplines. Enduro or aggressive all-mountain riders seeking more foot protection will likely look elsewhere, but for the XC crowd, we don't think it gets any better than the Empire VR90.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Empire VR90 is available in a variety of colors as well as regular and High Volume (HV) widths. Toe spikes come with the shoes, and additional sets are available for $15.00. Replacement laces are also available in a variety of colors for $6.00.

Jeremy Benson, Dillon Osleger