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Giro Empire VR90 Review

The Empire VR90 is the lightest, stiffest, and most comfortable shoe in our test and the winner of our Editors' Choice award.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | $164.95 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 2 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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91
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 17
  • Power Transfer - 30% 10
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Traction Walkability - 20% 7
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 15% 9

Our Verdict

The Giro Empire VR90 is an incredible shoe and the winner of our Editor's Choice award. The XC race-bred shoe wowed our testers with its light weight, unparalleled stiffness and power transfer, incredible comfort and surprising off the bike traction and durability. The Empire VR90 is very well suited for its intended purpose of XC racing and doubles as a road, gravel grinding, or cyclocross shoe, but it doesn't stop there. We found the Empire VR90 to a be capable everyday trail riding shoe and ideal for anytime you want to lay down some power and be comfortable doing it, 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 a customizable "Supernatural Fit" insoles for personalized comfort and grippy Vibram soles for excellent traction and walkability.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
Giro Empire VR90
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $164.95 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$180 List$200.00 at REI
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$400.00 at Competitive Cyclist$180.00 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Lightweight, comfortable, stiff, great power transfer, vibram soles, customizable insolesLightweight, comfortable, versatile, Boa closures, styling, reasonable priceGrippy rubber soles, good foot protection, comfortable, great power transferVery lightweight, stiff carbon soles, Boa closures, well ventilatedcomfortable, versatile, great traction while hiking, boa closures, good style
Cons No on-the-fly adjustments, limited foot protection, expensiveRoomy toe-box, slip-not rubber could be more grippyPotential durability issuesExpensive, not good for walking, minimal foot protectionSometimes too grippy for a clipless focused shoe, heavy
Bottom Line The Empire VR90 is the lightest, stiffest, and most comfortable shoe in our test and the winner of our Editors' Choice award.Our Top Pick for Trail Riders, the 2FO Cliplite is a unique looking shoe packed with performance and features from one of the biggest brands in the bike industry.The ME7 is a thoughtfully designed, versatile, and high performance all mountain and enduro shoe.The Shimano S-Phyre XC9 is an ultra high performance XC race shoe that offers incredible power transfer and all day comfort.The Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa is our Top Pick for Enduro Racers and those partaking in regular extensive hike-a-bike sections
Rating Categories Giro Empire VR90 Specialized 2FO Cliplite Shimano ME7 Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa
Power Transfer (30%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
8
Comfort (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
9
Traction Walkability (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
5
10
0
9
Weight (15%)
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
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10
10
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6
Durability (15%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
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6
10
0
8
10
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9
Specs Giro Empire VR90 Specialized 2FO... Shimano ME7 Shimano S-Phyre XC9 Five Ten Kestrel...
Closure Laces 2 Boa S2-Snap dials, velcro strap over the forefoot Speed lace system and upper ratchet strap, Large velcro panel over laces Dual Boa IP1 Boa dial plus velcro at toe box
Measured Weight 388 grams 426 grams 425 grams 359 grams 511 grams
Width Options regular and high volume Regular Regular Regular, Wide Regular
Upper Material Microfiber Thermobonded upper Synthetic Teijin synthetic leather Synthetic
Footbed molded EVA footbed Specialized Body Geometry Extra-cushion insole Shimano Pedaling Dynamics with customizeable arch support OrthoLite
Sole Easton EC90 Carbon Fiber Nylon Composite Carbon fiber composite sole/midsole Dynalast carbon fiber Carbon-infused nylon shank
Outsole Vibram Mont Molded Rubber High Traction Lugged Outsole, Mid-Foot Scuff Guard, Accomodates Steel Toe Spikes SlipNot rubber sole Michelin rubber outsole Dual-density Michelin rubber Steatlh C4 rubber
Size Tested 45 43.5 44 43.5 10.5

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Giro Empire VR90 is an XC 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 race course 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 the xc/trail bike.
Testing the Giro Empire VR90 and Scott MTB Team Boa back to back on the xc/trail bike.

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 ride. 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).

The Empires are comfortable enough for all-day rides  no matter the riding style
The Empires are comfortable enough for all-day rides, no matter the riding style

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 past  but at 388g it can still be considered svelte for a size 45.
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.
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 Shimano SH-AM7 or our top pick for enduro racers, the Five Ten Kestrel Pro Boa.

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 service roads
More than stiff enough to put the power down over rough forest service roads

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.

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

Best Applications


The Empire VR90 is extremely well suited to its intended purpose of XC racing, but we found it to be great for nearly all types of mountain bike, or even road bike, riding. Of course, we wouldn't recommend this shoe to gravity riders or for cruising around the bike park, but we would recommend it to everyone else. We took the Empire VR90 on long road rides, gravel grinds, enduro laps, epic full-day trail rides, and we were never let down by the combination of power transfer and comfort that it has to offer. If you value lightweight, pedaling efficiency, and comfort while you ride, then the Empire VR90 has you covered.

Value


At a retail price of $300 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 the lightweight package. We don't take the Editors Choice award lightly, and the Empire VR90 deserves it — it's worth every penny. 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

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 our Editor's Choice, award winner. 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, like our top pick for Enduro Racers, the Five Ten Kestral Pro Boa, but for everyone else, we don't think it gets any better than the Empire VR90.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Empire VR90 is also available in a variety of colors to suit a range of tastes. 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