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Giro Empire ACC Review
Cons: Limited adjustability, narrow toe box, heel slips
Bottom line: This is a fun shoe that may appeal more to quirk than performance, but still outshines many on the market.
The Giro Empire ACC were fun to take out on the road and offered a surprising amount of stiffness for as light as they are. They have the Flying Scotsman retro feel, but in fact, were designed for US Olympian and pro racer Taylor Phinney. Laces have been making a comeback, and some riders swear by them; we think it's hard to beat the micro-adjustment of dials and buckles, and even a velcro strap offers more immediacy. These are a choice of taste, and that will suit some of you better than others.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The first thing that stuck out to us was the low stack height on the outsole's cleat platform, which forced us to lower the seat post a few millimeters, which was annoying, but once we dialed it in they were good to go. They are well suited to narrow feet and riders who like to set it and forget it. Laces are great for getting a uniform tightness across the entirety of the shoe, but if you are finicky and want to adjust ahead of a climb or sprint, these will pose a problem. Despite some of the drawbacks, these are high performers and deserve a serious look. Read on as we set them next to the competition and see how they do.
The chart above shows the Giro Empires coming in near the middle of the pack, concealing some of its best attributes.
The Empire ACC have a nice padded collar and mostly smooth sockliner, but the liner tapers off near the toes where the knuckles are scrunched up under a thin cycling sock, and the rubbing causes some discomfort. The Supernatural Footbed did allow for some customization and allowed us to remove the arch support to make a little more room, but the real discomfort here comes from the narrowness of the toebox and the difficulty in loosening the shoe during a ride. Riders looking for more comfortable shoes would do well to look at the Fi'zi:k R5b Uomo Boa, which won our Best Buy Award or the Shimano S-Phyre, winner of our Top Pick for Lightweight.
This is where these puppies really stand out. They just 18.8 ounces in a men's 44, beating out the rest of the field. Their super low-profile Easton ACC carbon sole and Evofiber upper allow them to dominate the field in this category. The only other model that holds a candle to them here is the S-Phyre, which also uses a light upper and low-profile outsole without any weight added for lasting boards and the like.
One great advantage of a tight upper with a uniform fit is that it doesn't allow energy to be wasted as the foot jostles around inside the shoe. Their stiff carbon composite sole also helps ensure pedal strokes aren't missing out on power. Where they do come up short is in the wide, slick heel, which allows the heel to slip out and sap power, especially on hard efforts. Riders looking for a comparable shoe with better transfer should look at the Fi'zi:ks. Riders looking for a top racing shoe should look at the Sidi Wire Vent Carbons, which won our Editors' Choice Award.
As we mentioned earlier, these do the laces thing, so they have a uniform tightness that a lot of riders appreciate, but they aren't too good on micro-adjustment or loosening mid-ride. We think they're a bit of a fad, but know some folks will hang onto them. Some of the other models offer much better on-the-fly adjustment, as the premium Shimano S-Phyre RC9 with its multiple bi-directional Boa dials and the much less expensive Fi'zi:k, with their single Boa dial and simple sailcloth toe strap.
The Empire's synthetic Evofiber microfiber offers a good layer of protection from the elements and includes a reinforced toe. Their sole is a tough carbon composite. This makes them a fairly durable shoe, but not the most durable in our pack. Notably the lack a replaceable toe pad, which means that once that pad is worn down after a few years, your toe and the Evofiber will start to wear down and tear. A better option for durability is the comparably priced Lake CX237, with its tough full grain leather upper and full carbon sole. An even sturdier option is the Sidi Wire Vent Carbon, bringing a reinforced microfiber upper with a full carbon sole and replaceable heel and toe pads.
These make really sweet crit shoes and even spin shoes if you get an adapter plate for SPD cleats. They also lend themselves to climbing, so long as you don't need to adjust tightness too much.
$275 is a little on the expensive side for these, but they do have an Easton EC90 ACC carbon composite outsole, and they're incredibly light, which helps justify the price. Plus, if you're a Taylor Phinney groupie, they might also be imbued with some ethereal quality for you.
These have appeal for weight weenies looking to pick up a pair of light shoes on the cheap (compared to the premium Shimanos, anyway), and for those who dig the retro aspect. There are also those that insist that laces give a more uniform fit than the newer fastening devices like Boa dials. We think that's not accurate, but we all know how taste and preference go. If you're a laces kind of guy, these are the top shoes with laces and they'll give a fairly stiff ride.
— Ryan Baham
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