Giro's original Empire lace-up shoes were already very good – comfortable with a high level of adjustment – but these new knitted shoes take the comfort to another level, plus they are better ventilated for warmer weather and look brilliant.
- Pros: Very comfortable, good ventilation, look fantastic
- Cons: Yellow laces won't stay that way for long in mucky weather
Giro has taken its existing Empire lace-up shoes and swapped the microfibre upper for a knitted material it calls Xnetic, made from polyester and nylon. It's not a soft knitted material like that used by some trainer companies, but is reasonably firm and supportive, aided by an internal thermoplastic polyurethane skeleton. A DWR coating wards against wet weather and the toe area is reinforced.
So, knitted shoes then. A gimmick in the name of fashion? I'll admit to being a bit sceptical when I first saw them, but that all changed once I slapped on some cleats and went for a ride. Boy, these shoes are comfortable!
I was really impressed with the previous Empire shoes – I frequently use a pair for cyclo-cross and mountain biking – but the extra suppleness provided by the knitted material really improves comfort. The knitted upper is a lot more supple than the microfibre upper used on the regular Empires. There's more give around the top of the foot and toe box area, the upper able to deform and flex with your feet. Yes, they are like wearing a pair of comfortable slippers.
Yet stamp on the pedals and smash out some serious watts and you'll find the shoes are fully supportive and do a great job of transferring your pre-ride breakfast into forward motion. There's no detectable flex from the Easton carbon fibre soles and the upper constrains your feet, preventing unwanted movement.
Lace me up
Giro has been instrumental in bringing lace-up cycling shoes back from the black and white days, introducing the Empire in 2012 to much fanfare on social media. Pro cyclist Taylor Phinney was the first to race in them, and even Sir Bradley Wiggins wasn't immune to their appeal. It certainly made quite a few people question Boa dials and Velcro straps, and they've spawned many copies since.
For ultimate performance and ease of use, you probably can't beat a well-designed Boa dial setup, but the comfort of the Empire shoes has to be tried to be believed. It really is excellent. You could add in the distinctive looks, which are certainly appealing too, and the jazzy colours of these new knitted shoes tap into a clear desire for a bit of pop and personalisation in one's cycling outfit.
The laces make it easy to dial in the fit just the way you like it, with a fine level of adjustment that you just don't get from ratchets and Boa dials. Because of this extraordinarily good fit, I didn't find it necessary to do the laces up very tightly at all, but even if you do, the pressure is spread so evenly across the top of the foot that there's no discomfort at all.
When you've tied up the laces there's a small elastic loop to squeeze them under. A good tip is to thread the laces over and under; I found this kept the laces securely fastened and they never strayed loose once during the hundreds of miles I rode in this shoes.
Yes, tying the laces is a little slower than Boa dials, but are you ever in that much of a rush to get out the front door? One obvious downside to laces is that you can't make adjustments on-the-fly. I found once I got the laces dialled in after that first ride, I never needed to make any changes during the length of a ride, no matter how short or long.
Everyday performance and comfort
I've been wearing these shoes practically every day for the last few months, and that has included a trip Lanzarote where I was able to test the hot weather performance. It's a tough gig etc...
With the sun beating down on the tarmac and the sweat pouring off my skin, the shoes were clearly doing a very good job of keeping my feet cool. They're much better ventilated than regular cycling shoes, and even Giro's own regular Empires. Not a hint of sweaty feet to report at the end of a ride.
Back in the UK, where most of my testing has been conducted, well it's been so cold and wet that overshoes have been an essential part of my daily outfit. However, when I've braved the bad weather sans overshoes, the extra ventilation is certainly noticeable.
What is more noticeable is that the addition of the DWR (durable water repellency) treatment gives the shoes enough protection to cope with wet rides, puddle splashes and the odd splatter of mud. They aren't going to keep your feet dry – that treatment mainly acts to ensure the knitted material doesn't become saturated and is easier to clean afterwards – but when the shoes do eventually get wet they dry out quickly enough.
The durability of this most unpractical of colours was rightly questioned when these shoes arrived for testing, but I can report that even after riding through some horrible weather and mud-covered roads they're holding up well.
When they do get grubby, they're not as easy to clean as regular microfibre uppers, which wipe clean, but a little application of a sponge and hot soapy water and the grey knitted upper cleans up very well, even after some very dirty rides.
Sadly, the same can't be said of the yellow laces. Continue to ride these shoes along muddy roads and despite your best cleaning skills, those yellow laces aren't going to stay yellow for long. To be fair to Giro, grey laces are included in the box if you wanted to swap them straight out and that's something I'd recommend doing – save the yellow laces for the summer when the roads are dry and clean.
In fact, these are probably shoes you'd want to save for summer best anyway. Who is really going to buy an expensive pair of shoes like this, in this colour (which I love by the way) and ride them along grotty roads?
Giro has designed the heel cup to clasp your foot in the shoe securely and comfortably. Heel lift is undetectable, even during the hardest sprints and labouring up the steepest climbs out of the saddle.
The Easton EC70 carbon fibre sole is plenty stiff enough for the most demanding cyclists. You can use these for racing and they'll perform well, but equally, I've found them comfortable for longer rides at a more sedate pace. The stiffness isn't overwhelming and doesn't lead to discomfort, but equally it's sufficient for racing and high-intensity riding.
The soles are drilled for regular three-bolt cleats with lots of lines for easy adjustment and getting both cleats precisely aligned. A rubber heel bumper makes walking a little easier and protects the carbon sole, and is replaceable should it ever wear out.
If the shoe fits...
Shoe fit is a subjective thing, but I find Giro shoes really suit my feet. These new shoes are built on the same lasts as the previous Empire shoes, so there's nothing unusual to report on this front.
The width is neither too wide nor too narrow, and the toe box area is generous enough. I've been wearing them alongside shoes from Shimano, Sidi and Specialized, which I would say they are comparable to in terms of fit, but narrower than the Bont Vaypors I've also been wearing.
It would be easy to label Giro's new shoes as purely a case of fashion over function, and they'll undoubtedly appeal to style-conscious cyclists, but I can report that the suppleness provided by the knitted upper does provide fantastic comfort.
It's not groundbreaking stuff, but the difference compared with the regular Empires is noticeable. Whether that's enough to convince you is another matter.
Ventilation in warm weather is really good too, and durability is better than expected – except for those yellow laces, but Giro does offer more practical colour choices. Laces aren't for everyone, but if you're a fan of lace-up shoes and want a shoe with a bit of colour and style, you should check the new Empire Knits out.
Super-comfortable shoes with fab looks
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Giro Empire E70 Knit Road Cycling Shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Giro says, "You've seen knit technology in athletic footwear, but you haven't seen it in cycling until now. The Empire™ E70 Knit features our new engineered Xnetic™ Knit upper, which offers unparalleled comfort and breathability. Xnetic Knit technology was developed for the specific needs of performance cycling. An internal TPU skeletal system provides support where you need it, while the knit offers suppleness for superior sock-like comfort. The upper is DWR-treated for water repellency and easy cleaning, and a TPU- reinforced toe and heel add durability and abrasion resistance. Plus, the style of the Empire E70 Knit is simply undeniable."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Bonded TPU skeletal support structure
TPU-reinforced toe and heel
DWR treated fiber
Easton® EC70 carbon composite
Replaceable heel pads
Molded EVA footbed
medium arch support
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
They're a little trickier than most to keep clean; the knitted upper does scrub up well but the yellow laces are hard to keep yellow if you ride without overshoes or oversocks in mucky conditions.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide excellent comfort and performance.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Fantastic comfort, good ventilation and superb looks.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Yellow laces don't stay yellow for long.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Impressive performance, with slightly better comfort and heat management than the regular Empires. Better looks too, in my opinion – a top choice.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.