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Exceedingly expensive but ever so light with great ventilation and supreme comfort, Giro's new Imperial shoes are an impressive addition to the US company's range, and a top choice if you want a light shoe that doesn't compromise on durability and foot retention.
Making a shoe that is light is easy, but making a light shoe that doesn't skimp on comfort, durability, support and retention is altogether more tricky. Specialized's stunning S-Works Exos shoes I tested recently show the current limit of lightweight shoes at the expense of durability and foothold.
The Imperials aren't the lightest shoes on the market, but pick them up and they are still clearly damn light compared to many. If you're a committed weight weenie these will still appeal. And thanks to the construction of the upper and the twin Boa dials, the fit is good and they keep your feet locked in place.
They're constructed from some fancy lightweight materials. The company's own Synchwire non-stretch mesh is combined with a Teijin TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane); the former keeps the weight low and provides ventilation and the latter provides the support, shape and durability. It's a one-piece upper with just a single seam down the back of the heel.
To provide cooling air and keep the weight low, panels of the outer TPU have been removed to reveal the mesh. Around the rear of the shoe, this provides the unusual ability to see through the shoes – best make sure you're wearing clean socks.
Underneath is a full-carbon Easton EC90 SLX2 sole, as used on other Giro shoes, with a replaceable heel pad and three-hole cleat drillings with decent markings to line up said cleats.
Inside are the company's own SuperNatural Fit Kit insoles, which have the neat feature of swappable arch pads to provide the fit you need – high, medium or low.
A pair of Boa IP1 perform the task of cinching the upper down onto your foot and providing the necessary foot retention when you are dishing out some serious watts. They're easy to use, with a quiet soft click and micro-adjustment in both directions. Pop them up to release all the tension and remove the shoes. The wires are laced through soft lace guides designed to prevent any pinch spots and mimic the comfort of laces.
A generously padded tongue distributes pressure well.
I've always been a fan of Giro shoes – the Empire E70 Knit is still one of my current faves – with the fit and shape working for my feet. These were no different. The arch support is a nice feature and lets you experiment with ease, without having to spend money on expensive custom soles. It can't match getting a professional shoe and sole fit, but is better than the non-adjustable wafer thin soles you get in some rival brand shoes.
As in the hand, these shoes feel very light on your feet. Clip in and start pedalling and it's clear the carbon sole provides a high level of stiffness; there's absolutely no flex under my measly power on town sign sprints or climbing steep hills out of the saddle.
The ventilation and general airiness has been a blessing in the current hot weather. Some shoes can slowly bake your feet on longer rides but the Imperials have kept mine refreshingly cool on some of my longer rides in temperatures nudging well above my comfort zone.
Comfort is good too. The upper is nicely shaped and follows the contours of the foot well. There's generous space around the toes and the heel is locked securely in place to prevent lift.
The two Boa dials work together nicely to let you tighten the wires evenly to fasten the upper down over the top of your foot. Once dialled in, they never needed adjusting during a ride.
Compared to the S-Works Exos shoes I mentioned earlier, the Imperials feel more stable with better foot retention thanks to the twin Boa dials and the firmer material. I adore the comfort of the front of the Exos shoes, but for performance-focused riding when you're dishing out the power, the support provided by the Imperials just nudges it while retaining a high level of comfort.
The foothold isn't quite on the same level as a heavier shoe, such as a Sidi Shot or Specialized S-Works 7. The upper feels softer and more flexible; it's not that your foot can move around, it just doesn't feel as locked in as with the Sidi or Specialized.
Ultimately, the Imperials provide a halfway house between extreme weight saving and all-day durability and support that should mean they have a broader appeal.
They might not be the lightest shoes on the market, but they appear to strike a nice balance of low weight and practical everyday durability. For racing, fast training rides and mountainous gran fondos, the Imperials would be an easy choice. They are very pricey, though not nearly as expensive as some shoes you could fork out some serious wedge for.
They're about the same price as the top-end Sidi, which for many is a benchmark performance shoe, but the Italian shoes are grossly overweight for the price. A mark to the Giros there then.
If you want a lighter shoe, the Imperials are beaten to the weight weenie crown by the S-Works Exos, but they cost a whopping £450, and they also don't have the same level of support or durability as the Imperials. So another mark to the Giros.
If you don't mind giving away 80g, the £99.99 FLR F-11 Pro Road Racing Shoes show how far lower end products have come on in the last decade or so, from the days when Sidi was the only real choice for a performance shoe, to the current market awash with dozens of choices at all sorts of prices.
Light, comfortable and supportive shoes for the weight-conscious and deep of pocket
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Giro Imperial Road Cycling Shoe
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for
Giro says, "At a gravity-defying 215g with the performance and range of adjustability you need to conquer the steepest routes ahead, the Imperial™ is destined to lead a lightweight revolution in road cycling footwear.
"To make a full-featured shoe that rivals minimalist designs in weight, we created an ultralight monofilament 'Synchwire' mesh upper that fits and feels like a second skin thanks to the dual Boa IP1 buckles with soft lace guides. Thermal-welded Teijin® TPU adds structural support exactly where it's needed and a high-modulus Easton® EC90 SLX2 carbon fiber plate provides ultimate stiffness-to-weight for power transfer. Our adjustable Super Natural Fit footbed system is the final touch, allowing you to customize arch support right out of the box for luxurious comfort and optimal pedaling efficiency."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Teijin® welded SL monofilament mesh
One-piece 'Synchwire' upper design with soft lace guides
Twin Boa® IP1 dials featuring 1mm +/- adjustment and macro release
Easton® EC90™ SLX2 high-modulus carbon
Stainless steel hardware
Replaceable heel pads
SuperNatural Fit Kit with adjustable arch support
XT2® anti-microbial fiber top sheet
215 grams (per shoe, size 42.5)
They're lighter than many other shoes at or near this price, and you can pay a lot more if you want.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
Durability is very good with these shoes. The heel pad is replaceable too.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide low weight and good support.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Fit and comfort.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Just the colour red! They come in white or black too.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're cheaper than some of the lightest road shoes we've tested.
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
With very low weight yet good fit, comfort, support and durability, these are pretty easy to recommend if you have the money.
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 worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.