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Giro's Privateer Lace shoes are really comfortable and robust, with cosy padding to cosset your feet, a sole that has just enough flex for walking while still being stiff under pedalling and, of course, laces so you can really fine-tune the fit.
The Privateers are nominally mountain bike gear, but actually lend themselves extremely well to gravel, touring, commuting, and general riding. They're well made and well shaped and the laces are more than just a trendy gimmick. So let's talk about them first.
Laces in cycling shoes have disadvantages, which we'll get to in a moment, but the big advantage is that they allow you to fine-tune the fit of a shoe to a far greater degree than is possible with straps, buckles or dials.
That's especially handy if your feet are unusual; in my case, the Privateer Lace shoes make it easy for me to leave a little more room for my minor bunions than some shoes provide.
Laces also don't care about getting muddy, unlike Velcro straps that clog up. However, they are a bit prone to getting caught in your chainrings so Giro has supplied a tidy elastic retainer for you to tuck the laces under. It works, and it's a lot less goofy-looking than a Velcro strap over the knot.
The other potential problem with laces is that they can come undone. Until fairly recently there wasn't much research into why this happens, which is odd when you think about the huge amount of time we humans must spend every day re-tying our laces. Turns out the most common problem is that people tie a bow that's a granny knot at heart; tie a reef bow and your laces take much longer to loosen.
But that's not all. In 2017 researchers in California found that the swinging of the ends of the laces also contributes to loosening the knot. Friction in the lace helps keep the knot together, but the constant, repeated impacts of the shoe on the ground helps loosen running shoe laces. That's less of a problem with cycling shoes, though the cycle of pressure and release on pedals might have a similar effect.
Giro's lace retainer helps keep the ends of the laces from flapping around, and the laces grip themselves firmly. Practical upshot of all this is that the Privateers' laces stay tied while you ride.
Giro gets credit for the return of laces to high-performance cycling shoes back in 2012 with the Empire, top-end road shoes that combined laces with a sophisticated microfibre upper and carbon fibre sole.
The lack of on-the-fly adjustment, increased faff and risk of snarling a lace in your chainrings made some sceptical, but style-conscious riders loved them. Bradley Wiggins bought his own, and Giro soon stepped up as his official shoe sponsor, a relationship that culminated in Wiggins wearing a gold pair when he broke the hour record in 2015.
Unlike Wiggins' shoes, the Privateers have some give in the nylon sole so you can walk fairly comfortably in them, but they're stiff enough for riding as long as you're not trying to hammer everything in your path that's remotely hammerable or indeed set a new hour record. The stiffness of any walkable cycling shoes is a compromise, and Giro has got that compromise bang on here.
The cleat recess puts an SPD cleat a little inside the cleat recess, so it doesn't clank all the time either.
You wouldn't want to go yomping through the worst British mud in the Privateers. The sole has quite a light tread that's fine for hard surfaces and firm dirt tracks and roads, but doesn't have the grip for severely cruddy or slippery conditions. It does have mounts for studs under the toes, so if you think you might encounter a bit of mud, you can always fit them and get some traction that way. Or of course, you can implement the famous double cleat horror setup.
There's plenty of padding around the heel, and the microfibre upper is lined with soft fabric to help keep you comfortable. There's dense padding under the tongue too, which distributes pressure from the laces so the sensitive bones on the top of your foot don't feel squished.
Labelled 'Expert', the insole is a single piece of dense foam with a fabric top. There's a thickened bump in roughly the centre to support the middle of your sole. It's not the most sophisticated insole ever, but it's a big step up from the simple foam sheets you still sometimes find even on quite spendy cycling shoes.
The practical upshot is that these are really comfy kicks whether you're just nipping into town or spending the day exploring dirt roads with a cafe stop or two on the way.
They're called Privateer Lace to differentiate them from Giro's old Privateer ratchet-buckle-and-Velcro-strap shoes and it has to be said they're much more stylish than their predecessors. The advent of dial closures and the return of tidy laces has made ratchet-buckle shoes look distinctly clunky.
One of the things I like about shoes with lace closures is that they're not super-obviously bike kicks. If you pick one of the Privateer colour options that's not 'gravel green', civilians might not even realise that you're wearing cycling shoes (and if you're determined to be noticed they're also available in red).
Some consumer reviewers report needing to go up a size, but I found my usual size 43 was fine.
Much as I like wearing the Privateers, £125 is quite a lot for shoes that lack high-tech refinements like carbon fibre soles and ratchet dials. dhb's Dorica lace-up shoes, for example, have a nominal list price of £70 and currently go for £45. On the other hand, a pair of Quoc Gran Tourers will set you back £219, which makes the Privateers look cheap.
Overall, I'm very impressed with the Privateer Lace shoes. They're really good for pretty much any sort of riding bar racing and other ultra-high-intensity shenanigans, and they're great for dirt road riding, and any situation where you want to be able to get off the bike and stroll around.
Very, very good shoes for dirt roads, and any riding where you want to be able to walk as well
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Giro Privateer Lace shoes
Size tested: 43
Tell us what the product is for
Off-road riding. Giro describes them as 'MTB' shoes, but they're not really, at least not for muddy UK trails. What they are, however, is very good general-purpose shoes that you can ride and walk in with equal ease.
"The Privateer Lace combines the familiar comfort of our Empire shoes with the durability of our acclaimed Privateer mountain bike shoes.
"The laced upper design is functional, intuitive and reliable since these shoes are built to withstand rugged conditions and daily use on the trails without a second thought.
"The microfiber upper fits and feels great, and our co-molded outsole permanently fuses the nylon sole with an aggressively lugged rubber tread, giving you plenty of power at the pedals with sure grip on the trails.
"So you get everything you need for off-road adventures, with nothing to break down or get in the way of your fun."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
The lowdown according to Giro:
* High-quality, breathable microfiber upper
* Laced closure
* Rockprint toe and heel for abrasion resistance and durability
* Reinforced rubber toe cap
* Tubular laces are durable and hold a knot
* Co-molded nylon and rubber high-traction lugged outsole
* Mid-foot scuff guard
* Accommodates steel toe spikes
* Molded EVA footbed with medium arch support
* 355 grams (size 42)
* 2 Bolt Mountain
* 39 – 50 whole sizes only
If performance means 'ability to turn leg power into pedal propulsion', then they're not as good as your typical stiff-soled racing slippers. But assess performance more broadly, in terms of versatility and sheer enjoyment, they're definitely a solid eight.
Synthetic upper seems tough and there are rubber bumpers to protect the toes and heels.
Also bang on for me, though some consumer reviewers report needing to go up a size, especially if riding with thick winter socks.
Not feathery, but not unreasonable.
Properly ride-all-day comfortable.
Much as I like wearing the Privateers, £125 is quite a lot for shoes that lack high-tech refinements like carbon fibre soles and ratchet dials. Wiggle's dhb Dorica lace-up shoes, for example, have a nominal list price of £70 and currently go for £45. On the other hand, a pair of Quoc Gran Tourers will set you back £219, which makes the Privateers look cheap.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Fit, comfort, easy walkability, tweakable fit thanks to laces.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Gravel green is already a cliché, but at least you can also get black.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
See comments on value.
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
These are simply very good shoes for a wide range of uses.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb,
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.