Straight out of the box, the Giro Empire SLX shoes feel hyper-light, impressively stiff, and come with a few niceties that put them strides ahead of the competiton
- Adjustable arch support
- Weight: 256g (EU46)
- Spare reflective laces
- No cleat adjustment built into the outsole
Giro shoes are far from a rare sight in cycling. From the feet of pro riders in the WorldTour peloton to the riders you're currently missing seeing on the Sunday café ride, you're likely familiar with the brand. The American brand with a decidedly Italian name makes some of the most popular shoes in the peloton.
That's exactly why we're looking at them today. We've decided to put them head-to-head against the competition, to get a true feel of what we consider to be the best cycling shoes.
We're yet to use these lightweight shoes, so today we'll talk about our first impressions, give a rundown of what's in the box, and well as go through any claims Giro makes.
The Giro Empire SLX shoes retail at £299.99. Of course, this is a top-tier price for what are top-tier shoes, but with Shimano, Fizik, Sidi and Specialized all positioned with a higher RRP, the Giro Empire SLX sits at the more affordable end of the category. Of course, cycling deals are often easy to come by, and the price you'll pay is of higher importance than the original RRP when making a buying decision. Check out the aforementioned guide to the best cycling shoes for an up to date price comparison.
For your money, there are a few extras in the box alongside the shoes: a Giro-branded drawstring shoe bag, three arch-support inserts, as well as a spare pair of laces. There are also some bolts, although we're yet to work out what exactly they're for.
The Empire SLX might come with a claimed weight of just 185 grams, but they aren't the lightest option in the Giro range, a range which is full of pro-level shoes. The top spot goes to the Prolight techlace, which claims a weight of just 150 grams. Rohan Dennis has long been a fan of the shoe, which uses Techlace technology to achieve the comfort of laces with fast one-handed adjustment of Velcro.
In addition, our tech editor Aaron recently wrote a Giro Imperial shoe review, which features a similar aesthetic to the Empire SLX, but uses Boa retention in place of the laces. Finally, Giro makes the Factor, which is a long-standing shoe within the range that has been worn by the likes of Mark Cavendish. It combines Techlace technology with a single Boa dial to offer three forms of retention in a single shoe.
Design and aesthetics
The Empire SLX shoes clearly have some design considerations, however, the main objective is clearly shaving weight and increasing ventilation. The upper material is made from what Giro affectionately dubs 'premium Evofiber SL breathable Teijin microfiber' and the outsole comes courtesy of Easton's EC90 SLX2 high modulus carbon fibre, which is complete with a mesh-covered vent beneath the toes, and a heel pad, replaceable via two hex-key bolts.
The insole is Giro's 21-gram SuperNatural Prolight insole, which comes with three modular arch supports, and the hardware is exclusively titanium throughout the shoe.
Laces on cycling shoes are regularly met with divided opinion. There's no denying the clean and classical aesthetic that laces can provide, and the extreme levels of comfort that will undoubtedly come via the 14 anchoring points through which the Empire SLX laces travel. However, there's also no denying that laces take longer to tie than a simple twist of a Boa dial or flick of a ratchet strap, and if you manage to over- or under-tighten your laces before your ride, there'll be no on-the-fly adjustment.
Of course, this comes down to personal preference. I've had great success riding and racing in lace-up shoes, but the option to tighten your shoes in the lead up to a sprint finish is something that laces forego.
Unsurprisingly for a shoe that focuses on weight, the Empire SLX forego much of the adjustability that you'll find on other shoes like the Sidi Wire. The one adjustment comes via the arch support, which comes via three inserts which can be Velcroed to the underside of the insole.
This is more that can be said for much of the competition, with Fizik, Bontrager, Sidi and Specialized all making arch support an added expense to your cycling shoe purchase.
Not so much of an adjustment - more a style and safety preference - is the spare pair of laces that come in the box. Instead of the default black option, Giro kindly supplies a pair of laces interwoven with a reflective material. It's not clear how much extra visibility this will actually provide, but it's going to be more than nothing, which is only a positive thing.
Despite the slightly mesh-like material, the upper material looks as though it will clean up quickly and easily, though as ever, we'll be sure to put this to the test once we've put the shoes through their paces.
There are just three colours available, consisting of Carbon Black (pictured), Crystal White, and Iceberg (blue).
Frustratingly for anyone shopping for Empire SLX shoes, a lot of retailers - Giro's own website included - have bundled in both old and new designs into the same listing. Just be aware of this when comparing prices. Like Wiggle, we've split the product as Empire SLX and Empire SLX 2020 to more easily differentiate.
The Empire SLX doesn't come in a women's specific model. For that, you'll have to look back to the former Empire shoe design, of which there are a few variants to choose, including one with a knit upper.
Designed to be a lightweight shoe that offers unrivalled comfort, the Empire SLX uses a one-piece ultralight monofilament 'Synchwire' mesh upper. This is designed around the tried-and-tested design of laces, and paired with Thermal-welded Teijin TPU which offers structural support.
Much of the design is tailored towards reducing the weight, and while they don't sit at quite the feathery figure of the S-Works EXOS shoes, they're also two-thirds of the price.
Weighing in at 256 grams per shoe, our size EU46 test pair aren't quite as aggressively light as we expected. Giro states a claimed weight of 185 grams for an EU42.5, and while we understand that a larger shoe is going to weigh more, a 71-gram increase seems a lot.
That said, the Empire SLX is lighter than any other shoe featured in our guide to the best cycling shoes, with the closest being the Bontrager Ballista Knit, tipping the scales at 279 grams. For comparison, Shimano's S-Phyre RC9 weighed 282 grams, and Sidi Wire 2 Carbon Air shoes weighed a decidedly porky 342 grams.
Like the Sidi Vent carbon sole, the Giro Empire SLX shoes don't offer adjustment for cleat positioning, relying on the adjustment of the cleat itself. However, the position of these holes is positioned neutrally enough to be suitable for most riders' preferences.
There's no stiffness rating claimed by Giro, but the layman's test of bending by hand results in zero flex whatsoever, putting it in a similar position to the Shimano, Sidi and Specialized S-Works 7 options.
At first try, sizing feels perfectly in line with what one would expect. The EU46 is converted as a UK11, US12, and a millimetre measurement of 295mm, which falls between the 292mm S-Phyre and the 297mm Infinito R1.
Tech spec: Giro Empire SLX
- Price: £299.99 / $375.00
- Weight without cleats: 256g (actual, size EU46)
- Outsole: Easton EC90 SLX Carbon Fibre
- Stiffness index: N/A
- Retention: Laces
- Colours: Carbon Black, Crystal White, Iceberg
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