The Giro Empire V90 is a stylish, throwback lace-up style mountain bike shoe that is full of modern touches. It is incredibly comfortable and the laces allow for outstanding flexibility when dialing in the fit, keeping the rider comfortable hour after hour. However, it is not as stiff as comparable shoes and is not nearly as breathable as the other shoes in this test.
Compared to some of the other shoes in this test, the Giro Empire V90 is nothing to write home about in terms of stiffness. However, just because it is not the stiffest shoe in the test does not mean that it totally lacks in power transfer. The shoe hits a sweet spot of stiffness and comfort, the Easton Carbon sole is plenty stiff for all but the most demanding racers, while the Vibram outsole provides solid grip for hike-a-bike sections. In those circumstances, the sole flexes enough to make walking tolerable. The combination of the supple upper and laces means the shoe stayed locked on our testers feet, with no wasted motion of feet sliding inside the shoe. So, while not the outright stiffest shoe out there, the Empire V90 more than holds its own.
The fit and comfort of the Giro Empire V90 is nearly unparalleled. It features a one-piece upper made of a breathable Evofiber that conforms to the rider’s foot. One tester described it as feeling as if her foot was “ensconced in velvet.” Despite feeling so plush, the upper retains enough stiffness for quality foot retention and is not overly soft. The insole is also surprisingly cushy for one that comes from a manufacturer and features adjustable arch support too. Our testers found the shoes ran true to size, which is always a big bonus. There are not many nits to pick with the fit of this model.
The Giro Empire V90 has the most unique closure system on any high-end shoes currently on the market. Instead of BOA and Velcro it uses laces, an age old technology long since abandoned in the cycling world. Using laces seemed like merely a throwback gimmick, but after spending some time with them, our testers agree that there is something to this approach. Laces allow for more micro adjustment than even the BOA system, with individual sections tightened or loosened depending on fit preferences. The uppers of the shoes do not stretch and the laces stay tight, meaning that once they are tied, the fit stays set. The major downside of this approach is that it is impossible to adjust while riding, unless you have incredible handling skills on smooth trails. Therefore, additional care is needed when initially tying the shoes. A few of our testers also complained about the laces being too long, with unwieldy loops and extra lace after tying, although this is easily fixed with a knife.
The construction of these shoes is top notch, with almost no wear visible after our testing period. The upper looks nearly brand new, and the bonding on the sole still looks solid. Our testers have reported issues with other Giro shoes separating at the sole, but these shoes show no sign of that happening. We cannot speak to their long-term durability when exposed to frequent hike-a-bike sessions, but even then the Vibram outsole should last for quite some time.
Breathability is one of the Giro Empire V90’s major flaws. Our testers did not find them to be nearly as breathable as some of the alternatives, particularly on hot days with our black test shoes. Giro claims that the upper is breathable, but it is so thick that any breathability in the fabric is negated by sheer volume. They certainly aren’t an oven of a shoe, but compared to some of the more airy models in this test, they lagged far behind.
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HOW WE TESTED
To conduct this test the shoes were tested over a season of riding in Western Montana, on all types of trails, including plenty of hike-a-bike slogs and long days in the saddle. All of these shoes are very high quality and would serve people well for day-to-day riding, but after a season on the bike, we discovered a number of subtle differences noted in each of the individual reviews.