Ridden and Reviewed: Giro Empire SLX Shoe

The all-new Giro Empire SLX

The all-new Giro Empire SLX

When we first pulled the Empire SLX out of the box, we kind of didn’t want to wear them. They looked so amazing, with the shiny, opalescent white finish that we were afraid just putting them on our feet would somehow diminish them. But once we put them on our feet, we didn’t want to take them off.

We were already really big fans of the original Giro Empire, and with the all-new SLX, Giro continues to kill it with their shoe game. When Giro first launched the Empire, we’ll admit we had kind of the same reaction as everyone else: “Really? Laces?” But then we actually got to try on a pair, and were sold. The Empire SLX takes that retro-tech with a modern twist approach and steps it up a notch. Or three.

So if you don’t want to read the full review, we’ll sum up it up right now. 5 stars. Amazing fit, super lightweight, great performance and incredible finish quality. Plus, they look absolutely stunning. Like, Sunday best stunning.

If you want to know more, keep reading below.

The Fit

When it comes to fit, we loved the original Empires. They came pretty close to fitting our very low-volume feet, and the laces actually made it much easier to dial in the perfect fit without having to resort to our usual two-insole trick. Plus, the addition of laces meant that you could really customize your shoes by swapping out for different colors, and trying different lacing and tying methods to maximize comfort and adjustability. Last year’s Empire ACC was a little more polarizing around the office, mostly for fit reasons. Giro changed the last and gave the Empire ACC a higher volume fit, with a wider toe box. Obviously, this didn’t work for us, but some coworkers who found the original Empires a little too tight were overjoyed.

Giro even provided us with this handy guide to custom lacing patterns

Giro even provided us with this handy guide to custom lacing patterns

The new Empire SLX seems to split it straight down the middle, and has a fit that works for almost everyone. We had to lace them a little tighter, but didn’t have to go with a second insole, while our friend with wider, higher-volume feet was also able to wear the same pair without any pinching or hot spots. The toe box is pretty straight down the middle too. Our toes don’t feel pinched, but they aren’t swimming around either. It also looks like the spacing of the two sides of the shoe where they lace up has been slightly increased from the original Empire. This might seem like a weird thing to notice, but we’re pretty sure this is part of the secret of the new, more versatile fit. With more space around the tongue, it means that someone like us can lace the shoe tighter without pulling the lacing eyelets all the way together in the middle, while someone with a higher-volume foot gets more breathing room so the laces constrict less.

Basically, Giro seems to have finally really nailed their last shape with the Empire SLX, and created a shoe  that will work for most foot shapes.

 

By increasing the space around the tongue, the Empire SLX decreases hot spots and stress  from the laces

By increasing the space around the tongue, the Empire SLX decreases hot spots and stress from the laces

The Ride

The first time we wore the Empire SLX was on a 75 mile ride. This might seem like a really stupid thing to do with a new shoe, but in our ecstacy over receiving the Empires, we’d left our trusty pair of Bont Vaypor+ at the office. But fortunately, setting up your cleats perfectly on Giro shoes has never been a problem. That’s because Giro has some of the best sole markings for this purpose out there. The numbered grid includes both fore and after hash marks, as well as left/right. This makes it very easy to reproduce your cleat placement, even if you’re comparing them to another shoe.

The Easton EC90 soles provide excellent stiffness during hard efforts

The Easton EC90 soles provide excellent stiffness during hard efforts

During the ride, we didn’t even notice we were wearing a pair of new shoes (aside from the brilliant, magnificent shininess of them), which is actually one of the highest compliments you can give a cycling shoe. We wore them with some pretty thin socks, but never noticed any hot spots or problems. They shoes felt perfectly broken in from minute one. The only thing we did notice was the new, slightly-grippy material the Giro added to the heel irritated our Achilles tendon a little bit, but it was kind of minor, and after a while it went away.

The Empire SLX is also one of the lightest shoes we’ve ever worn—period, and it breathes really well. Even on some of the hotter spring days in North Carolina, it feels very light and airy on the foot, which is excellent. The sole is stiff, and power transmission feels exceptional, with not a bit of flex being felt through the sole, even when we did our annual Functional Threshold Power Test– which will put all of your equipment through the wringer. The low stack height also puts your foot closer to the pedal spindle which improves power transfer, but it may mean some riders will have to lower their saddle a few millimeters to maintain proper bike fit.

Giro really seems to have nailed the all the details, making these shoes among the most comfortable out there

Giro really seems to have nailed the all the details, making these shoes among the most comfortable out there

A big key to rider comfort is retention. If your shoes are too loose, or two tight, it can ruin your ride. With most shoes, that’s an easy on-the-bike fix. With straps, ratchets, and especially BOA dials, tuning the fit mid-ride is incredibly easy. With laces, not so much, since you can’t exactly stop and retie them without getting off the bike. Our best suggestion is to tie them according to the kind of ride you’ll be doing. Doing a hard, short hammer ride, intervals, or crit? Go ahead and lace them up tight to avoid any heel slip and ensure your foot is locked in. For longer rides though, we suggest scrunching your toes while lacing up and tying. This will create a few millimeters of wiggle room, which will give your feet some room to swell during the ride, avoid undue pressure, and keep you more comfortable.

The Empire SLX not only performs well on the bike-- it looks great after the ride, too

The Empire SLX not only performs well on the bike– it looks great after the ride, too

Wrap Up

The Empire SLX is easily one of the best shoes on the market right now, comparable in quality, comfort, and performance to other shoes at and above this price range. Giro has really refined the fit in this third iteration of the shoe, and it seems to fit a broad range of foot types.

Key Points

  • Great Styling
  • Low weight
  • Very stiff sole
  • Low sole stack height
  • Exceptional fit

 

Verdict

If you’re looking for a shoe where great looks that stand out from the crowd meet pro-level race winning Performance and industry-leading comfort, the Empire SLX is the only shoe for you.

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Introducing CHCB Cycling Clothing

Most clothing projects around here usually start off trying to answer a performance need. More aero, lighter weight, sweatproof pocket, etc… So it’s not too often that one of our employee’s personal projects suddenly gets the chance to be turned into an actual line of clothing.

CHCB got its start when Zach, our clothing product manager, realized that he was having a hard time finding more casual clothing for riding around town in Chapel Hill. North Carolina gets pretty hot and humid, so he wanted some cycling clothing with the some of the performance features you find in bike clothing—like the ability to wick away moisture, but would still look like he was wearing everyday street clothes when he got off the bike. Sure, some mountain bike clothing could certainly fall into this category, but that stuff usually tends to be overbuilt for every day riding.

Zach spent almost half a year working with Alicia, our clothing product developer, to make his idea come to life. After months spent playing with fabrics, materials, designs, cuts and details, they finally came up with exactly what they had envisioned, and the Performance CHCB  cycling clothing line was born. CHCB  stands for Chapel Hill and Carrboro, small twin towns in North Carolina where our offices are located and where most of our HQ employees live and work.

Review: CHCB Crew Jersey

Since Zach was pretty excited about his new project, he wanted to get us riding around in them to see what we thought. Since it is winter, we haven’t had too many chances to test the shorts, but we’ve been wearing our crew shirt pretty much non-stop since we got it. As a baselayer on our commute to work, around the house, or around the office the CHCB Crew Jersey has become one of our favorite clothing items. The fit is superb, and is incredibly comfortable on and off the bike, and the understated, casual design is something we’ve really come to appreciate, since it looks just fine walking around the office, and even better on the bike.

2650_CHCB

One thing we did notice was that the CHCB Crew Jersey got noticeably softer after the first wash. It’s not uncomfortable by any means straight out of the bag, but it got incrementally more comfortable when we washed it. Because it is a wool blend, we’d definitely recommend air drying it, to avoid any shrinkage.

3104_CHCB 2

 

Review: The CHCB VC Shorts

Admittedly, we haven’t gotten too many chances to wear the CHCB VC Shorts on the bike yet, which is unfortunate because we really love the way they look and feel. Stylistically, they look similar to some other casual overshorts we’ve tried out, but the finish and attention to detail is much better. The slate grey is pretty classic and neutral looking, but on closer inspection actually has a subtle texture to it that gives it a really premium look. The fabric is also super soft and has a nice solid stretch to it that we’ve found incredibly comfortable, even when we’re just hanging out around the house. And what do we mean about solid stretch? Well…the stretch moves with you, but it has some resistance to it that gives us confidence in its wear-life, and that it will return to shape after a long ride. We also really appreciate the extra-stretch panels built into the waist band. They’re just as comfortable on the bike as they are sitting at the desk or on the couch, which is a big win for clothing designed for active wear.

Both the CHCB VC Short and Polo Jersey are available in a women's version

Both the CHCB VC Short and Polo Jersey are available in a women’s version

Another thing we loved about the shorts were all the small details, which showed a lot of thought. One of our pet-peeves about most lifestyle cycling shorts is that there aren’t any pockets. The CHCB VC Shorts give you two front pockets—which are a well-pocket design so your phone or wallet won’t fall out. Plus a side pocket for some smaller items you want to keep secure. The reflective back pocket tab will be great for those nights when the ride goes a little longer than planned, or when you forgot to bring your light.

The Jersey is also available in a Polo version with a collar

The Jersey is also available in a Polo version with a collar

Overall

We might be biased because Zach is a friend of ours, but we think he and his team did a great job with the CHCB line. It’s comfortable, well made, and has plenty of little features that anyone on a bike will appreciate.

We can’t wait for the spring when we can put some more mileage on these and wear them around town. In fact, we’re already planning on wearing them in September when we ride about 160 miles to Richmond, VA for the UCI Road World Championships.

 

Ridden and Reviewed: Currie Tech iZip E-Bikes

Who wants to take an e-bike ramble to get BBQ? We saddled up on the last day of our test to go get some lunch.

Who wants to take an e-bike ramble to get BBQ? We saddled up on the last day of our test to go get some lunch.

A LITTLE ABOUT E-BIKES

E-bikes are kind of the hot new emerging technology of the bike world. They first emerged as a kind of in-between, living in the space between bicycle and motorscooter, but have since evolved into some pretty exciting vehicles in their own right. Here in the US, e-bikes are generally restricted by law to a max assisted speed of 20mph.

Not to be confused with electronic drivetrains, such as Di2 and EPS, which only use electronics to shift gears, e-bikes actually incorporate a propulsion motor into the hub of the wheel, and use an electrical motor to assist the rider while pedaling. The bikes usually do have a throttle mode to help you get things going, but generally the motor only assists you in the pedaling, it doesn’t do all the work for you. This makes e-bikes ideal for occasional riders, urban commuters, or those who don’t necessarily want a car, but want something more efficient than a standard bicycles for transportation.

I had a chance to test out the Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike during bike to work week, and definitely put the bike through its paces, and my coworker did the same with the Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike. These e-bikes definitely attracted a few looks from passers-by while we rode along at cruising speed, but read on below to find out how our test-rides worked out.

THE BIKES

Currie E3 IZIP Path+ e-bike is basically a standard city-style bike with a battery pack, electronics package and rear motor hub wheel. It has an 8-speed Shimano derailleur in the rear, which allows you to select how hard you want to pedal. Also upfront on the handlebars are a digital display that can display speed, distance traveled, battery charge remaining, and more. On the left hand, instead a front derailleur shifter, there is a digital control unit that lets you select the level of pedal assist, switch through the information screens, and turn the system on and off.

The bike comes with an included rear rack with an integrated battery pack.  It does weigh a fair amount—a bit over 50 pounds, depending on the size (our bike scale did actually go up that high, surprisingly), almost all of it in the battery and motor. Because of the weight, we found it necessary to keep the pedal assist on pretty much all the time.

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The Currie IZIP E3 Zuma e-bike featured more of a beach cruiser style frame design, with an upright riding position and a battery integrated into the seat tube of the bike (so you barely even notice that it’s there). The E3 Zuma uses Currie’s 500 watt rear hub motor, mated to a Shimano 7-speed rear derailleur and a simple LED control unit mounted to the handlebar (which allows you to select the level of assist that you would like, along with pedal-assist or throttle-control mode).

Maxxis 26×2.3″ tires provided a comfortable ride while also giving the versatility to be able to tackle some light gravel or packed dirt paths. The swept-back handlebars will give you a nice and comfortable upright riding position and the Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes let us easily control speed.

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THE RIDE

While not really designed for the low-density rural area I live in, riding the Path+ e-bike was probably the most fun I’ve had on a bike in a long time. The Path+ e-bike is not your everyday townie bike, that’s for sure, and it takes some getting used to. But once I got the hang of riding it, I came to love to feeling of the gentle assist nudge from the rear wheel with every pedal stroke. It made running errands and getting places by bike way easier. The joke at my house is that we’re at least 20 minutes from anywhere—including work. The commute, the primary route I took the bike on, is about 12 miles each way and includes a long, grinding climb that is locally notoriously difficult even on a road bike.

Even riding into a stiff headwind feels delightful on an e-bike

Even riding into a stiff headwind feels like no big deal on an e-bike

The Path+ e-bike definitely made the commute much easier, and while I do love my commute, the Path+ e-bike introduced a level of enjoyment I haven’t felt since I moved to NC from Chicago years ago. On the mornings I rode the bike to work, instead of wearing my usual lycra, I just reached for the jeans and t-shirt I wear at work. It was a weird feeling to ride a bike in street clothes—something I admit I haven’t done in a long, long time—years even, but I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I broke a sweat at all, and even enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while riding. I was definitely still pedaling, but the motor took almost all of the strain out of it, so I arrived at work feeling refreshed instead of like I’d had a good workout. Even fully loaded with groceries, panniers, and everything needed to ride to work, the Path+ e-bike handled it all, and made even tough grocery runs feel fun, novel, and enjoyable.

I know that most people buy bikes because they want to work out, but that’s not really what the e-bikes were designed for. E-bikes are designed as a transportation solution for urban-dwellers and others who don’t feel they need- or want- a car to go everywhere. On these counts, it hits all the marks.

On a personal note: My wife and I are planning on moving into Chapel Hill proper (where the Performance offices are located) at the end of this year, and we kind of regret that we didn’t find the Path+ e-bike sooner. We bought a second car in October of last year to replace our college-era hoopty. Already having an SUV, we wanted a smaller, more efficient car for around-town and local trips. But after our test-week on the e-bike we both agreed that we may have reconsidered if we’d had a chance to try out the e-bike sooner—especially in light of our impending move. The Path+ e-bike would have easily solved many of the issues we were looking to address with a second car: reliable, powered transportation; an easy, fuel efficient around-town vehicle; and a fast way for my wife to get to work.

The e-bikes really excelled in around-town trips

The e-bikes really excelled in around-town trips

My coworker had a similar experience while test-riding the E3 Zuma e-bike – he used it every day to commute to work over a 5 mile mixed urban/rural route with a few tough hills, and he was able to tackle it with no problems in his regular work clothes. In fact he even shaved time off of his commute using the E3 Zuma e-bike on full pedal-assist mode, with much less perceived effort than his normal cyclocross commuter rig. He also left the bike in max-assist mode all the time – and it was remarkable how big a difference it made while climbing hills. Even when it didn’t feel that fast, once we looked at ride data later we could see that the motor-assist helped him keep a consistently high speed over tough climbs in town.

BATTERIES

Ah yes, what you’re all really wondering about. How long does the battery last? Good question. Like a car, it’s really going to depend on where you’re riding it and how you ride it. According to Currie, the Path+ e-bike should have gotten about 40 miles per charge. If you leave it on throttle mode and treat it like a scooter, you’re going to get less battery life. If you ride it with minimal pedal assist, you’ll get probably more than the advertised battery life.  Because of the distance and terrain I had to take the Path+ e-bike over to get to work, I got more like 25 miles per charge.  It was enough to get me to work and home again, but I had to recharge it every night. I also left it in max pedal assist, which probably didn’t help battery life either.

How much mileage you get out of your battery will really depend on where and how you ride it

How much mileage you get out of your battery will really depend on where and how you ride it

My coworker, who tested an E3 Zuma e-bike, actually got more than the 40 miles per charge—but he used his for more urban-style riding and rode it over shorter distances.

For most people, I don’t think battery life is going to be much of an issue. The on-board computer will give you plenty of warning that your battery is running low, just like your cell phone. If you just remember to charge it regularly, you won’t have any problems.

BBQ tastes better when you have to ride to get there

BBQ tastes better when you have to ride to get there. Though we didn’t quite fit in with the Harley bikers who also rode there…

VERDICT

E-bikes are definitely a fun, pragmatic machines, and something I find myself really wanting. Normally when I express a desire for a new bike, it leads to  eye-rolling and a family meeting, but on the Path+ e-bike my wife and I were much more in agreement. We both think e-bike would have been (when compared with a car) a very affordable, very practical solution to some of our transportation needs.

E-bikes are great for anyone in an urban area who wants a way to get around quickly, easily, and want to expand the capabilities of a normal bicycle (especially in a hilly area). But it’s also ideal for people who don’t ride as often, or want a bike that’s more about having fun and relaxing than pushing themselves to the limit.

Amazing machines and amazing food

This is what an ideal day on an e-bike should look like

But that’s just our take – what do you think about E-bikes?

What Would You Do With a $4000 Shopping Spree at Performance Bicycle?

If you are anything like us, then you can’t stop daydreaming about what you’d get if someone gave you a blank check to update your cycling gear. If you win the $4000 Shopping Spree at Performance you’ll get your chance! One lucky winner will get $4000 in Performance Gift Cards to spend on whatever they would like from PerformanceBike.com or one of our local stores. To get you started with some ideas for what to get if you win, we surveyed a few coworkers here at our home office for what they would get if they won.

Mark – one of our product developers:

Mark's $4000 mountain bike selections

Mark’s $4000 all-mountain selections

Mark wanted to upgrade his all-mountain ride, so he went with a Devinci mountain bike along with a few select upgrades to round out the package: Devinci Troy XP 27.5″ Mountain Bike – 2014Thomson Elite Dropper SeatpostRace Face SixC Carbon Riser HandlebarGiro Gauge MTB ShoesSmith Pivlock Overdrive Multi-Lens Eyewear 2014.

Eddie – analyst on our Marketing team:

Eddie's ultimate mountain bike upgrade selections

Eddie’s ultimate mountain bike upgrade selections

Eddie wants to update his mountain bike into the ultimate race-ready rocket, so he picked a sweet upgrade kit: SRAM XX1 Mountain 11-Speed Mountain Bike KitSRAM XX Front Disc BrakeSRAM XX Rear Disc BrakeSRAM 29″ Rise 60 Carbon Mountain Bike Front WheelSRAM 29″ Rise 60 Mountain Bike Rear Wheel – XD Driver

Eric – Merchant Assistant:

Eric's road bike-centric selections

Eric’s road bike-centric selections

Eric is all about going fast on his road bike, so he picked a selection of aero & power upgrades: PowerTap G3 SES 3.4 Carbon Tubular Shimano Wheelset, a pair of Vittoria Corsa CX III OE Tubular Road TiresGarmin Edge 510 GPS BundleLouis Garneau Course Road HelmetThera-Roll Textured Therapy Foam Roller, and a Luxe Bamboo Go! Towel.

Alicia – Clothing Product Developer:

Alicia's mountain bike, home shop & road training upgrades

Alicia’s mountain bike, home shop & road training upgrades

Alicia wanted to upgrade her mountain bike & the gear to go with it, outfit her dream home workshop, plus get a road bike for training: Park Tool PK-65 Professional Tool KitPark Tool PRS-25 Team Issue Work StandFox 34 Float 29 140 FIT CTD Suspension Fork with Trail Adjust 2014Mavic Crossroc 29 WTS Mountain WheelsetGiro Xar MTB HelmetSidi Women’s Dominator Fit MTB ShoesDakine Women’s Siren ShortsDakine Women’s Juniper Short Sleeve JerseyDakine Women’s Sentinel Gloves, and a Schwinn Fastback 3 Women’s Road Bike – 2014.

Just remember that you can’t win if you don’t ENTER NOW on our Facebook page – contest ends on 5/4/14.

Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

I’m not much of a mountain biker. Mostly, I get my kicks—such as they are—on the road. I dabble every now and again, but nothing serious. That is until the dreaded Polar Vortex (I, II, or III– I can’t remember which now) pummeled our North Carolina office with a couple of inches (gasp!) of snow, taking road cycling off the table. I was getting all ready to not ride a bike at all and go lift, when instead I was given a chance to test ride the Charge Cooker Maxi fat bike on a snowy trail ride. I scrounged around for some ill-fitting clothing, geared up and headed out. I admit I looked at the bike dubiously, but within minutes of getting on, I was sold.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Big fat bike, big fat fun.

About The Bike: The Charge Cooker Maxi is a fat bike with a steel frame and fork. The bike is designed to accommodate massive, 26X4” tires that mount on 26” x 80mm wide Wienmann rims. This gives you the feel of riding a full suspension bike without all the mechanical moving parts. The bike is a beast that can pretty much roll over anything, and is great for snow, sand, loose dirt, or just generally finding your inner-gnar on the trail. It’s equipped with a SRAM X5 2×10 drivetrain (with an FSA Comet crank).

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance, and rack braze-ons make it ideal for bike camping or other off-road touring

Unboxing and Set Up: My Charge Cooker Maxi was already set up as a demo bike, but it should be generally straight forward, since it’s basically a conventional full-rigid mountain bike (with massive tires), so you don’t have to worry about setting suspension sag or fork rebound. The only thing to be aware of is pumping up the tires— they’re so big that even getting to the ultra-low volume of 8-10 PSI can take you several minutes.

I added a set of Forte Platform pedals, bringing the weight to about: 36.6 lbs.

The Ride:  Taking the bike out on the trails in the snow was just pure fun. At first I was a little nervous riding the bike over the snow and compacted ice, but all my worry turned out to be for naught. The bike handled the snow, ice, and buried trail hazards with ease. The feel of the bike is less like riding a mountain bike and more like driving an Abrams tank, sans cannon. It didn’t so much roll over the snow as churn through it, and I rarely felt like I lost traction (actually, the only time I did was when I tried to take an icy corner too tight). I truly felt like I could roll over just about anything—which proved to be the case. Because the tires are so huge, and have such a low volume, the bike can handle rough trail like a full suspension bike—making tackling rocks, logs and trail bumps feel easy and comfortable, but the full rigid frame and fork gave a feel of pedaling efficiency you sometimes don’t get from a full-squish bike.

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike isn’t the lightest thing in the world, particularly if you’re used to a featherweight XC rig, but to lament it’s weight is to kind of miss the point. The fat bike isn’t about winning races, it’s about going anywhere you’ve ever wanted to go on a bike. Even with all that heft, it’s still maneuverable and light enough that I was able to chase down some of that ever-elusive Fat Bike Air at one point. Handling was pretty easy, and didn’t feel nearly as sluggish as I had expected. The bike easily got up to speed, and carried momentum nicely into turns. The mechanical disc brakes provide great all-weather stopping power that easily scrubbed speed and provided well-modulated stopping power when I needed it.

The gearing on the bike is also nice and low, so you can spin at a high cadence, but still generate plenty of torque and power to tackle almost anything in your path. One small niggle I did have was fit. Because of the geometry modifications that had to be made to the chainstays to accommodate the massive rear tire, I found the q-factor on the cranks to be a little too wide for me, however that was fixed by simply switching from clipless pedals to a pair of platforms. This actually turned out to be preferable anyway, since I was able to wear hiking boots instead which were A) warmer, and B) easier to get off the bike and go check out stuff off the trail.

Tackling the snow and ice was easy-- and a blast

Tackling the snow and ice was easy– and a blast

The bike also incorporates rack mounts, which make it almost ideal for bikepacking or really getting out and exploring the back country. With no suspension to worry about, the Cooker Maxi would be a nice and dependable rig for some serious trail trips. I love touring and s24o (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping, so I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of taking the fat bike out and exploring the mountains of western North Carolina this summer.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a fun, versatile, go-anywhere bike, the Charge Cooker Maxi is definitely for you. No matter what conditions or terrain, I have no doubts that this bike could handle them with ease. The Cooker Maxi takes the best aspects of a full-suspension and a hardtail and mixes them together—but with more utility. If you’re not worried about racing, but just want a pure adventure machine then this is the bike for you.

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The adventures on this bike have just begun

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