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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