… Okay, so it’s only 2015. But this is the future, after all. I should have shoes that are remote-controlled, that magically leave the garage and find my feet when I clap my hands. Unfortunately, we’re not living the Jetsons’ lifestyle quite yet, but in the meantime, Giro’s new Empire ACC lace-up cycling shoes just might tide me over.
A few years back, when Giro reintroduced a top-of-the-line cycling shoe with laces, it led to an interesting conversation with the marketing guys in which we discussed the benefits of a product that was first patented in the year 1790. Talk about retro; the very idea of a design (with laces!) that’s over two centuries old seemed downright regressive.
Despite these doubts, I was struck by how stylish an all-black shoe could be upon opening the box. The matte black finish is accented with a patent leather “Giro” logo on the outside of each shoe with the same accent material wrapped around the heel. I can tell I am not the only one who finds these kicks sexy, as I answer questions about them on every group ride. (Running more your thing? Check out Why Running With A Group Can Improve Your Performance.) They’re more than just style, though — if they don’t feel great, you’re not going to wear them for very long.
The standard insole is the Ultralight SuperNatural Fit Kit. It includes three different sizes of arch support that attach to the bottom of the insole. It’s probably the best attempt I’ve seen from a shoe manufacturer to include a proper insole for any customer. That’s an important consideration, since if you don’t have enough arch support, you’ll put more pressure onto the ball of your foot, which usually results in either numbness or “hot foot.” Unfortunately for me, I have very tall arches (side note: let the record show that I have quite beautiful feet and excepting one gnarly hammer toe — I could have pursued the glamorous life of a foot model if I wanted to). So, as good as the supports were, I still needed to replace them. I also had to go up a half-size from what I wear in every other brand. Several other riders have noticed the same size difference.
The outsole of the shoes is the wafer-thin Easton EC90 SLX2 sole. The bottom of the sole has a really well designed grid, making lining up the cleats (and matching them left and right) incredibly easy. The soles are stiff, but not at the cost of comfort. I have used these on 100+ mile rides without a single issue. (Nervous about cycling in SWFL? Here’s what you need to know.) The soles are also used on the top-of-the-line Empire SLX that Sir Bradley Wiggins wore when he set the hour record back in June, which also, consequently, makes them aero. The absence of buckles and Velcro gives them a very streamlined profile.
Sleek aero design aside, I had a few initial fears about using laces from a practical riding standpoint:
· I was afraid of needing to adjust on the fly as I do with BOAs, buckles, or Velcro.
· I was afraid of them coming untied and forcing me to stop, or worse, getting caught in the cranks.
Neither materialized. The reason I usually end up fussing with other closures is that a typical shoe has two or three straps. Using a shoelace with seven eyelets on each side increases the number of adjustment points and allows for a much more comfortable fit, which eliminates the need to adjust them during a ride. I didn’t even have to double-knot the laces, because the elastic strap on the tongue of the shoe held them firmly in place. In fact, in the last couple of months alone, I have put over 1,500 miles on these puppies. In all that time, I’ve never had numbness, a need to adjust the fit while riding, or had a lace come loose. (Although not all rides have been smooth for Matt McCain, read Helmet Head: Surviving A Road Bike Crash for all the details.)
The Empire ACC is one of the lightest shoes on the market at 215 grams and ships with a nice shoe bag and three sizes of arch inserts. In addition, the heel pads are replaceable. Without buckles to replace, these shoes should last a very long time; at $275, they are at the low end for most top-quality riding shoe prices. And although they won’t still won’t magically fly onto my feet when I clap my hands, I like where the future is headed—laces and all.
Styling: 5 stars
Performance: 4.5 stars
Comfort: 4.5 stars
Value: 4 stars