The first thing you notice about Giro's Empire SLX shoes when you spin the pedals is just how light they are: at just just 408g for a size 45 pair, they're among the very lightest shoes available. This low weight is backed up by incredible comfort from the lace-up uppers and a super stiff carbon fibre sole that doesn't waste any of your power when sprinting for the line.
Giro made quite an impact and raised a good few eyebrows when they launched the first generation Empire shoes several years ago, successfully reintroducing lace-up shoes to a sport that had largely confined laces to the history books, replaced by buckles, ratchets and dials.
These latest Empire SLX shoes are constructed with a one-piece Teijin Evofibre SL microfibre upper with a breathable mesh liner bonded to the inside. This, along with loads of perforations, ensures they keep your feet as cool as possible when riding in the heat.
The Microfiber Sport laces are designed to remain tied, hold a knot, be light and durable. The best thing about the laces is that you can get the closure pressure across the entire top of the foot just right, with no pressure points that you might get with a shoe that uses two or three focused closure points. Once tied, the laces are contained underneath a 'lace garage' on top of the shoe.
It does take a little longer than a Boa dial system or Velcro, but we're only talking a matter of minutes and there's something quite nice about sitting down to tie up the laces, carefully pulling them taut and getting just the right amount of pressure evenly distributed across the foot, then making a neat and tidy knot and stashing them under the lace garage. A single knot is sufficient, but there's nothing to stop you from double knotting.
On the face of it, the obvious downside to laces is that you can't make adjustments while riding. If you set off on a ride and feel the laces are a bit snug, you have no choice but to pull over and re-tie them. I never actually found it a problem, though, as once I'd logged a couple of rides I soon got comfortable with the shoes and had them dialled in correctly each time.
The fit is extremely good, as close to a pair of slippers as it's possible to get (without being slippers). That means you don't need to do the laces up very tight at all, although even when pulled quite tight there's no pressure at all across the top of the foot. The laces never came loose during a ride, and the lace garage stops them tangling in the chain.
You also get Giro's SuperNatural Fit Kit – a choice of insoles supplied with the shoes and swappable arch support so you can tune the fit to suit your feet.
Don't go mistaking the Empires for an indulgent retro-style shoe, harking back to the old days of cycling when lace-ups were commonplace. These are all about performance. Underneath the shoe is an Easton EC90 SLX2 high-modulus carbon fibre sole and it's incredibly stuff, easily as stiff as any other high-end race shoe I've tested. There's no discernible heel lift during sprints or out of the saddle climbing.
The sole has a three-bolt cleat drilling and markings for cleat alignment. It provides a very low stack height of 6.5mm – that gets you closer to the pedal axle and might mean you have to drop the saddle a smidgen.
Titanium hardware on the sole saves weight, and the heel bumper is replaceable should it wear out.
With an impressively low weight and super-stiff sole, the Empires are as good, if not better, than any other high-end shoes. There's no heat mouldable upper, increasingly common on high-end race shoes, but they're comfortable enough that you don't really need it.
Impressive comfort, low weight and stunning looks, as close to a pair of slippers as you can get in cycling shoes
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Giro Empire SLX road shoes
Size tested: 45
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Giro say: 'At just 175 grams (size 42.5), the Empire™ SLX sets a new standard for lightweight cycling footwear. Yet it doesn't compromise the structure or stiffness needed to put full power to the pedals thanks to a combination of exceptional fit, a new Evofiber™ SL one-piece upper, and the Easton® EC90™ SLX2 high-modulus outsole. And with replaceable heel pads, full titanium hardware and our adjustable SuperNatural Fit Kit, these are full-featured shoes built to win, and built to last.'
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
One-Piece Upper Design Premium Evofiber™ SL Breathable Microfiber Sport Laces: Holds a Knot, Durable, and Light
Easton ® EC90™ SLX2 High-Modulus Carbon Titanium Hardware Replaceable Heel Pads
Ultralight SuperNatural Fit Kit with Adjustable Arch Support Ultralight Footbed with Adjustable Arch Support X-Static ® Antimicrobial Fiber Travel Bag Included
175 grams (size 42.5)
High quality construction with good attention to detail.
Extremely light and very comfortable fitting shoes with the laces offering a genuine reason to ditch buckles and straps.
Have been testing them for nearly six months and not a problem with durability at all. The shiny upper is easy to clean as well.
Giro managed to make these new shoes substantially lighter than the first generation Empires, and there isn't much on the market that is lighter. You really notice the difference when pedalling too.
The laces provide superb comfort with evenly distributed pressure across the top of the foot. No on-the-fly adjustment though. The swappable inner soles provide a nice level of fit customisation.
Yes they're expensive shoes, but factor in the weight and fit and you get a very high performance pair of shoes for the price.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The super-stiff carbon sole is excellent for hard riding and racing, and the upper provides a good level of support, with comfort about as close to wearing a pair of slippers on the bike as it's possible to get.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The laces and the lightness.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Takes longer to adjust the laces and no on-the-fly adjustment. I also ditched the Giro inner soles for a Specialized BG inner sole, but that's for personal fit reasons.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes - not in orange though
Would you recommend the product to a friend? If they want the lightest and stiffest shoe, then yes
Use this box to explain your score
High performance to match the novel appearance, with an impressively low weight and super-stiff sole, these are as good, if not better, than any other high-end shoes. There's no heat mouldable upper, increasingly common on high-end race shoes, but they're comfortable enough that you don't really need it.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.