No matter if you're a flat soled, skate-style kind rider or if you wear ultra-light, brightly colored clown shoes, mountain bike kicks often look a little odd to those who don't ride. Giro's cross-country and trail-oriented Empire VR70 Knit shoe takes it to the next level of oddness, though, with mostly one-piece knitted upper construction using a synthetic material they call 'Xnetic.' The result is a sock-like upper portion of the shoe that hugs your ankles like, well, a sock would. And while most high-end shoes run straps or some sort of adjustable buckle(s), Giro has gone with retro-ish laces instead.
All of above adds up to 410-grams per shoe for the size 45s that I require. That's more than the 380-grams that Giro says a size 42 comes in at, but it's still right in the ballpark for cross-country kicks. The Empire VR70 Knit can be had in black/charcoal (pictured), lime/black, or midnight/blue, and they retail for $250 USD.
Empire VR70 Knit Details
• Intended use: cross-country / trail
• Knit 'Xnetic' upper
• Carbon fiber sole
• Lace closure
• Stretch ankle cuff
• Rubber toe guard
• Vibram outsole
• Colors: black/charcoal (pictured); lime/black; midnight/blue
• Weight: 410-grams/shoe (size 45, actual)
• MSRP: $250 USD
The one-piece fabric upper is knitted and then bonded to the TPU exoskeleton.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love a night in spent knitting and watching Matlock as much as anyone, but why the knit construction for a mountain bike shoe? The idea, according to Giro, is that the knit Xnetic material is more pliable and conforming to a rider's feet than the usual way of manufacturing a shoe, and it's also said to result in less waste material during construction.
The open weave uppers should both breathe well and dry quickly, too, and the admittedly odd-looking, gaiter-esque stretchy cuff will keep trail debris out of the shoe. It's also worth noting that knit shoe construction isn't a fresh idea - it's been used for other sports in the past, but this is the first time for a cycling shoe.
There's no traditional tongue to be found, just a stretchy ankle cuff that you pull over your foot using the tab on the shoe's heel.
The knitted upper is bonded to an exoskeleton of sorts made from a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that, at least to my eyes, gives them a look that's one-half futuristic and one-half retro. The laces, which run through the TPU exoskeleton, obviously contribute to the latter, and I suspect that while their appearance is certainly odd, it's Giro's decision to run laces over a strap and buckle system that's most polarizing.
In theory, laces look like they offer more opportunity to tweak how a shoe fits, but I suspect that the more traditional closure on these shoes was chosen because it works with the rest of the Empire VR70 Knit's construction.
Once tied up, you tuck the laces under a stretchy pull cord to keep them from getting sucked into your drivetrain.
The sole is carbon fiber, and Vibram rubber has been laid down over top to keep you upright when you need to scramble up or down something sketchy. There are rubber guards at the toe and heel, too, and a pull-strap at the heel means you shouldn't need a shoehorn to get them on when you go for a ride after Matlock is done.
The sole is carbon, but it's not crazy rigid.Performance
First thing first: Are they comfortable? I've been rocking a set of high-volume Giro shoes for awhile now that are definitely better suited to my relatively wide-ish feet, and they're also wider than these knit kicks, but I found the Empire VR70 Knits to be comfy regardless. That means that anyone with non-freaky wide feet should also find the Empire VR70 Knits good to go, and that's especially true if the temps where you live get high enough to have you looking for shade during a ride - these things breath very, very well. In fact, there were times when I could actually feel the air passing through them when on a speedy section of singletrack.
So, great summer shoes, but maybe not the best come wintertime unless you're down with Wim Hof. I am not, so I'll be using something warmer when it's called for.
Do the stretchy cuffs keep junk out? Probably in the right setting. Do I have that issue with my other shoes? Nope.
They're quite light and sporty feeling, too, and while I'd happily race cross-country in them every weekend, their EC70 carbon outsole doesn't feel quite as flex-free as Giro's EC90 soles or some other sporty shoes. They're still quite rigid, though, but just a hair more forgiving than an all-out race shoe. That slight amount of flex should also make them a bit more comfortable when you're off the bike, but I didn't really find that to be the case; they're not made for walking, and I did get some heel lift when (and only when) I was forced onto my feet.
That said, if I'm wearing $250 USD racy knit shoes, you better believe that I'm going to do my damnedest to not walk anything other than into the post-ride burrito establishment.
And the laces... I'm not convinced. Having spent a good portion of my life in cycling shoes that use multiple buckles, straps, or Boa dials, I can say that the very large majority of them have been very, very comfortable. The Knit's laces are comfortable, too, but they're also more of a hassle than a few straps or an easily-adjustable dial system, both of which can be quickly tinkered with during a ride, and even on the move.
But laces require a full-stop and a sit down unless you get them right on the first go, which I often did. But when I didn't, I had to get off and futz around with them. Also, when I'm done riding, my shoes need to come off quicker than me falling off a skinny bridge, and laces can be annoying in those moments.
But man, are these things comfy. No shoe should cause hot spots, and these didn't either, but the fit feels soft and all-encompassing, like someone with really kind hands is holding your feet and whispering to them in soft tones while you pedal. Maybe not that creepy, but they are cozy as hell. The strange looking elastic cuff kept out debris as well but, more importantly, it also feels invisible. Pinkbike's Take