Issue #015 Review

Giro Empire VR90 gravel shoe on test

Giro have been using shoelaces for a while and rely on this classic fastening system for the Empire VR90. Together with a modern carbon sole, the shoe promises to be highly efficient despite its retro look. Read on to find out how the Empire VR90 fared during the last four months of testing.

Californian manufacturer Giro are known for their expertise in bike helmets and shoes. We were curious to see how the Empire VR90 clipless shoes, which are also available in a slimmed-down version for road bikes, would fare as gravel shoes. Instead of dials, ratchets or Velcro, the € 300 VR90 relies on tried and tested shoelaces, which gives the shoes a certain retro look. The Easton EC90 full carbon sole, which is the same as in Giro’s road bike equivalent, should offer both good power transmission and low weight. Our size 43 test shoes weighed 344 and 345 g. According to the manufacturer, the Vibram sole provides sufficient grip when walking on gravel surfaces. If you’ve got broad feet, you’ll be happy to know that Giro offer the Empire VR90 in a high volume version, HV for short. The combination of traditional and modern technology often makes for an exciting product. Can the Giro Empire VR90 deliver on everyday gravel rides?

Giro Empire VR90 on test

The understated black colour of our Empire VR90 test shoes matches the classic look of the laces. However, if you want to spice things up a little, you can also get them in orange, red or with colourful Giro lettering. Along with the mud spikes, which can be screwed into the toe area of the soles, the shoes also come with three insole inserts. With Giro’s so-called SuperNatural Fit Kit, the insole can be adapted to different foot types for perfectly supported arches. With the range of sizes and fits on offer, it’s important to try on the shoes yourself before buying.

You can screw two spikes into the toe area of the soles for even more off-road grip.
The scope of delivery includes three insole inserts to help you find the ideal fit.

When we put them on for the first time, we had to think when last we had to tie our laces on a pair of carbon-soled shoes. The benefits are obvious. In addition to weight savings and quick, cheap replacement in the event of a defect, laces are able to distribute pressure evenly over your entire foot. Some shoes with dials or ratchets cause uncomfortable hot spots because they concentrate pressure on two or three spots. Of course, the major downside is that you cannot loosen or tighten your laces while riding. However, after a few rides and getting used to using the right amount of tension when tying them, the Giro shoes are so comfortable that you won’t feel the need to adjust them anyway. If the shoe seems a bit stiff and uncomfortable at first, don’t write them off too soon: the upper material stretches a little after the first rides and hugs your feet better and better over the course of the first 500 km. The full carbon sole proves to be stiff enough to effectively transfer power to the pedals when you sprint. When pushing or carrying your bike, Giro VR90s are happier on dry terrain. The Vibram soles don’t offer a lot of grip on wet roots and rocks. As an added bonus for bikepackers and those for whom style is important, the VR90 looks just as good off the bike and less technical than other models with ratchets or dials, making them suitable for a quick stroll through town while you take a break. As such, there is no need to drag along a second pair of shoes, unless you’re planning to do a 10 km hike.

The Easton EC90 carbon soles offer efficient power transmission. Homestretch sprint, here we come!
Unlike the Empire road bike shoe, the Empire VR90 has a protective toe cap

Our conclusion on the Giro Empire VR90

The Giro Empire VR90 shoes have become a loyal companion for gravel rides, daily commutes and also on bikepacking trips. Thanks to the classic lacing system and the stiff carbon sole, the gravel shoes offer a secure and comfortable fit – no more pressure points! With three different insole inserts and the option of a wider HV version, the Empire VR90 accommodates feet of almost every shape and size. However, we recommend avoiding slippery paths, as the Giro shoes quickly lose traction when wet.


  • very comfortable
  • good power transmission
  • various inserts for an ideal fit


  • quickly lose grip when wet

Price: € 300
Weight: 344 g and 345 g in size 43
Tester: Philipp
Duration: 5 Months
More information:

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