Giro has been the driving force behind the bringing back the shoe lace in cycling. This year they’ve gone one step further to make your cycling shoe look like a tennis shoe… they introduced knit. We brought a pair of the new Empire VR70 Knit’s down to Nicaragua this spring to see what this new technology is all about. And spoiler alert, we loved them. Here’s a deeper look at what’s to like.
Details first, and let’s start with the obvious. The VR70 uses a stretch woven blend of heat-treated poly/nylon knit that manages to tow a line between support, flexibility, and breathability in the shoe’s vamp and quarter. By heating up the knit, the polyester bonds with the nylon to create a stiffer, more robust ‘soft shell’ structure. It’s more robust than you’d expect, and does a reasonable job at rebuffing scuffs, sharps, and even a stiff wind while maintaining breathability. It’s all treated with a DWR which keeps moisture and grit from saturating the knit material.
Look closer, and you’ll see rows of holes molded in the knit quarter panels for increased ventilation.
For added support and protection, a rubberized TPU exoskeleton wraps over the lower shoe like a rib cage, joining the facing lace panels. This allows the laces to lock securely over the foot without compromising the stretchy knit. Like all Giro’s Empire line, an elastic keeper cord prevents the laces from slipping into the drive train. A robust rubberized toe cap rounds and heel round out the external shoe.
Pads cradle the ankle and run under the tongue beneath the laces. The tongue integrates with the knit gaiter. Unlike the knit in the body of the shoe, the gaiter hasn’t been heat-treated (and it has no TPU component), so it’s more pliable and wraps comfortable around the ankle.
So let’s talk about gaiters. An avid runner, I love gaiters in running shoes… sort of. The ideal gaiter prevents debris, like rocks and snow, and small twigs, from slipping past the cuffs. But if they don’t fit right, they can chafe, or worse, compress the ankle anatomy, turning your cankles into Oktoberfest bratwursts. The VR70s gaiters fits like a sock (and fit well over socks, which is still sort of a German look). Running up the back of the ankle, a looped tab makes pulling on the shoes a breeze.
But the thing is … I’ve never really had a problem with debris in my summer cycling shoes (winter, yes – overshoes add warmth and keep the elements out). And I’m (personally) not partial to the summer gaiter aesthetic. It’s a departure from the ferociously sexy look of the VR90s.
The shoe rides stiff over Easton’s second-tier carbon, EC70, and makes contact with the dirt through a semi-aggressive Vibram lugged sole. The traction is reasonable and the clearance is plenty. For those looking to get sporty in the mud, the shoe can take toe spikes.
Giro VR70 Knit in the field
I’ve ridden the these shoes on road, gravel, and single track in the rain, cool spring weather and a stretch of massively oppressive dry heat in a Banana Republic. The heat-treated knit does a reasonable job at blocking the wind and the DWR kept rain and road splash from saturating the new shoe. Where they really shine, though, is in the heat and is ultimately the reason you will want to consider this shoe.
Riding in Nicaragua, I wore the VR70’s over four days with a pair of Rapha’s PrimaLoft/wool blend Brevet sock in afternoon temperatures that spiked at 113˚F. The knit material breathed exceptionally well and the thermo formed vents helped spill heat; my feet never felt baked or overly sweaty. The highly breathable gaiters rode unnoticeable, and end of the day, my socks and feet were clean. I was surprised to be honest. I expected some grime to seep through the knit and lodge between the toes.
I paired the shoes with Crank Bros Eggbeater 3’s. Like most Giro’s the profile is narrow, which keeps them off the cranks and turning smoothly up and down the backcountry gravel – even with float in the cleats.
My street shoe is 43 (9.5 in U.S), but I sized up to a 44.5 to accommodate any swelling from the heat. Now, this might be point in the article where I prompt a ton of feedback in the comments from roadies and triathletes about efficiency and watts and stuff. But, I really had no problem. The shoe fit fine and sufficiently locked in the ankle, providing all day comfort in the heat. Come June, I suspect we’ll see a lot of these on the Tour Divide, making their way through the heat from Banff down to Antelope Wells.
Not into gravel? Tarmac more your jam? Giro also released a road version of the knit shoe (E70) and a more casual shoe in the Republic R knit, retailing for $200 and $140 respectively. Check both of those out (and a few more detail shots of these shoes) in this post.