Cycle Life

The Giro VR90 is a very good mountain bike shoe, especially if you're a fan of laces.     Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Gulley

Giro VR90 Mountain Bike Shoe

The move to laces on high-end cycling shoes may come across as crass marketing. But the fact is, they work.

Forget Velcro. Scratch Boas. Throw out your ratchets and buckles. The latest, greatest in performance cycling cleats is…wait for it…shoelaces.

So says Giro, whose brand new VR90 mountain cleat—the very top of its line—has reverted to good ol’ fashioned strings. It follows on the company’s top road model, the Empire SLX, also with laces, which has gained some visibility thanks in part to the fashion predilections of a certain American superstar.

I have nothing against laces. But what makes me fidget a little uncomfortably is when we go through a whole series of “developments” and then, after it all, proclaim the original thing to be “the new best thing.”

This is a much bigger topic than Giro and its—admittedly very good—shoes. We had 650B-size wheels decades ago and now, after 26 and 29, the mid-size is the hot new commodity. The latest craze in drivetrains, which shifted from 10-speed to 20- to 30- in the name of performance gains, is just 11. And following on the ongoing popularity and ubiquity of carbon fiber as the frame material of choice, there’s now an uptick in interest in metal, with titanium growing again because of its application in the gravel market and several manufacturers returning to steel.

It’s easy to understand why consumers might sometimes feel as if they are being sold a bill of goods. 

Then again, the VR90s are excellent shoes. The upper material, a proprietary microfiber called Teijin that Giro has used since it launched into shoes several years back, is incredibly supple and conforms to the foot as well, if not better, than any shoes I’ve tried. (Though high-end Shimano and Sidi cleats also have very comfy fabrics.) Giro’s carbon fiber EC90 outsoles, made by Easton, have long been some of my favorites because they combine top-notch stiffness with industry-best thinness, which equates to a lower stack height. And the company was the first that I remember to include height-adjustable arches on production insoles, a technology that is the next best thing to orthotics and something that many companies have since copied.

The VR90s also have a nicely molded Vibram rubber outsole, which is tacky and confidence inspiring on rock and loose dirt where many competitors hard plastic soles fail. The addition of a pliable rubber toe and heel cap should help with durability, which was a bit of an X factor on a special edition mountain version of the Empire I rode tried last year. And for such a stiff and grippy shoe, the VR90 is exceptionally light, right at 300 grams (10.7 ounces) for my size 42 test pair. 

Part of the weight savings comes from those laces, which are lighter than buckles and the like. And truthfully, they work well for hard-to-fit feet, allowing for micro-adjustments along the length of the foot. Lots of people love them.

For my part, however, I prefer the ease and quickness of buckles and ratchets over laces, especially on the bike, where I can reach down and make micro-adjustments from the saddle if need be. And in spite of the VR90’s handy elastic band on the shoe tongue to hold the laces in place, I had them work free more than once and begin slapping annoyingly on the crank arm until I had to climb off the bike and fix it.

These are personal niggles that may or may not bother everyone. I know lots of people who swear by the new generation of laces. I also like the VR90s quite a lot: they’re light, trim, they look and feel good, and they’re well designed. They are also $300, a price that means a product has to be perfect (for me) before I’d buy it. And personally, I’d rather have quicker, easier closures.

The bottom line: laces work great. They may even be preferable for some people. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Shoelaces are neither high-tech nor innovative. They’re just another way to close your shoes.

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