The Spoke Word: Giro enters bike-shoe market

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Giro is entering the cycling-shoe market in 2011 with a shoe line that, at the top end, compares favorably in both fit and performance to any high-end shoes on the market. The company invited a few journalists to Livigno, Italy, last weekend, just before the start of the annual Eurobike trade show, for some road and mountain-bike testing in the Italian Alps.

Giro’s designers and engineers spent two years developing this debut shoe line, with most of that time spent tinkering with the fit—a process that included 16 revisions to the last (the foot form around which shoes are built). Out-of-the-box comfort is possibly better than any shoe I’ve ridden. Despite the lengthy and expensive development process, however, the shoes will be competitively priced. The three-shoe road line will range from $200 to $350, while the two off-road offerings will sell for $200 and $280. There will also be one road and one mountain shoe for women.

Much of the fit story lies in the shoes’ carbon outsoles (entry-level versions will have carbon-composite soles). Giro is corporate siblings with carbon-wizards Easton (both are part of the Easton Bell family). That company’s know-how allowed Giro to deliver pro-level stiffness in a sole just 6.5 mm thick. This puts the foot so close to the pedal that Levi Leipheimer, who raced the top-end Prolight SLX (pictured at right) at this year’s Tour de France, was reportedly able to lower his saddle after switching to the Giro shoes.

Where most carbon outsoles wrap up around the edges to both cup the foot and boost stiffness, Easton was able to deliver elite-level stiffness with a design that remains completely flat from side to side. Giro says this allows the foot to spill over the sides of the sole, rather than be pinched and constricted by a rigid carbon cup. This design, along with the shoes’ soft, ultrathin uppers, is the reason behind the remarkable out-of-box fit.

Additionally, Giro uses an offset design on the middle strap of its shoes (all have a three-strap closure) to reduce pressure on the top of the foot. I have a particularly high-volume foot with a pronounced bump on the top and have accepted discomfort there as a part of cycling. My first ride in Giro shoes—a four-hour mountain-bike session in the company’s top-tier off-road shoe, the Code (pictured at right)—involved no discomfort whatsoever. No pain on the top of my foot, and no hotspots anywhere else. This is a hard thing to quantify, but I don’t think I’ve ever been that comfortable in a pair of cycling shoes that I haven’t already broken in.

In addition to everything that’s going on over the outside of the foot, Giro has also created a new customizable footbed that will be included with its high-end shoes and also offered as a $50 aftermarket upgrade. Giro’s footbed approach, which it calls “SuperNatural Fit System,” combines a thin, antimicrobial insole with three different arch wedges—low, medium, and high—that secure to the bottom of the insole with Velcro.

Giro will offer three different outsoles. All will have the same shape and stack height, with the only difference being materials. The Prolight SLX will have Giro’s lightest and stiffest sole (pictured at right), made of Easton EC90 SLX high-modulus carbon. The Code and the second-tier shoe in the road line, the Factor, will have slightly heavier EX90 carbon, while the rest of the shoes will have EC70 carbon-composite soles.

Claimed weight for the Prolight is 205 grams per shoe, and Giro is so serious about hitting that target that any soles more than 3 grams off that target will be used for Factor shoes. Yes, that means some Factor buyers will essentially be getting Prolight soles. But, no, there will be no markings to indicate this. Pure luck of the draw.

Claimed per-shoe weights for the rest of the line are 255 grams for the Factor and 275 grams for the Trans and, on the mountain side, 355 grams for the Code and 345 grams for the entry-level Guage.

Giro didn’t have rideable samples of the Prolight SLX in Livingo, so our pavement time was limited to the Factor (pictured at right). This actually helped for comparison, however, as the Factor is essentially a road-going version of the Code. Fit was virtually identical—including a sculpted heel cup that kept my heels firmly locked in, something many cycling shoes fail to do.

Durability is obviously one thing we haven’t been able to explore yet. But based on first impressions, Giro will be entering the very tough cycling-shoe market with a line that stacks up well against the established brands.The shoes should be in stores by early March.

—John Bradley

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