OK, so I mentioned I would do a mini review as well, and here it is! I think we've had enough debate as to whether laces are acceptable as a form of tightening cycling shoes so I'll skip past this point as much as I can, but it will be hard to review the shoes without mentioning the laces. If this wee review helps one other person with these shoes then it'll be worthwhile.
A bit of background first I suppose. I've been road riding for the last 5 years, getting more and more serious every year. This year I'm going to be doing much more road racing than before having mainly concentrated on TT's previously. I have pretty strange feet. Both are fairly wide and flat, using Bont's size calculator I was told I'd need custom shoes. My left foot is wider than the right, and my big toe on the left splays out a fair bit when walking or putting weight on it. Since starting riding on the road I've always had problems with my feet, mainly numbness. When racing or really putting the power out my left big toe usually goes numb (with the Bont it was the full front section of my foot than went numb), so for this year I really wanted to find a shoe that would address this problem. My previous shoes were Sepcialized Comp to begin with then 2010 S Works.
Over the course of the winter I tried Bont Vaypor standard fit (way too narrow), Bont Zero + Wide (still too narrow for my left foot), Fizik R1 + R3 (arch too high), S Works (getting there but still numbness evident), and now the Giro Empire. I did also buy pairs of Shimano in standard fit and wide fit, but the styling of those I just couldn't live with. I would have kept them in my mind if nothing else worked as the wide version is the widest shoe I've tried, but ideally I wanted a pair of shoes that looked good as well as fitting well.
I managed to pick up a pair of Giro Empires in Silver for a song on eBay after persevering with the S Works for a few weeks. I'd always wanted to try them them, but most reviews I had seen suggested they were quite narrow so they weren't on top of my list to try. Getting them at the price I did I couldn't resist trying them out as I've always likes the look of the Empires. On un-boxing the quality of the shoe was high and I was impressed by the weight, 20g per pair lighter than the 2014 S Works. That'll be due to the laces then! I really like the styling too, much more individual than a lot of the generic cycling shoes out there. One of the first things I do with a new shoe is to take the insole out and offer it up to my foot to check the width. The Giro insoles are almost as wide as my wide left foot, and a fair bit wider than the S Works. The toe box in the Empire is much more generous than most of the other I've tried barring the Bont. Both the S Works and the Giro have very flexible uppers so the width of the insole wouldn't be as important as it would with the likes of the Bont where your foot is pushing up against carbon, but it's always good to have your foot supported as much as possible by the sole. The uppers on the Empire are really flexible and mold to your feet, the same can be said of the S Works too. Initial impressions were good then and trying them on for the first time they felt instantly comfortable with some nice padding around the heel and on the tongue. The insole is excellent too with a nice metatarsal button and the adjustable instep is a great invention. Comfort can really be dialed in here with the 3 levels of arch support. I'm currently using the lowest support level which seems to work for my flat feet.
So I've been wearing the shoes for about 2 weeks now, probably about 300 miles in them now, and I have to say they're the best shoes for me by far. The numbness in my toes seems to have gone, and the fit with the adjustable arch and the laces is spot on for me. I do think a large part of the improvement over a lot of the other shoes is down to the cleat hole position. They are much further back on the Giro than the S Works, and I wear my cleats all the way back as I think having them too far forward was a big factor in my toes getting numb. With all the talk of the laces on here recently I can hand on heart say that I haven't had to stop to adjust them once. I have a technique that seems to allow me to get the correct tension on the laces for now. This may change when I start racing again and I might want to tighten them down a little bit more for a race scenario, but for now I'm more than happy with the laces as a method of holding the shoes on my feet. As you will see in the pictures I have laced them in an unusual way. I have skipped one of the cross overs at the midpoint of the shoe. I did this at first because I had a little bit of pressure on a nerve at that point so I wanted to give the nerve a little bit of room. Turns out there a few other advantages with this too, first I have easier access to the lace 'garage', second I can take the shoes on and off and the tension in the laces below the 'garage' will stay set. Meaning that I only have to tighten the top 2 cross over on the laces when lacing them up. This makes it much easier for me to get the same tension every ride.
So that's about where I am with them just now. As I say I've not had a huge amount of miles on them and time will tell how they fair for me when the race season begins, but for now I'm happier than I've been with all those other shoes I've tried this winter. One thing I can't comment on yet is the ventilation. I live in Northern Europe so it's too cold just now to go cycling without overshoes, but it's never really hot enough here to worry about my feet overheating. I have read that ventilation can be an issue with these if you live in a very hot environment. One downside I can see is that the laces get dirty pretty quickly. I'm sure after one run in the wet without overshoes would really mess up the laces, but I suppose a new pair of laces isn't going to cost very much. I'm looking forward to racking up the miles in these, and I must admit I'm looking forward to my cycling more and more just now just because I get to wear these awesome shoes!!