Giro have been one of our favourite clothing and accessory brands for a while – and today they announced the launch of their brand new shoe: the Factress Techlace.
You may – or may not – have noticed that I’m a pretty big fan of Giro’s Empire cycling shoes, they’ve earnt a spot in a lot of bike and clothing reviews, by virtue of the fact that I choose to wear them all the time. The primary reasons are that the laces allow me to fit them perfectly to my feet, and the soles also offer just the right level of stiffness so that they provide excellent power transfer, without resulting in discomfort and fatigue on bumpy roads. There are a few drawbacks, though: the laces take a little while to tie up (not ideal when riding track sessions at indoor velodromes where they have to be removed every time you leave the track centre) - and though Giro promise the style of the laces means they adjust as your feet swell and shrink, you can’t adjust them as you ride. Also, I don’t like black shoes.
All this considered – I was pretty chuffed when Giro invited me out to ride with them in Switzerland – to test out their new design: the Factress Techlace. This is a brand new pair of shoes, and Giro’s first foray into the ever popular Boa, but incorporating laces as well. The Factress Techlace is designed to offer all the customisation of laces at the front of the foot, with the adjustability of Velcro and a Boa. And they’re available for women in my favourite shoe colour: white. For those who don't want to spend £289 on cycling shoes, there's also the Raes Techlace which cuts a couple of corners to keep the price down.
Describing the motivation behind creating the shoe, Giro’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Simon Fisher told us: “This will be the first year that we have Boa on our shoes, or any dial. We still believe in laces – they’re more aerodynamic, lighter weight – and you get more points of contact. Our woven laces provide ‘spring tension’ - the lace adapts as your feet swell and shrink – we put a lot of research into lace types and without that you wouldn’t be able to get away with not having adjustment as you ride." He added that though the shoes have received excellent feedback and reviews, journalists and customers were still asking for one thing: adjustability “on the fly."
Fisher explained: “We knew consumers were asking for dials and we wanted to listen to them. We didn’t want to create something for the sake of it - we really wanted to do something new, something innovative, and something we could protect. The Techlace is pending patent. The market responds pretty fast, if you don’t have something patented, it’ll quickly appear elsewhere." We assume he’s referring to the way laces have appeared everywhere since Giro re-introduced them in 2012.
Factress Techlace and Raes Techlace: how they work
So – how does the new ‘Techlace’ work? At the front, around the toe box, laces control the width of the shoe and will adjust as your feet swell and shrink in the heat and with effort.
The laces aren't just there for effect – which was my first thought when I laid eyes on them. They offer the same 'spring tension' as the laces in Giro's ever popular Empire but attached to an easy to apply Velcro strap. The laces will also be available in 12 different lengths, so you can control the way the Velcro sits for optimum foot-hugging-action - changing them involves five simple steps and the only tool required is a safety pin (and they’ll be available in a range of colours, for around £3).
At the forefoot, a Boa controls the width, allowing you to quickly lock down and adjust as you ride. Giro worked with the market leader in dials – Boa. The two brands locked themselves into a mutual two year contract and Giro say they opted for Boa because the system allows adjustments in 1mm increments, is intuitive, lightweight – and Boa offer lifetime warranty and global support.
The Fortress Techlace shoes are the top end model - they'll cost £289, are available in sizes 39-43 and in half sizes, and the size 39 weighs 195 grams. They feature a top end Boa IP1 that can be tightened and loosened in 1mm increments, a super breathable one piece upper and media heel scuff guard for 'crank rubbers' plus top end Easton EC90 SLX II soles.
The Techlace will also be available on a 'Raes' platform, at £199, weighing 235g in size 39. These have the Boa L6, which can't be loosened in increments, and the upper is a tad heavier. They also feature an Easton EC70 outsole which won't be quite as stiff but is still quality carbon.
All of Giro's women's shoes use a female specific last (mould), which is narrower at the heel and lower volume.
Factress Techlace: How they ride
So far, I’ve been able to test the shoes out on two rides – one fairly leisurely 50 mile spin with a climb in the middle and at the end, and a second pretty serious slog that covered just 65 miles with 11,700 feet of climbing (though comparisons over beer and pizza showed that Garmin elevation counts vary dramatically…). The Swiss mountains proved a pretty ideal testing location, since the near 30 degree heat made for scorching enough conditions to assess any hot foot or tightness as a result of foot swell.
Slipping the shoes on, I was immediately greeted with the slipper like fit I’ve come to expect from Giro. The ideal shoe brand for you as an individual will very – personally I’ve got fairly narrow ankles and a wide forefoot (according to the expert analysis of the fitters at Clarks in my school shoe buying days!). This mix means I’m pretty much unable to wear slip-on shoes – but that’s neither here nor there, what is relevant is that my varied foot width probably makes a laced shoe my best port of call.
The Boa had been a concern for me. I’ve struggled with Boa enabled shoes in the past (Specialized S-Works, if we’re naming names). I love the efficiency of a Boa, but the placement is often close to the joint, and every time I wear them I find my ankle is restricted, which results in knee pain after a few rides. However, in the Giro version I found the Boa sat further down the foot, about a thumb’s distance from the ankle bone, which instilled some confidence.
Heading out for the first few miles, the Easton Carbon soles came into their own exactly as I’d expected. Power transfer through the Look pedals on my matching bike felt strong and efficient, yet buzz from the road wasn’t equally transmitted.
The shoes felt firm on my feet, never slipping and offering support. There’s plenty of ventilation holes throughout the body of the shoe, as well as some along the sole. However, on ride number one I did notice the area around the balls of my feet felt to be burning up a little. ‘Hot Foot’ is a common affliction among cyclists – and it can be caused by tight shoes. However, it can also be the result of incorrect cleat fitting. In preparation for ride number two, I made an adjustment – pushing the cleats back a few mm to the rear of the shoe. This was pretty easy to match up to my Giro Empire shoes, since both pairs were the same size (40 / UK6) and there is a helpful measurement scale displayed on the sole. This eliminated the problem for me, and I was ‘hot foot’ free on the second ride.
In terms of the Boa question – it’s too early to say if these shoes will create the same ankle restriction and knee pain I’ve held elsewhere for sure. My first instinct is to say that the dial seems to be lower on these shoes, and I don’t expect to experience similar problems.
For me – the Factress Techlace shoes are a hit. Initially, I was sceptical – it appeared that Giro were moving away from laces, and simply keen to maintain the retro ‘look’. Having heard more about the way the laces work as your foot expands and contracts, I’m much more on board with the concept. As a long term Giro shoe/helmet fan, the new addition adds an extra option for me – that matches my needs (eg not undoing laces between sets at the velodrome) and my colour preferences. They’ve got a cool sporty look, that feels a little bit Adiddas, and I look forward to testing them out more. It’s not possible to say ‘these shoes will suit all riders’ – but I’d say that they’re a well-made, carefully considered pair that offer a high chance of a good fit.
What else is new?
Giro did have some more exciting news for us – in the creation of their new ‘Ember’ helmet: basically a more affordable version of their bestselling Synthe.
The Synthe helmet has shot to success over the last year or so – it hits the ideal in that it’s an aero helmet, with plenty of ventilation. It’s also a low volume helmet, meaning you don’t get even a glimpse of the ‘mushroom head’ look that some helmets afford, and it also employs the safety net ‘MIPS’ for extra head protection. With MIPS, it costs around £140 without about £100.
The Ember is incredibly similar – it looks almost identical to the Synthe, but it will retail at a much lower price point - as £124 with MIPS.
And what do you lose for that cost cutting? The Ember is slightly larger, but retains the sleek look of the Synthe, and claimed weight isn’t far off either. The major difference is in the head cooling system. The Snythe uses a ‘rock lock ventilation’ system – which keeps the helmet a couple of millimetres from your head to allow for air flow, and the Ember doesn’t have that. It is however almost half the price – which opens the aero design and sleek look of the Synthe up to a far greater audience.
Read more about the brand, and why TWC love their clothing and accessories so much, here.
Want to know more about road cycling shoes, and the varieties available? Check out this buying guide.