FLIMS, Switzerland — I have to confess, I don’t love lace-up shoes. They look cool, but I often have trouble finding the lacing sweet-spot and I’m left either stopping mid-ride to tighten the laces or dealing with hot spots on the top of my high-volume foot after over-tightening. Giro, the very brand that made laces on cycling shoes cool again, stands by lace-ups but also admits adjustability is an issue, so they’ve solved that problem with its new Factor Techlace shoes.
It’s essentially a semi-lace design that you don’t have to tie; instead, a Boa closure provides its signature adjustability over the top of your foot, and the laces are fitted to two Velcro closure straps. The idea is to give you that supple, secure feeling over the front of the foot with the laces, but to also combine that feeling with the on-the-fly adjustability of Velcro straps. The Boa provides the exceptional security we’ve come to love, now with a 1mm-per-click adjustment.
In theory, the combination should give you the best of comfort and adjustability with none of the drawbacks. Here’s how Giro got there.
The new lacing setup is called Techlace, and it’s not just a catchy name: Giro has created a patent-pending lace/strap system that lends the benefits of consistent snugness with easy adjustability. The laces wind through lace holes like any other shoe, but the ends (known as aglets) snap into a plastic fitting on the Velcro straps, creating the heart of Giro’s patented system. The laces are replaceable and only take a few minutes to swap out, and Giro offers 12 different lace lengths — along with six colors for as much customization as you want (the Boa dial also comes in four colors).
There are three ways to adjust the Ip1 closure from Boa: Turn to tighten, turn in the opposite direction to loosen, and pull away from the shoe to release the lace. Each turn in either direction offers 1mm of micro-adjustability. It’s quick and easy to do on the fly, so as your foot expands or contracts over the course of your ride, you’ve got fit options while you’re rolling along. The stainless-steel lace is comprised of seven strands that are woven with seven strands; that’s 49 total strands. The whole thing is then coated in Nylon for durability over time in all the nasty conditions in which you’re likely to ride.
The rest of the package
Easton provides the outsole, using its EC90SLX carbon to create a thin and strong platform that sets the tone for this race-ready shoe. It’s mated to a Teijin EvoFiber SL microfiber upper with a gloss finish. And it’s all built around the same last as Giro’s popular Empire SLX shoe, so you should generally be familiar with the fit if you’ve ridden the company’s lace-ups. The Factors, however, fit slightly wider than the Empires. (Giro reps also mentioned a new, wider, high-volume fit is in the works for both the Empire and the Factor.)
At an advertised 210 grams per shoe (Size 42.5), the Factors are clearly a race-bred design, and the $350 price tag reinforces that notion. They are available in sizes 39-50 with half sizes in between, and the Factors are also offered in a women’s specific model called the Factress (36-43 with half sizes).
First (and second) ride
Over the course of two days in Switzerland, I put in about 110 miles and about 12,000 feet of climbing on the Factors. My initial impressions are very good, and the Factors miss perfection only by small measures. While I can’t yet speak to durability, I can say Giro achieved its goal of an exceptional fit and on-the-fly adjustability.
First, Giro made a wise decision using the Empire last. It’s an exceptionally comfortable, wrap-around feel that fits my foot well (high volume but with short toes; I wear a size 44). But I did get some rubbing around the inside of my ankle where the upper seemed to be quite stiff. I’m thinking this won’t be a problem the more I wear the shoes and break them in, but by the end of our big day on the bike (10,000 feet of climbing over 61 miles), my left ankle was definitely feeling the pinch. Expect a break-in period, but if you like the overall fit of the Empire SLX shoes, you’ll be right at home with the Factors.
Onto the big show: the Boa and the Techlaces. I really like this setup. There are two gold-standard shoes on which I base my assessment: the Giro Empire SLX for its exceptional fit and unbeatable style; and the Bontrager XXX Road Shoe for its reliable fit, adjustability, and aesthetics. I reach for the XXX shoes more than any other in the quiver. The Factors stack up and perhaps even beat both the XXX and Empire SLX in terms of fit, comfort, and even aesthetics.
The Boa closure, closest to the ankle of the three securing points, is Boa’s top-of-the-line buckle and works like a charm. The 1mm of adjustment per click is the key here: Where the Empires lack immediate micro-adjustability, the Factors pick up the slack and offer that tailored feel I’m chasing (usually in vain). And you can micro-release by turning the dial the other way, making on-the-fly adjustments very easy. Bontrager uses two Boa closures on the XXX shoes, which offers that adjustability in two locations across the foot; the system works well, but the Factor eliminates an entire buckle, which should in theory make for a lighter shoe. More importantly, the laces help avoid hot spots and create a sort of “hugging” feel over the forefoot.
That’s due to the supple feel Giro promises with the laces. I have to say, they’re right: Laces, especially across the forefoot, do offer an exceptional and consistent snugness. No hotspots, no foot movement unless I want it. And if I do want it, snugging up the laces is just a matter of tugging the Velcro strap. Easy peasy.
I still love my Bontragers, and they’re still my go-to shoes for the moment, but they’ve got some competition in the garage now. Giro has made a lace-up that’s easy to reach for on daily rides, especially for a guy like me who tends to fidget with fit frequently. I’ll keep you posted if the Factors can unseat my Bontragers in the long-term.