Why lace-up cycling shoes can be great

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Giro's Empire SLX shoes have carbon soles, but traditional lace-up closures. And it works. (Photo: R24)
Giro's Empire SLX shoes have carbon soles, but traditional lace-up closures. And it works. (Photo: R24)
  • Lace-up cycling shoes aren’t just for hipster commuters
  • Some brands, like Giro, produce a line of high-performance lace-up shoes
  • And for many riders, lace-up shoes might be comfier and easier to maintain 

 Cycling shoes. Not so much fashion as function – despite the occasionally wild colours that are available.

Whether you ride road, gravel or mountain bikes, the cycling shoe must be light, comfortable and achieve that challenging balance between excellent power transfer and comfort.

Shoes require a stiff sole to convert your pedalling watts to power, but it becomes uncomfortable if a shoe is too rigid.

Then there is the issue of how it secures into position. For decades cycling shoes all had laces like running or other sports shoes. But the desire to have a securing system that can be adjusted while on the bike, triggered the development of velcro straps and Boa tension dials – replacing the traditional lace.

Despite the technological advancement of velcro straps or tension dials, laces remain. And not only as an affordable cycling shoe option.

Giro shoes
The VR90 is Giro's mountain bike version, of its Empire lace-up (Photo: R24_

Bringing laces back

Giro did the unexpected in 2014 and introduced its Empire range. The idea was unusual: premium cycling shoes, with a traditional lacing system and all the carbon-fibre sole stiffness and advanced upper materials of a high-performance cycling shoe

Some riders thought Giro was merely trying to create a retro trend and niche that it could fulfil with product for a season or two. Shoes with laces are simple to produce and often weigh a bit less, two elements that would make a premium lace-up cycling shoe profitable and marketable.

The truth is a touch more interesting.

Giro Empire
Although the Giro Empire range has laces, the soles are carbon-fibre, like any other premium cycling shoe (Photo: R24)

Laces - easy to replace 

I have worn all the securing systems and now exclusively ride laces. The experience that delivered me to a lace-up cycling shoe destiny echoes the design logic of ‘simplicity being the ultimate sophistication.’

Boa dials and velcro straps are great, but they do wear. And if you ride mountain bikes in muddy or dusty conditions, the small clearances and tolerances of these newer shoe securing systems can quickly foul with mud and dirt.

Mud sticks to laces too, but unlooping them and giving it all a quick soak to clean overnight is simpler than cleaning a Boa dial system. Or trying to get the grit out of velcro.

The durability and replacement cost issue was another reason I switched to laces. If you have a failure with a Boa dial or velcro strap, you can’t pop into a rural agri mark and buy a set of replacement parts. But you’ll always find laces.

Giro shoes
When you pay a lot of cycling shoes, it is great knowing that the laces, are an affordable replacement item (Photo: R24)

Finding that perfect fit - with less effort 

I find laces spread my fastening tension easier for a comfy fit. This could be the muscle memory legacy of tieing all my other casual and sports shoes with laces. But it is a natural and intuitive advantage.

There are debits to laces. Sure. If they lose tension while you are riding, it requires a complete stop and dismount to re-tie. But with good quality laces and the tuck-tabs on most lace-up cycling shoes, I can’t remember when I have needed to stop and re-tie my cycling shoes.  

For riders who pedal four- to six-hour rides at a brutal cadence, things can work loose and then the on-bike adjustment of boa dials or velcro closing straps are undeniable.

A significant enabler of lightweight lace-up cycling shoes, like Giro’s Empire range, is for riders who often stand and pedal. Whether you are the kind of road rider who lives for that 10%+ gradient or a single-speed mountain biker, you’ll know that riding out of the saddle puts a lot of flex strain on your shoe’s upper.

A lace has greater surface area than the thin wires used in Boa dials, allowing it to distribute that strain through the upper instead of generating point load pressure and material wear.

For the single-speed riding that I do enjoy, where even the mildest incline requires a standing effort, a lightweight lace-up is ideal. 

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