What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro Prolight Techlace Shoe Review: Basically Barefoot

Weight spec is 150 grams (42.5) for the Giro Prolight Techlace shoe on their web site. But despite their ultralight upper, updated Techlace closure material and TeXtreme Carbon sole, they missed the mark… They’re lighter.

I remember when Giro was new to shoes…

Despite their solid history in design and execution of class leading products (and a sizable budget), I remember wondering if Giro were making a mistake trying to get into one of the most difficult product categories for cycling.

My wonder was put to bed with their latest Empire models and now, with the Prolight Techlace’s actual performance, (despite weighing less as a pair than some single shoes) I think my “wonder” might be dead rather than snoozing.

Shoes get a real thrashing in cycling.

The shoes and boots we use everyday, even for most other sports only deal with pressure from the body down through the ground (and the tilt/roll/side-to-side movement that comes under athletic use). Cycling has all of that top-down / side to side force and then we add all the pulling up from the cleat/pedal interface as we go through a complete pedal stroke.

It’s tough enough to design a shoe that keeps your feet in a comfortable place with all of these forces trying to tear a shoe apart. Cutting 20-30-40% of the weight from the typical structure doesn’t make the design job easier.

Materials science over the past few years allowed a couple of key manufacturers to help Giro in the design of the Prolight Techlace.

One of the “Halo” materials in cycling right now is Oxeon’s TeXtreme Carbon and Giro are using this in a few of their tip-top products including the sole of the Prolight Techlace.

Oxeon have basically found a way to bake carbon fibers much more thin and because they’re thinner, the layers lie closer together with less room between the fibers. Less room between layers = less room for voids and weak spots. This type of carbon also allows for a higher strength part at the same weight as “fatter” carbon and or a lighter part with the same strength as other laminates.

In the case of the Prolight, the TeXtreme sole is VERY thin, obviously very light and it’s also got a bit of flex to it (but it’s still stable at the cleat fastening area, which gets a textured slip resisting surface).

You might note there’s also a vent hole cut near the toe section. This isn’t one of those faux-vents that some other manufacturers have (where the hole is blocked off either in part or in total, preventing airflow from reaching your feet). The vents on the Prolight Techlace are clean and unobstructed.

That said, there is so much ventilation offered in these shoes that you may not need the toe vent.

That leads me to talk about the other material that stands out for the Prolight Techlace: Teijin’s Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) is welded over Giro’s Techmesh to make a one-piece welded and bonded upper.

There are loads of different TPU materials available. TPU is used for everything from caster wheels to medical instruments to inflatable rafts and mobile phone cases. This TPU version is highly specific and designed to be relatively thin, soft and flexible BUT also to resist stretching (without tearing under cycling load).

What you get from this is a material that forms well to your foot and allows some movement, but even under heavy stress (out of saddle climbing / sprinting) there is very little stretch and my foot stayed secure.

The other benefit of this TPU’s strength is that it’s strong enough to allow for very large sections of Techmesh alone.

Note there is a second type of TPU (black strips) specifically created to prevent resist stretch in the high stress arch portions

For most shoe reviews, light passing through usually = ventilation. I’ll normally show this by holding a shoe up to the sun and photographing it from the inside or I’ll drop a light into the shoe and take a picture from the outside so that readers can see light passing through whatever perforation is passing through a single layer.

With the Prolight you can see clear through the shoe…

While translucence doesn’t always equal ventilation, lots of times there’s a correlation and in the Prolight Techlace’s case it’s a pretty direct relationship… These shoes are fantastically well ventilated.

As should be the case for a category-topping shoe, Giro also paid a bit of attention to the inside of the Prolight… They buck the trend of supplying nearly worthless shoe inserts and actually give a little fitment support.

There are a couple of base model insoles for the Prolight, the basic version (above-left) and a more supportive insole with a slight met-pad that also comes with 3 levels of arch support.

Fitment of the arch supports is pretty simple and the range of thicknesses from low to high offer genuine structure and support.

As long as your mental capacity is advanced enough to “operate” Velcro, you’ll be fine swapping to what suits you.

That said, the foot bed of the shoe itself (the inside surface that the insert sits on top of) is fairly flat and will allow for a good range of custom orthotics to be used.

The Techlace system for closure also uses the lighter TPU material in conjunction with standard Velcro.

I’ve spoken to a couple of Techlace users that wish Giro would have simply stuck with standard laces to give a more secure / tighter fit.

For my purposes, Techlace works fine as I actually prefer a less constricted fit to leave the forefoot area a little less snug than the top section nearest the ankle. That’s fairly tough to do with standard laces that eventually even out tension during a ride. It’s also fairly easy to adjust tech laces on the bike (which is a no-go for standard laces).

The Velcro is secure with this system and there is a bit of padding in the tongue of the Prolight so that the laces don’t bite into the top of my foot.

The heel cup is one area where Giro may have been able to make the shoe just a bit stiffer.

The TPU one piece upper construct wraps around a padded section and there is some internal structure to the heel, but there is a bit more heel movement than other models. That said, there is no heel slip and the heel is secure, so this is just down to personal feel more so than a design flaw.

The internal padding and synthetic suede inside layer does a nice job of gripping your heel…

And as I think about it, having a stiff heel with the remainder of the shoe being as malleable as it is might wind up creating hot spots versus the whole thing having similar flexibility. And shaving weight means that putting in a more substantial / stiffer heel cup would also require a bit more padding and that would mean more weight. In this case it’s quite comfortable once you’re used to the movement.

Giro add a soft tread to the heel…

And toe…

Both of these pads are minimalist and bonded in place.

The heel bumper is the only one that really gets any wear and it’s actually quite soft. It’s not really wearing down after plenty of use, but then I don’t really walk much. The grip is quite good. For those concerned with replacements, Giro do offer a replaceable heel for the Factor Techlace model but not for the Prolight model.

These shoes are so light that when I put them on for the first time, I was afraid to walk around for fear that they would crumble under my hulking 155 pounds. I remember thinking “I wonder if my winter socks are heavier than these”. (My flip flops actually do weigh more…)

Giro spec these at 150 grams for a 42.5 and they missed by a mile in relative “weight weenie” terms for my test pair…

The uppers are comfortable enough that it just exaggerates the feeling of “nothingness” that the low weight gives you.

After adjusting the cleats on a trainer and getting everything fit just right, I gingerly walked outside with my bike and clipped in. Just the “click” from the pedals made me nervous but in a few pedal strokes, there I was rolling down the road and the shoes seemed to be just fine.

A few minutes in and a few more watts applied and I noted that my feet felt like they had room to breathe and I could actually move in the shoe a bit despite the reasonably snug fit.  The comfort is a good thing but it’s odd given so much ultralight “race” type equipment is generally hard-edged and stiff.

Still more watts into the cranks and the shoes were holding on. I was pushing enough at that point that I started having faith that the Prolight Techlace’s could take more.

I hit the base of my interval training hill and decided that, because I had known the guys at True Communications (Giro’s PR folks) for quite a while and they would have given me fair warning if any were needed with regards to the shoes strength, I may as well give the Prolight’s the beans.

A full on sprint up the hill and I noted that the soles had just a bit of flex, but there was no heel slip and no loss of stability.

Six intervals later, I realized how much I liked the ventilation as I could literally feel wind on my feet as I rested coming back down for the next go.

An hour and a half later, after hill repeats, heavy grinding at speed and 20 minutes of high cadence spinning and I’m a happy camper…

I’ve got several hundred miles into the Prolight Techlace shoes now and my fear of fragility seems pretty unfounded. While these are certainly light and I wouldn’t want to go stomping around on any rocks or confuse these for being ready for anything other than road use, I have no worries at all about the shoes ability to handle hard, fast, aggressive riding.

The extra bit of foot movement that comes with this flyweight chassis simply gives me more comfort as I go to work pounding the crap out of the pedals. The flex is just a slight bit of spring rather than anything sloppy and it’s not anything that’s given me a hint of cleat hot spot. The feeling is more about adding a bit of freedom-of-movement than lacking support.

What would I change?

Maybe standard laces would please some folks, but I actually like the Techlace system’s ability to provide different levels of compression in different spots. I do occasionally have to adjust the straps to tighten them again after they settle in on a ride, but it’s a minor inconvenience for having on-the-fly adjustability (get off your bike to do this if you’re not sure of your skill set).

Some might ask for a stiffer overall chassis but then I actually like these for aggressive riding and easy spins as well. The comfort factor is great and the stiffness will be fine for anyone other than those craving / needing extreme stiffness.

The price… $400 is some serious coin but then these are light enough that you can actually feel the difference. We spend Top-Dollar for so many bike products and then can’t feel a difference but these things remind you every time you touch them.

Giro’s Prolight Techlace Shoes are available now in white, Black and Firetruck.

You can get more info at: GIRO.com

• Check prices and Buy ’em at Amazon.com here

Have Fun,

Charles Manantan
[email protected]

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