Lids and Kicks and Sh!ts and Giggles – First Impressions of the Giro Synthe and Empire VR90 Shoes

I’ve had a bit of time now to use the Giro Synthe helmet and Empire VR90 shoes whose arrival I professed to keenly awaiting a while back, so here’s a quick review of my thoughts so far on the two.

Giro Synthe Helmet

The Giro Synthe is an expensive lid, but fits amazingly and is exceptionally light. To quote Ned Flanders, “It’s like wearing nothing at all”. I cannot profess to the aerodynamic claims of the helmet as I don’t road race or typically participate in events where aerodynamic savings come into play, but it sure looks fast, so I’ll take Giro’s word for it. The helmet’s retention system is designed in a way that allows the helmet to levitate a bit and not squish directly against your skull, and as a result the aeration and venting is outstanding and almost too good – on a couple of chilly rides I was secretly wishing for a cap.

On this windy and wet day at the Ghost of Gravel race, the Synthe and Empire VR90s made the suffering a little more tolerable

On this windy and wet day at the Ghost of Gravel race, the Synthe and Empire VR90s made the suffering a little more tolerable (photo credit: E. Bakke)


Greazy Panda - always testing manufactures claims for the benefit of others.

Greazy Panda – always testing manufactures claims for the benefit of others.

On the safety side of things, unselfish as he is and clearly for everyone else’s benefit, Greazy Panda made sure to test the safety and impact protectiveness of the helmet by launching head-first into a tree the first time he wore it, and the helmet did its due diligence by taking the full brunt of the collision and leaving the rider uninjured and unscathed. It can be a worry for some that a helmet this light and racer oriented may not be sturdy enough to provide proper head protection, but this is clearly not the case with the Giro Synthe. Superb helmet! Order now! Redbike phone operators are standing by to take your call!

A Giro Synthe Haiku

So comfortable

Light and aerodynamic

My head is chilly

Giro Empire VR90 Mountain Bike Shoes

I’m really enjoying the Empire VR90 shoes so far. Even though I’m not one for attention, I really like the eye-catching colour scheme, and I will admit to slightly enjoying the “ooohs” and gawking the first time I showed up to the start line in them. They feel just like my most comfortable walking shoes, but while maintaining the stiffness and performance needed for a race-level cycling shoe. There must be some wizardry and sorcery in the design and manufacturing process somewhere. I wasn’t sure how laces on a cycling shoe would pan out; however, the ability for laces to fine tune the fit and snugness exactly where you’d like is not just an empty claim, but actually a very true and really beneficial feature. As with other high end Giro shoes released in the past, they come with three different arch support inserts so you can further fine tune the fit based on your foot shape. On the outside, the lace holes are nicely reinforced and laces don’t slip once you’ve cinched them to where you want them, and there’s a cozy little elasticized snuggy to stow the extra tied laces. I’ve worn them in both uncomfortably hot conditions and rainy/windy/cold conditions, and my feet were comfortable in both, which I can only assume is due to more secret mystery ingredients.

There's magic inside this shoe bag...

There’s magic inside this shoe bag…

The Vibram sole is wondrous, and unlike other mountain bike shoes I’ve worn actually provides traction when you need to scramble on your feet, unlike most mountain bike shoe treads, which typically make it more dangerous to walk than ride. Like the Synthe, the VR90s are also on the expensive end of the spectrum for gear, but with the fit, looks, and features, I don’t even hesitate to say they are worth the investment. Did I mention they come with a snazzy Giro shoe bag and an extra set of laces?

A Giro Empire VR90 Haiku

A glass slipper fit

Maybe made from unicorns

I’m Cinderella

Kokanee Redbike p/b Giro's Magical Unicorn Ingredients

Kokanee Redbike p/b Giro’s Magical Unicorn Ingredients (photo credit: M. Higuchi)

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Foundry Harrow Initial Review

Let me start this off by saying that I’ve been riding the same cross bike for a long time.  I’ve been using a Redline Conquest with a custom build for all of my cyclocross and road riding since 2009.  A buddy asked me how many km’s I have on it and I have no idea, but it’s a lot.

At first I was a little sentimental about the bike and even asked myself if I really needed a new one (it worked flawlessly).  But after Kettle Cross, the Canmore CX race and Cupcake Cross this weekend, I was happy to see the Harrow show up after my race on Saturday (all very rough races).  The Cupcake Cross course was so bumpy I DNF’d when my back started to seize up.  At this point I was thinking about bailing on the next day’s race, but 2 hot laps on the Harrow and I was coming out for sure.

I basically adjusted the seatpost, threw some pedals on, and hit the course.  The guys at Redbike built the Harrow for me and, as always, everything was absolutely perfect.  The first thing that I noticed was that the lateral and pedaling stiffness are considerable but the vertical compliance is outstanding.  The engineers at Foundry didn’t just lay some sticky carbon fiber up in an open mold, this frame is dialed.  With the addition of the whiskey through-axle 15mm fork, the bike goes exactly where you point it and holds a line until the tires don’t (might have happened a few times).

I’ve never really ridden a cross, or road, bike with disc brakes but the Avid BB7’s with 140mm rotors were flawless after a little bedding in.  I’m a big guy (195lb) and being able to single-finger brake from the hoods is something that I’ll now never give up (amazing on bumpy courses).

The drivetrain, being SRAM Red with FSA SL-K BB30 crank, performed flawlessly as expected from such high-end components with the Red shifting being noticeably crisper that SRAM Force. The FSA cranks are super stiff and the BB didn’t make a peep.

The wheels were one thing that I was originally unsure of;  I’m pretty committed to my Stan’s rims with Michelin Mud 2 tires run tubeless. But the Velocity disc hubs with A23 rims felt laterally stiff but not harsh. The biggest eye opener for me were the Clement PDX tires. These things have some serious grip in dry grass and gravel and still feel fast on the straights.  During the next day’s race I really tested the cornering traction and was very impressed.

So, after one very bumpy race, I’d say that I’m extremely happy with the Foundry Harrow. Weight is right around 18lb stock (for a 59) and everything works well together. I originally had plans to convert it to single ring and replace the rims with Stan’s Iron Cross right away. But after feeling how dialed the bike is I think I’m going to leave things stock and really get familiar.

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Josh testing the limits of his new carbon steed on the Rodeo Grounds in Airdrie. (Photo: Masa Higuchi)