I got a drinkin' problem, man, one mouth and two hands..."
That catchy Rehab lyric was stuck in my head as I unboxed four different pairs of shoes from Giro. I mean, I only got two feet. So, why would I want to review four different pairs of shoes? Well, because someone offered them up. That's why. This is the clipless (or however you want to refer to SPD style pedals) version of the flat-pedal based line review that Andrew conducted a few weeks back.
Truth be told, I am old fashioned and superstitious when it comes to shoes. As such, a review like this, where I need to set up several different pairs of shoes and pray to the gods of ailing joints and osteoporosis that everything lines up correctly and my knees don't explode into a thousand brittle calcified shards, is something I approach with a great deal of trepidation.
Historically, I have always cleaved toward shoes that are positioned more at the XC race end of the footwear spectrum. I am used to my mountain bike shoes being light, narrow, stiff, sketchy when it comes to walking on wet rocks, and able to fit toe spikes. My go-to for the past several years has been the Shimano XC5. Not the absolute stiffest sole in the range, but otherwise light, skinny, stiff and toe spike friendly. Two of the shoes here, the $240 USD Sector and the $165 USD Rincon, fit that bill to a T.
At the other end of the graph, I have been reluctantly accepting lately that maybe I would be more comfortable when walking, and maybe even while riding, by adopting a more modern 'trail rider"-ish stance. That function has been served with a pair of Specialized 2FO Cliplite Boas that I've been rolling for the past year or so. I still stand by my comment about them looking somewhat orthopedic, but I'm getting used to that. The direct competition to those shoes is represented here in this review by the $150 USD Giro Chamber II.
And finally, the outlier. Neither XC kick nor puffy gravity boot, we have the $180 USD Giro Ventana. No toe spikes, but still a low profile shoe with a somewhat more forgiving, less minimalist fit than the Sector and Rincon. Not as much mass as the Chamber, and a sole that offers a vastly improved walking experience than the XC shoes without being quite as boaty as the jump jam footwear. A bit of a head scratcher, this one. I admit that I am a sucker for the name, living smack up against the Ventana Wilderness as I do, and I'm a sucker for the color.
A brief note about sizing: I tend to have slightly broad forefeet and a regular heel. The Chamber and the Ventana fit my foot really, really well, while the Rincon and Sector both required some finessing to find a balance between heel retention and forefoot comfort. I would classify their fit as very slightly on the narrow side of the regular tap-shoe normal. Also, the Sector, Rincon and Ventana are all available in a complete women's size range. The Chamber II does not have a corresponding women's specific model, but is available in sizes down to 35.
This review was something we set in motion several months ago. But then The Great Cull took place at Giro and Bell, when the entire marketing departments for both brands got axed in a consolidation move, and things went a bit dark for a while there. As such, the shoes arrived the day before I was set to bail down to Mexico for a couple weeks, where I would only be riding flat pedals, and probably in flip-flops. Excuses aside, this is more of a protracted unboxing than an actual "rode them until the dials broke off" kind of review. By this fall I should have some idea what I definitively love and loathe about each shoe, but for now, first impressions are about all I can provide. Let's take a look, one by one.
Giro Chamber II
While this black on grey color might underwhelm, there's some pretty good stuff going on here. First up, the last is mighty damn stiff. In fact, all four of these shoes felt surprisingly similar in fore/aft flexion, and the Chambers might actually be the stiffest in the quartet when it comes to resisting sideways torsion. Compared head to head against my Specialized 2FO Cliplites, the Chambers are stiffer all 'round, and on par for comfort with my well broken in pair.
Vibram has been around in hiking boots since the dawn of time (or 1937, depending how you choose to view history), and has been appearing on mountain bike shoes since, ummm, sometime in the early 2000s. Roughly. More or less. Anyone who can recall the exact date shoe model please shout it in the comments! As a sole material, Vibram is these days maybe not as sought after as Stealth rubber, but it isn't necessarily seen as a bad thing. In this case, the Vibram Megagrip rubber feels a little harder in durometer than the SlipNot sole on my Specialized shoes, but is many orders of magnitude more rubbery than whatever is on the bottom of the Sector or Rincon.
The Chamber insole is a molded, profiled item that looks very similar to the Expert insole found in the Sector and Ventana, and wouldn't be out of place on any high-end racing shoe. There are reinforced rubber toe and heel areas for kicking rocks, along with arch support and a flexible toe zone molded into the footbed. The uppers are made from a perforated "water-resistant, breathable microfiber") that looks like Corinthian Leather to me (that's an attempt at humor. Nevermind). And, last but by no means least, the SPD cleat slots in the shank are milled 10mm farther back toward the heel than other Giro shoe models. This is a nod to the fact that non-racers tend to favor a more rearward cleat placement and this rearward bias allows riders to achieve more setback with their cleat mounting. Ample tongue and upper padding rounds out the Chamber. It's an interesting blend of stiff and puffy. The Giro website lists these as weighing 510 grams per shoe. My own scale weighed a size 44 specimen at 540 grams. Comfortable, solidly constructed, but not exactly svelte. It's going to be an interesting battle between these and my Cliplites.
So, ummm, it wasn't until this posted that Cooper pointed out he had already reviewed the Sector. Last Year. Nobody ever tells me anything around here, I swear. If you want to bypass the rest of this, you can just reread his more qualified take on them here.
While not the highest end, most totally leg-shavey of Giro's XC shoes, the Sectors are only a small step removed; pretty much all XC, all the time. Super light, almost nothing at all in the way of internal padding or concessions to lounge-around comfort, with a plank stiff carbon composite footbed and very narrow, hard rubber sole. As much as Giro softens the language of the shoe's web page with words like "adventure" and "exploration", make no mistake; this shoe is going to appeal to the number pinning set.
The Sector uses a pair of Boa L6 dials that can adjust in 1mm increments to tune in just the right level of snug. Or, if ultimate masochism is desired, they can be cranked down until you hear the bones in your feet start to crack. I have kinda broad feet, so it took some adjustment to find the happy place where my heels stayed snug in the shoe and my forefoot was comfortable. This may also change as the shoes break in. I'm willing to put in the miles to find out, because LOOK AT THE COLOR! I swear to dog I was a hummingbird in a past life. These shoes speak to me.
The "dual injected rubber" outsoles fall on the traction/trustworthiness spectrum somewhere between teak and Swedish Fish that sat outside the bag for a month. The similarly narrow and minimalist Michelin rubber on my Shimano XC5s feels almost gluey by comparison. But I don't care. Because there will be no walking in these shoes. No. I will be flying instead. All the time. Like a hummingbird.
The short version of this would read as follows: Just like the Sector, minus one Boa closure, plus one Velcro strap, minus the fancy insole, and no, you don't get the fancy colors. But you get to keep $75.
In most aspects of fit and finish, the Rincon is very much on the same page as the Sector. It shares the same "one piece Synchwire upper with thermobonded exostructure", the same "dual injected outsole", and if it weren't for the missing Boa closure, I wouldn't be able to tell these two apart. Wait, belay that. The insole! Ah yes. The insole on the Rincon is pretty damn basic. But, hell, with the $75 you save on purchase price, you could blow $40 on some Superfeet or Ergon insoles and be rolling in supreme comfort.
The Rincon also utilizes a Nylon composite footbed instead of a carbon composite one, but I couldn't discern any difference in fore-aft stiffness or lateral torsion. According to my scale, there's only 1 gram weight difference between this and the Sector.
So, ultimately, the choice between the Rincon and the Sector comes down to one's budget, one's Boa preferences (two, or one), and whether or not one imagines he or she is a reincarnated hummingbird.
And finally, we come to the dark horse of this unveiling, the Ventana. Initially, I added these to the order with some reluctance. They looked like they were neither fish nor fowl, not racy enough to be appealing XC kicks, not substantial enough to earn any wannabe hucker cred, not nearly as faux-rugged as some of the great trail shoes of yore like the Terraduro or Shimano's ME7, and I couldn't for the life of me understand how or where these shoes might fit in the whole scheme of things.
So far, I have only worn them around the house. Haven't even got the cleats set up in them yet. And they may already be my new favorite shoe. Gasp. They don't even have holes for toe spikes!
The sole is key here. It's nowhere near as clunky as the Chamber, but it feels about 200% more substantial than the Sector and Rincon, and a whole lot stickier. I have no idea what Sensor rubber is made of, but it feels pretty grippy.
As for the rest of the shoe, it registers almost smack in between the Sector and the Chamber in terms of mass, meaning it gives up 100 grams a shoe to the XC slippers, but is 100 grams per shoe lighter than the gravity boots. Stiff sole, same fore/aft flexion feel as the Sector and Rincon, but better torsion resistance, and it also gets the higher quality Expert insole. There's just enough padding on the tongue and around the ankle to make the Ventana nicely comfortable, but it still retains an admirably low profile. There's enough rubber reinforcement on the toe and heel to engage in mild rock-kicking, and taken on the whole it just screams "SENSIBLE SHOES", but in a good way. My only demerit (so far) is that I would personally prefer two Boa dials to one and a Velcro strap, but that's just me. I know plenty of people out there who would prefer no Boa dials, ever. Choices.
Now, if I could get the Ventana in the same color as the Sector? Dayummmm.