Giro Prolight Techlace shoe review: Ultralight, but compromised

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Giro’s latest Prolight Techlace road shoe certainly lives up to its name with a stunning 316g actual weight per pair (size 43.5). That’s about 70g lighter than the already-light Specialized S-Works Sub6, almost 200g lighter than Shimano’s latest S-Phyre RC900, and about 60g lighter than Giro’s own Empire SLX lace-ups. They’re so light, in fact, that you’d have to carry an extra pair in your jersey pockets to draw even weight-wise with the Sidi Wire.

Okay, so the Prolight Techlace is wickedly light. But what do you give up in return? CyclingTips U.S. technical editor James Huang donned a pair through the hottest summer month in Colorado to find out.

Building the Prolight Techlace

Giro spared little expense in paring nearly every possible gram from the Prolight Techlace.

For example, the carbon-fiber sole plate is identically shaped to Giro’s Factor Techlace shoe and presumably comes out of the same mold. But whereas the Factor Techlace outsole is made with a more conventional unidirectional carbon fiber, the Prolight Techlace uses oXeon’s TeXtreme “spread tow” composite. This supposedly allows the same levels of stiffness but with fewer layers of material and, therefore, a little less weight.

How much weight, you might wonder? According to Giro, the savings is a scant 10g on average per shoe, but the TeXtreme version costs much more to manufacture — not exactly the most logical move in terms of value, but an easy decision if the goal is shaving grams at any cost.

Giro says the use of TeXtreme “spread tow” carbon fiber makes the Prolight Techlace’s outsole more than 20 percent lighter than the one used in the Factor Techlace model, all without any sacrifices in stiffness.

Similarly, the way the uppers are constructed is anything but typical, comprising little more than a layer of ultralight mesh thermally bonded with a polyurethane film to add some structure. The resultant material is shockingly light, but also unusually thin, which gives the Prolight Techlace a distinct texture. Whereas conventional synthetic leather uppers feel more like, well, leather, the Prolight Techlace material is akin to a recycled grocery store bag: ultrathin, somewhat crinkly, and yet surprisingly strong.

Other extreme weight-saving measures include titanium cleat inserts instead of conventional steel ones, non-replaceable heel treads, and ultralight foam footbeds with non-adjustable arch supports (Giro’s standard adjustable Supernatural Fit footbeds are also included).

Holding your feet in place is a simple three-strap interpretation of Giro’s novel Techlace lacing system, which combines the more even fit of traditional laces with the convenience of Velcro straps, all without any hard plastic bits that can potentially create hot spots over the course of a long day in the saddle.

Giro says its Techlace system blends the even fit of laces with the convenience of straps.

Despite the single-minded dedication to making the Prolight Techlace shoes as light as possible, Giro hasn’t skimped much on comfort. The tongue is reasonably well padded, the rear of the shoe is lined with a suede-like material to keep your heels happy, and as a side benefit to the uppers’ welded construction, there are no noticeable seams on the inside to potentially chafe your feet.

Overall, the Prolight Techlace is quite the engineering feat.

Giro offers the new Prolight Techlace in black, white, and the bright red hue pictured here, with a full range of full- and half-sizes from 39-48 (with the lone omission of a 47.5 size). Retail price is US$400 / AU$ / £349 / €399.

Riding the Prolight Techlace

Naturally, the first thing anyone interested in this shoe will want to know is whether you can feel the weight loss from the saddle — and the answer is, sort of. Riders who are already wearing shoes that are already on the lighter end of the spectrum aren’t likely to perceive much of a difference at all, but the weight loss is noticeable if you’re coming off a set that’s substantially heavier.

To help illustrate the difference, hold one of your current road shoes in your hand and move it in a circular fashion as if you were pedaling. Now hold both shoes in the same hand and perform the same motion. Granted, dropping one or two hundred grams from your shoes isn’t going to transform an average climber into Warren Barguil. But mass is mass nonetheless, and all other things being equal, it’s always better to have less of it if going uphill faster is your ultimate goal.

The uppers are made of ultralight mesh that has been thermally bonded with a layer of polyurethane film.

What’s far more noticeable, though, is how comfortable the Prolight Techlace shoes are to wear.

That upper material may have an odd texture, but its soft hand is also surprisingly coddling, evenly wrapping around your foot with no hotspots or irritating edges. As promised, the Techlace closure system is very lace-like in feel with a pleasantly even hold across the top of the foot, but yet it’s easier to get on and off, and easier to adjust on-the-fly. And while I still find Giro’s forefoot shaping to be on the narrow side, the Prolight Techlace’s more flexible fabric felt more accommodating to me than other Giro road shoes.

In hot weather, the Prolight Techlace shoes are extraordinary with gobs of airflow on tap from the ultra-thin upper material and the copious amounts of open mesh. Even on the most stifling of days, my feet stayed remarkably cool and dry — and as a bonus, the shoes are especially quick to dry out if you get caught in the rain.

Visible from the inside of the shoe are the bands of non-stretch material that are incorporated into the upper. They seem to help, but don’t make the shoe entirely stretch-free.

That all said, it’s clear that Giro has made sacrifices in performance and durability to achieve the Prolight Techlace’s impressive showing on the scale — some minor, some not.

Most notably, the wispy upper design doesn’t provide the same level of support as a more conventional shoe, and feels about as minimal while pedaling as they do in your hands. Your feet can still move around a fair bit atop that fancy carbon fiber outsole, even with the straps pulled tight, and despite the addition of two non-stretch bands on the inside of each shoe, I still never got over the sensation that the Prolight Techlace shoes just felt a bit too soft for my liking.

That feeling of compromised security also carries through out back. There’s little lift to speak of, but the relatively wide heel cup allows for more movement than I’d prefer, particularly as compared to the ultra-narrow and snug fit found in the latest Specialized models.

While most of the upper is decidedly sparse, the heel area is well padded and very soft to the touch.

Arch support is lacking as well. Unlike companies that incorporate some shaping directly into the outsole, Giro adopts more of a Sidi-like approach with a flatter profile to the carbon fiber plate; arch support is instead incorporated into the foam footbeds. In the case of the Prolight Techlace, the amount of support is fixed if you opt for the ultralight inserts. Otherwise, the supplemental set is a few grams heavier, but uses interchangeable arch “cookies” to help tune the shape to your particular feet.

By providing that support via compressible foam, though, neither option offers all that much support for riders that really need it (myself included) as the foam simply compresses and folds over under pressure instead of standing firm to keep your ankles from rolling. I ended up swapping the stock setup for a pair of Ergon Solestar insoles, which have a much more aggressive and rigid platform.

I’m not entirely sold on the whole Techlace concept, either. The idea will likely appeal to riders who need or want to make adjustments mid-ride, but there’s enough give in the Prolight Techlace uppers that it probably won’t be an issue for most buyers. For the sake of comparison, I ended up removing all of the Techlace bits from one shoe and replacing it with a simple shoelace — and I liked it better. At least for me, the resultant fit felt snugger and more secure, and each shoe ended up 6g lighter (and that’s without removing the vestigial Velcro patches on the upper).

In fairness, I do find the Techlace concept to have merit. But I also find that it works better as a supplemental setup like what Giro does with its Factor Techlace shoe than as a primary closure system. Based on Giro’s comments, others feel the same way, and it sounds like a Prolight shoe with conventional laces is in development.

“You are not the only person who did this,” said Giro creative director Eric Horton. “Giro is committed to rider choice, so while we hope one of our styles fits what someone is looking for exactly, we aren’t opposed to experimentation. The Prolight Techlace was designed to explore the limits of lightweight shoes but we still wanted to provide the on-the-fly adjustability which many riders demand. The Techlace system was selected because it is the lightest adjustable closure system in our quiver of solutions. That said, stay tuned for exciting new models based on this ultralight upper material package and Textreme outsole.”

Giro’s Techlace concept (at right) is interesting, but is it better than traditional laces? If you need to adjust your shoes on the fly, then yes, Techlace is definitely more convenient. But otherwise, I found a Prolight Techlace shoe retrofitted with a traditional lace to more comfortable (and more secure).

Finally, the non-replaceable heel tread seems like a step too far in terms of weight savings. Giro says this move saves just 4g per shoe, but the soft material used is prone to wear. Worse yet, the rubber was already starting to come unglued on one shoe after just a few weeks of riding. As impressive as the Prolight Techlace shoes are, they’re also very expensive. Logic would dictate that it’d be best to spread that cost out over as long a time as possible, and given that the rest of the shoes seem fairly durable, it’d be a shame for something that is otherwise so thoroughly engineered to be sullied by something so trivial.

Only for the most dedicated

Giro established a singular goal when it set out to create the Prolight Techlace, and in terms of weight, there’s no question that these shoes hit the mark.

In my opinion, though, Giro has made too many sacrifices elsewhere to justify replacing another set of high-end shoes that may be a little heavier, but otherwise more functional: they’re a bit too wispy up top, too lacking in support down below, and the poor heel tread durability strikes me as an unacceptable oversight for something so expensive.

For riders with very deep pockets seeking to shave every possible gram — or those struggling to find something that can keep their feel cool in extremely hot weather — these are an easy choice. For everyone else, though, there are more sensible options available.

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