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“Those are some Giant shoes.” So said yet another random cyclist in passing. It was a common pun, and one I’d made myself far too many times.
Like Specialized, Bontrager (Trek), and Scott, Giant has thrown its weight into components and accessories in recent years. Such a move is obviously intended to provide Giant’s dealers with a complete product range (and to capture more of those dealers’ dollars), but a move to being a full-service brand is never easy. And in a market as competitive as premium road cycling shoes, Giant has had to work in order to produce something that deserves its place.
For 2019, Giant overhauled its flagship shoe, the Surge Pro, which we first saw on the feet of riders at the 2018 Santos Tour Down Under. Both James Huang and I have had our feet in the new Surge Pros for a number of months, and with a novel sole design and a unique upper, it’s certainly a shoe worth discussing.
- What: Giant’s top-tier road race shoe.
- Price: US$404 / AU$400
- Sizes in Australia: EU-40-48, no half-sizes, High Volume version only
- Sizes in USA: EU40-48, half-sizes in EU41.5-45.5, narrow “Competition” version only
- Weight: 517g (EU43, High Volume)
- Colours: White or Black
- Highs:Unique design, Boa retention, somewhat wide fit.
- Lows: Inadequate foot support, inconsistent global sizing, pressure points, easily scuffed.
Throughout the three tiers of Giant’s Surge range of premium road shoes, there are two common themes, which Giant has dubbed ExoBeam and ExoWrap.
Take a look underneath the Surge Pro and you’ll immediately see one major point of difference. Instead of going for ultimate bending and torsional stiffness, Giant’s one-piece ExoBeam carbon sole is wide at either end, but very thin at the midfoot. The design theory is that your foot shouldn’t be locked to the pedal in a fixed plane, and that naturally, your ankle should move somewhat independent of the ball of your foot. The beam-like shape is meant to remain rigid along its length, but allow some controlled torsional flex between the forefoot and heel, which then naturally leads to the lower leg and knee, too.
With the sole all but missing in the middle of the shoe, Giant instead relies on the upper to provide arch support. Here, Giant’s ExoWrap design uses a separated middle strap stemming from the base of the upper, which is intended to pull and hold the arch up as the shoe is tightened.
In the case of the Surge Pros, the upper is made with a stretch-resistant non-woven synthetic leather with mostly welded seams (there are still a handful of stitches). All told, the shoe boasts a competitive 5.5mm claimed stack height figure.
Retention is handled by two micro-adjust Boa dials, with the lower wire looping through a Boa PowerZone arrangement for adjustable retention at the ball of the foot. It’s almost an identical system to what Shimano uses on its S-Phyre footwear range, among other popular shoes, and offers easy dual-direction adjustment and instant release.
Lining the heel is a one-way gripper material, which looks and feels like a cat’s tongue to help grab the back of your socks. The heel and surrounding edges are padded, adding shape to the heel counter.
Two different fits depending on region
Giant offer the Surge Pro in a High Volume (HV) or a narrower “Competition” fit, but what is available to you is dependent on your region. In Australia, only the High Volume fit is available (which is what I tested), while in the USA, only the narrower Competition fit is for sale (which is what James tested). This decision remains bewildering to us, especially as the information seems somewhat brushed under the rug.
According to Ben Johnson, Giant Australia’s gear product manager, the two shoes are technically the same width, and in many ways, the difference in fit is marginal.
“Both the High Volume and Competition fit options utilise the same MES 2.0 plate design and dimensions,” he explained. “The difference comes with the volume in the construction of the upper through the toe box and mid foot area.”
According to Johnson, the heel shape stays constant between the two fits, too.
“Due to the unique MES design with the ExoBeam plate and ExoWrap upper construction, adding slightly more height and material to the upper translates to a wider feeling fit,” he continued. “The way in which ExoWrap works to create a 360-degree wrap around the midfoot as you tighten allows for a more forgiving fit for people with broader feet in the High Volume fit option.”
Of course, with us having tested two marginally different fits, James and I had varying experiences, but mostly found common ground. As you’ll read, my fit experiences weren’t all that positive, while James found fewer issues. Whether my issues were a cause of the High Volume shoe remains unknown, so as usual, the best advice I can give is to try before you buy.
What’s a shoe without sole?
Slipping on the Surge Pros reveals a fit that’s on the wide-side of race shoes, and even James remarked as such for his “Competition fit” version. The general shape seems fairly comparable to Shimano, with the fit sitting somewhere between the Shimano RC9 and RC7s I also just reviewed.
The Surge Pros certainly offer that intended sense of freedom between the heel and where the cleat sits. It’s a relaxed feeling of comfort and one that arguably eases the role the knee plays for those with lower leg stability issues. However, while the ExoBeam carbon sole may be partly responsible for it, both James and I believe the bulk of the subtle twisting is from the unsupported upper and gentle heel hold.
As a race shoe, you expect a certain level of rigidity and secureness, but the heel of these just feels a little more casual. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for everyone, and for example, to my liking, Shimano’s race shoes are noticeably more relaxed than Specialized’s, with Giant more relaxed and wider again.
The grippy material and padding at the heel stop the gentle hold from feeling too loose, and, of course, the shoe can be cranked snug to further secure the foot. If you often find cycling shoes too narrow at the heel, you may just find true love here.
Giant says that the ExoWrap design offers superior arch support thanks to its separated middle strap (which is something Fizik also claims with its Dynamic Arch Support concept). But in reality, it’s more of a visual difference rather than a tangible one (just like James noticed on the Fizik shoes he’s tested), and the concept only just manages to meet expectation. Tightening the lower Boa certainly pulls this strap upward, but without a sole to provide support, that strap has to hold some serious force on its own, and you can see it straining when putting down power. James even tried his trusty Solestar inserts but still wanted more support.
That said, jumping out the saddle still reminds you that these are shoes built for racing. The carbon sole is acceptably stiff along its length, but not class-leading. And while it’s a function of design, the ExoBeam feature had James wishing for a little more torsional stability.
Despite a general wide fit, the toe box tapers a little too suddenly, and slightly cramps my pinky toes. It’s a similar issue I had with the Louis Garneau Air Lite II shoes. Interestingly, James also tested the Garneaus, and like the Surge Pros, found no such issue. It’s an issue I felt straight away, so if trying them on reveals no cramped feeling, you’re likely in the clear.
For all the comfort the Surge Pros offer, I was distracted by the raised section that surrounds the upper Boa guide (opposite to the dials). This inside edge poked directly into the crevice of my ankle, and I’d feel it any time I’d drop my heels. The shoes broke in with time, though, and this slowly morphed from a cause of pain to a simple nuisance. I complained of similar issue with the Shimano RC7 shoes, so I certainly have a low volume foot that puts my ankles in the firing line, but the Surge Pros are the worst offenders I’ve tried in recent time.
Unfortunately, I don’t know whether this is specific to my High Volume version or not. James found no such issue, but then again, his narrower Competition fit have less material to wrap around the foot.
Similarly, the plastic Boa “Powerzone” guides just above the toe box sat just above my big toe’s joint, and I could feel it through the upper when tight. Loosening the shoe all but solves the issue, but the generally soft upper and hold had me wanting to run the shoes tighter. When snugging down the shoes, both James and I experienced wrinkling that ran from the lowest Boa loops and over the toes.
That desire to crank down the shoes is something James remarked on as well.
“The best shoes I’ve used feel like they’re shrink-wrapped around my feet: heel and midfoot,” he said. “When I tighten down the Surge Pro, I feel like someone is stepping on my feet.”
The Surge Pros offer reasonable ventilation with plenty of laser-cut perforations throughout the upper. However, while the sole may offer one large vent, it’s all but closed off to the wind with only two small passage holes existing in the lasting board within. They’re not a breezy shoe, but they stave off feeling clammy just fine.
Out back, the heel pad is sufficiently wide and there are no stability or traction issues when walking in the Surge Pros. However, that rubber gripper is claimed to be replaceable, but the access bolt is covered by the upper liner from within. Hacking at it with a knife revealed a steel bolt, but gosh, destroying the inside of the shoe to refresh the outside seems like a flaw.
Available in either black or white, the logos on the Surge Pro are subdued, with the single “Giant” branding on the outside of the heel doubling for reflective purposes. The somewhat matte finish of my white samples showed dirt more readily than other white shoes I’ve tested in recent time, and anecdotally, seemed to scuff more easily, too. The finish around the toe is also somewhat wrinkled and a little unexpected for a shoe at this price, although to be fair, in no way does it impact the function.
Looking longer term, the abbreviated sole design leaves much of the synthetic upper unprotected, and so beware if you’re prone to a little off-road treatment with your precious white road shoes.
Premium race footwear is a tough market
No matter the price, there is no shortage of options for quality road shoes. Certainly, shoes are personal, but it seems where Giant’s design perhaps solves one problem, it creates others.
Giant certainly deserves credit for doing things differently and the Surge Pros offer a uniquely relaxed and comfortable fit for a premium race shoe. Whether it’s right for you is tough to say, but if you often find yourself wanting a wider and more forgiving heel, or a performance shoe that just typically feels less restrictive, then certainly try a pair of these on.
Somewhat unusually, at US$404 / AU$400 these are substantially cheaper in Australia than they are in North America. The Australian suggested retail pricing puts them a little below the likes of the Shimano S-Phyre and a good $100 less than the Specialized S-Works 7: a fair place to be. However, the higher US pricing makes them tougher to recommend.
All up, I could wear these without major complaint, but based purely on a few fitting and finish quirks, I wouldn’t choose them ahead of more established options. James and I both agree that while the Surge Pros are on-par with the competition in some respects, they still don’t have any significant advantages to set them apart from the crowd.