The Privateer still exists with Giro because of its solid standing as a tough do-everything shoe, an ideal solution for those looking to take their first steps with SPDs or a solid option for even the most hardened multi day excursionists. Think of this as a discounted VR90 at your peril, the Privateer exists in a different league.
All year use
One size fits all insole
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When Giro takes one of the bombproof staples from the middle of its mtb shoe range – the Privateer – and mashes it into the once flagship Empire VR90, which remains the choice in comfort and performance for many professional athletes, what do you get? A super-performance RoboCop shoe that nobody wants or needs? Or a well engineered and comfortable middle-range piece of footwear that takes the very best of both models and fuses them? Thankfully for us all RoboCop will have to wait for another day.
Starting at the top, the most obvious update is the adoption of a laced closure system. Having found its resurgence in popularity in recent years via Giro’s leading Empire line of shoes, the lacing system allows wearers to fine-tune their fit with seven eyelets on each side of the foot replacing the Velcro and ratchet combination of the previous model. It’s a welcome addition in this reviewer's experience: laced shoes hold an as-yet unchallenged top spot when it comes to dialling in fit.
The updated Privateer continues the lineage with a perforated synthetic microfibre upper that always proved to be tough and resilient in the previous design, it’s not the one piece of the VR90, but one can only imagine that’s to keep costs down, and realistically it feels of no less quality than the top end XC/cross shoe.
Ventilation is comprised of small holes that run the length of the shoe from the ball of the foot backward allowing the foot to breathe as you exert effort, although the amount of ventilation is well considered for the intended usage and with provision to be stomping through all manner of terrain; these are year-round shoes and thus you won’t find large panels of mesh as you would on a comparatively priced road-specific equivalent.
The tongue shares in the ventilation with a higher density of perforations compared to the outer and is padded to just the right amount. It feels slim and high end but with enough padding to prioritise comfort over performance, what you get is an all-day wear, without losing feel for the pedal or the amount of power you’re delivering.
Where the upper joins the base of the shoe you’ll find ‘rockprint’ protective patches at the heel and at the ball of the foot on the outside where a toughened layer of material is designed to reduce wear in at risk areas, coupled with a rubberised toe cap that extends a considerable distance from the lower these shoes are built with longevity in mind.
Finally, on the base of the shoe you’ll find a nylon sole that maintains an adequate amount of stiffness for pedalling but enough give for a good bit of hiking/pushing/walking too. Backed up by a rubber lugged outsole that runs the length of the shoe – meaning however your foot comes into contact with the ground there’s grip aplenty.
Sliding these onto my feet for the first time I had high expectations, and immediately felt that vindicating feeling of satisfaction while lacing them up as I could feel the upper hugging my feet in just the right way. The tubular laces supplied are not to be overlooked; they lie flat once tied, evenly distributing pressure over my foot, and remain knotted firmly, so much so that there’s no need to bother double knotting them, especially with the small elasticised lace retention strap on the tongue – a small but highly useful trickle-down from the Empires.
The fit and the feel is exactly what I expect out of the Privateers. They feel solid, a little roomier than pro-level shoes and with a little more give. The toe box especially feels larger, which is great for a shoe that you’ll likely be walking around in, and that brings us to the sole. How hard must it be as a designer to realise a sole that’s both comfortable to walk in and stiff enough to ride in? I found the soles on the Privateers to be really quite flexible – if anything I’d maybe prefer a little more stiffness, but I’ll openly admit that’s a lot down to personal preference and I felt no discomfort while wearing them.
Now I’ve been testing these shoes in some of the hottest weather on record, and they performed OK. My feet were warm, but not sloshing about, and being realistic these shoes will come into their own in the shoulder seasons, with the pared-back ventilation really well suited to British climates and changeable conditions.
While rubberised outsoles are now commonplace on mtb and gravel shoes, it’s still a reassuring surprise when a sole is just so grippy. Having confidence in an off-road shoe that when you place your foot down it’s going to grip is invaluable and I’ve not experienced anything other in the Privateers. A great touch is the midsole featuring rubber too. Even when crossing streams on slick rocks I’ve been surefooted enough.
At £124.99 RRP the Privateers deliver much of the performance of their more expensive counterparts, the Empire VR90. For the hundred-odd pounds you’ll save opting for the Privateer, you’ll receive a shoe that is more likely to be comfortable for hours on end and is arguably tougher.
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