Q36.5 Distinctive racing shoe check: Q for Quirky
Q36.5 founder Luigi Bergamo spent two decades in research and development at Assos before starting his own business in 2013. Given this type of ancestry, it's no surprise to see that many of the brand's garments aren't afraid of pushing some boundaries. One of the most recent developments is an expansion of the shoe store – called Unique – including a gravel-specific model and the street model discussed here.
The design of the upper is certainly unusual (more on that in a moment), but it is the carbon plate of the Unique from Q36.5 that is really new. The front section looks conventional enough, with a stepped profile to provide excellent stiffness in the area of the lugs. Further back, however, there is a “biomimetic” design whose spine-like shape is said to have a “rebound effect (which) leads to more comfort, increased blood flow in the venous return and (and) less strain on tendons and muscles”.
The unique road shoes from Q36.5 are definitely different.
Further details are fleshy rubber profiles on the heel and toe (the heel is replaceable), slotted stud holes for a lot of adjustability in the longitudinal direction and generous ventilation under the toe box.
However, stiff carbon plates are standard for high-end road bike shoes these days, and that's often what sets the various models apart. In a nutshell, there are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to the top design – structured and supportive or softer and more comfortable – and Q36.5 has certainly gone for the latter.
The one-piece microfiber upper replaces a traditional tongue and eyelet holder for a curved slit and stretch collar that extends around the ankle and heel. The upper is generously perforated for ventilation, and the dual Boa Li2 closure systems are supplemented with fabric wire guides to minimize pressure points. In the middle part is a layer of non-stretchable material that Q36.5 calls "Power Wrap" to provide a firmer hold.
The upper offers impressive customization to suit a wide range of foot widths and instep heights, and while the toe box isn't quite as dramatically tapered as other Italian brands, it's still pretty narrow.
At the back is an internal heel counter and a very pronounced cutout for your Achilles tendon.
The insole is downright weird.
While every other brand of shoe I can think of comes with a fairly stiff foam footbed, Q36.5 has teamed up with Elastic Interface to basically make a seat pad for your feet. The Unique footbed is weirdly thick and squishy – just like it's used in most high-end cycling shorts these days – which Q36.5 claims to "provide 10% less pressure on the insole".
The insoles are weirdly squishy and feel like a seat pad you would find in high-end cycling shorts. That shouldn't come as a surprise, as these were developed by Elastic Interface for Q36.5. They feel good the first time you put them on, but both Ronan Mc Laughlin and I couldn't get them out of our test shoes fast enough while driving.
All of this is made in Italy and the retail price is roughly what you'd expect given the sourcing and branding: $ 500 / £ 399 / € 420 (Australian prices to be confirmed). Three colors are offered – white, black and mango – in sizes 37-48, with half sizes 39-46.
The actual weight for my test pair in size 43 is 570 g, including insoles.
Definitely unique, but not necessarily in a good way
Q36.5 sent shoes to both me and tech writer Ronan Mc Laughlin, and we both came to identical conclusions: These shoes are … weird.
They are very comfortable when you first put them on, aided by the practical plastic shoehorn that Q36.5 contains to avoid the lack of a conventional opening. The inside of the shoe is flawlessly processed, the stretch tongue is soft and cuddly and the whole thing simply has that touch of luxury – because they are not exactly light as a feather.
The thesis is flawless. There is no faulty thread to be found.
In terms of the numerical size of Unique shoes relative to other brands, they feel right at home with Specialized, a hair taller than Giro and a bit taller than Shimano. Conveniently, Q36.5 has a comparative size chart on its website that appears to be spot on.
As for the latter form, the Unique can perhaps be thought of as semi-Italian. The toe box is quite narrow and rather pointed, but the middle part impressively accommodates the different foot shapes. Ronan describes his feet as “narrow with a normal / medium arch and tapering to the front with a narrow heel”, while my feet are rather flat and wide, with a minimal arch, a more angular shape in the front and a narrow heel. Despite these differences, we both found the Unique remarkably comfortable.
"Feels like putting your feet in a marshmallow," he said.
Heel hold could definitely be better.
We don't wear our cycling shoes to hang around the house, however, and things started to fall apart for both of us on the street.
The non-stretchable power wrap delivers as advertised and works with the Boa Li2 dials to tightly wrap the center section. The padding under the "tongue", however, is disappointingly minimal – literally just a short flap of foam rubber hidden in the upper – and even if you're willing to turn the Boa dials a lot tighter than you should, it's still in vain as the lack of structure backwards makes your heels slip out of the cup.
The top boa wire also has an annoying tendency to sit over the upper.
"Needs to be positioned," said Ronan. "Difficult on the way."
The stretchy liner doesn't include a lot of padding under the boa wires. In fact, you only get that little neoprene rag that is usually under the liner. It's not enough, and the top wire span often hangs over the top of the liner unless you are careful to keep it in place.
The arch support is also missing. Since the plate itself is pretty flat, Q36.5 relies on the sockliner to keep your arches from collapsing under power. It's far too soft to fulfill that role, however, and Ronan and I both found the squishiness in general to be far from comfortable. In fact, it actually hurt our feet, especially on long journeys.
I found that switching to a set of Ergon / Solestar insoles, with their stiffer arch construction, was immensely helpful in terms of both support and comfort. But while it's good to know that this is a solvable problem, given the ultra-premium pricing, you shouldn't be solving it at all.
On the flip side, the Unique shoes managed to keep my feet from overheating despite the ridiculous heat wave currently raging in this part of the United States, and when I ducked into a grocery store's air conditioning for relief, I found the rubber tread should be reassuringly grippy and stable (although the lacquered sole is prone to chipping).
Unfortunately for Q36.5, however, casual comfort and safe walking don't make great cycling shoes, and these feel like a failure to us.
More information is available at www.q36-5.com.