Q36.5 Unique road shoe review: Q for Quirky

Definitely unique, but not necessarily always in a good way.

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Q36.5 founder Luigi Bergamo spent two decades in research and development at Assos before going out on his own in 2013. Given that sort of lineage, it’s not a surprise to see that much of the brand’s clothing isn’t afraid to push some boundaries. One of the most recent development is an expansion into footwear — called Unique — including a gravel-specific model and the road model reviewed here.

The upper design is certainly unusual (more on that in a bit), but it’s the carbon plate of Q36.5’s Unique that’s truly novel. The forward section looks conventional enough, with a stepped profile to provide excellent stiffness around the cleat area. Further back, however, is a “biomimetic” design whose spine-like shape supposedly creates a “rebound effect [that] results in greater comfort, increased blood flow in venous return, [and] less tendon and muscle overload.”

Q36.5’s Unique road shoes are definitely different.

Dressing things up further are meaty rubber treads at the heel and toe (the heel one is replaceable), slotted cleat holes for lots of fore-aft adjustability, and a generously sized vent under the toe box.

Stiff carbon plates are standard-issue for high-end road shoes these days, though, and it’s often what’s put on top of them that sets the different models apart. When you boil it down, there are essentially two schools of thought when it comes to upper design — structured and supportive, or softer and cushier — and Q36.5 has most certainly gone with the latter.

The one-piece microfiber upper trades a conventional tongue and eye stay for a curved slit and a stretch collar that extends all the way around the ankle and heel. The upper is liberally perforated for ventilation, and the dual Boa Li2 closure systems are supplemented with fabric wire guides to minimize pressure points. Sandwiched inside the midsection is a layer of non-stretch material that Q36.5 dubs “Power Wrap” to provide a firmer hold. 

The upper is impressively accommodating of a broad 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 fairly narrow.

Out back is an internal heel counter and a very pronounced cutout for your Achilles tendon.

The insole is downright weird. 

Whereas every other shoe brand I can think of goes with a fairly firm foam footbed, Q36.5 has partnered with Elastic Interface to basically make a chamois for your feet. The Unique footbed is strangely thick and squishy — just like the insert in most higher-end cycling shorts these days — which Q36.5 claims “ensures 10% less pressure on the insole.”

The insoles are oddly squishy, and feel a lot like a chamois you’d find in higher-end cycling shorts. That shouldn’t come as a surprise given these are made for Q36.5 by Elastic Interface. They feel nice when you first put on the shoes, but both Ronan Mc Laughlin and I couldn’t get them out of our test shoes fast enough when it came time to ride.

All of this is manufactured in Italy, and retail price is about what you’d expect given the sourcing and brand: US$500 / £399 / €420 (Australian pricing is to be confirmed). Three colors are offered — white, black, and mango — in sizes from 37-48, with half sizes from 39-46.

Actual weight for my size 43 test pair 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’re quite comfortable when you first slip them on, aided by the handy plastic shoehorn that Q36.5 includes to help you deal with the lack of a conventional opening. The inside of the shoe is impeccably finished, the stretch “tongue” is soft and coddling, and the whole thing just has this air of luxury about it — as it’d better considering these aren’t exactly featherweights.

The finish work is impeccable. There’s not an errant thread to be found.

As far as how the Unique shoes’ numerical size relates to other brands, they feel about spot-on with Specialized, a hair bigger than Giro, and a fair bit bigger than Shimano. Conveniently, Q36.5 has a comparative size chart on its website that seems just about right.

In terms of the last shape, you can perhaps think of the Unique as being sort of semi-Italian. The toe box is fairly narrow and quite tapered, but the midsection is impressively accommodating of different foot shapes. Ronan characterizes his feet as “narrow with a normal/medium arch, and tapered up front with a narrow heel,” whereas my feet are rather flat and wide, with a minimal arch, a more squared-off shape up front, and a narrow heel. Yet despite those differences, we both found the Unique to be remarkably comfy.

“Feels like putting your feet in a marshmallow,” he said.

Heel hold could definitely be better.

We don’t wear our cycling shoes to lounge around the house, though, and things started to fall apart for both of us out on the road.

The non-stretch Power Wrap delivers as advertised, working with the Boa Li2 dials to firmly envelope the midsection. However, the padding under the “tongue” is disappointingly minimal — literally just a short tab of foam rubber hidden inside the upper — and even if you’re willing to crank the Boa dials much tighter than you should, it’s still in vain since the lack of structure out back leaves your heels slipping out of the cup. 

The uppermost Boa wire also has an annoying tendency to sit over the top of the upper.

“Needs to be set in position,” said Ronan. “Difficult on the move.”

The stretchy liner doesn’t incorporate much padding at all under the Boa wires. In fact, all you get is this little flap of neoprene that normally lives underneath the liner. It’s not enough, and the upper span of wire often hangs over the top of the liner unless you’re careful to keep it in the right spot.

Arch support is lacking, too. Since the plate itself is rather flat, Q36.5 is relying on the insole to keep your arches from collapsing under power. However, it’s far too soft to serve that role, and Ronan and I both found that the squishiness in general was anything but comfortable. In fact, it actually made our feet hurt, particularly on longer rides. 

I found that swapping to a set of Ergon/Solestar insoles, with their more rigid arch construction, was immensely helpful in terms of both support and comfort. But while it’s good to know this is a solvable issue, it’s one you shouldn’t have to solve at all given the ultra-premium pricing.

On the plus side, the Unique shoes have managed to keep my feet from overheating despite the ridiculous heat wave currently hitting this part of the United States, and when I needed to duck into the air conditioning of a convenience store for some relief, I found the rubber tread to be reassuringly grippy and stable (although the painted sole is prone to chips). 

Unfortunately for Q36.5, though, casual comfort and secure walking does not make for a great cycling shoe, and these feel like a miss to us.

For more information, visit www.q36-5.com

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