03 May 2014

Beyond Assos, After Rapha? ... Q36.5!

I first met David Marx standing in front of the Nalshima store in Sendagaya over 8 years ago.  I was getting some maintenance done at dusk, having raced over from my office in Marunouchi to get there before closing.  Of course, it was the OLD Nalshima store in Sendagaya, a few blocks off Meiji Dori on a side street, surrounded by non-descript buildings.

David, a long-time resident of Japan and Nagoya, was the importer for Assos cycling clothing, via his company RGT Enterprises.  He was visiting his customer, one of the best bicycle shops in Tokyo, then as now, and a place whose customers recognized the benefits of Assos.  The old Nalshima store was tiny, and in decent weather customers would spill out onto the road in front. After chatting that evening as we waited, we have been friends since.  I remember that David recommended the Tour de Noto as the best multi-day organized ride in Japan. Indeed, David's company, RGT Enterprises, has been a supporter and regular sponsor of the event, which MOB and I rode twice, the second time with Jerome as well.  Tour de Noto was how we met Stephen Coady, Ryoko, James and others.
At Wajima, end of Tour de Noto Day 1, September 2006
David M. persuaded me to try my first Assos cycling clothing, clothes that have kept me in comfort for tens of thousands of miles since -- especially the bib shorts.

So it was with surprise and interest that I heard recently that David would be working with a new line of cycling clothes, with clothes he said were far beyond and better than anything I had worn before.

The brand is Q36.5.  If you take a look through the website, you will get the picture -- this is high performance clothing -- "an extreme vision of the future of cycling clothing."  The theme is maintaining a constant body temperature at 36.5 degrees C.  Serious Italian-styled, European road racer clothing!  It is the vision of Luigi Bergamo, who was previously the head of R&D for many years at ... Assos.

I now have tried out bib shorts, jersey and socks.  This clothing really does feel entirely different than the cycling clothes I have used before.  Thoughtfully designed.  As the marketing information says, the clothes are designed for snugness (though not constriction); ergonomic support and stability, and ease of movement when in the riding position.

Let me offer some initial thoughts below:

(1) Bib Short--the Salopette L1 Essential, described as "the king of the collection" and a "totally new 'feeling' in the history of the modern bib short.  160g.

After 2 rides, this is now my favorite bib short.  They are snug, yes.  And the material has a different feel than, has more grip and is not stretchy like most cycling spandex shorts.  There is some stretch, but much less.  And the weave looks very, very tight compared with other bib shorts; the material quite thin, but strong.  They are a matte black, not shiny.  Wearing them I do not slip around on my saddle, but only move just when I want to.

I used them on last week's ride to Karibazaka Pass and today's ride to Iriyama/Wada Passes.

How do they feel?  Great.  Meaning that I did not notice them at all during either ride.  And they handled the heat very well today.  I did not notice any sweat gathering in pools inside, as I have with certain other high-end bib shorts.  Of course, they have a very comfortable pad -- no friction or chafing.

(2) Jersey--the Veloce Club Bolzano short sleeve jersey, which is "designed to protect and support the rider in the extreme range of conditions experienced in high mountain pass Summer riding, without any weight penalty".

This jersey again is very thin, light and snug.  It has a lot of stretch in it (and it had better, as otherwise I would not be able to close the zipper).  Skintight.  Again, the weave is VERY tight -- different from any other jersey I have used.

The sleeves are very comfortable -- perfect ergonomics in a riding position so not noticed at all.  The jersey, directly against my inner layer, which was directly against my skin, got wet from perspiration once we were working hard on the way to Itsukaichi.  But I unzipped it and it dried in no time.  And after that, zipped back up, even on the climbs the moisture wicked away just fine.  The pockets are surprisingly roomy for a skin-tight garment, and their inside is mesh -- for added ventilation. Plus, of course it is a full zip jersey, and of course it has a zippered pocket on the right/rear--easy to reach while riding.

I like the design and the color.  It would look great, I think, on a somewhat slimmer cyclist.  Nothing skintight will look good on me unless I can lose some kgs and get back down to my Transalp weight, or below.

(3) Both the "compression" and the "Plus" (wool/silk lightweight winter) socks.  The socks are beautifully made.  The "compression" socks are not typical long compression socks, but are ankle high cycling socks, intended to help circulation in the feet.  And the "Plus" socks are beautiful early winter socks -- wool/silk/synthetic blend, very nicely made and warm while thin.  Very comfortable.
Climbing just past Itsukaichi amid flowering trees
Of course, there is another reason to like these clothes.  They are designed in Bolzano -- a town in the South Tyrol, nestled right next to the Alps and at the foot of the Dolomites

Bolzano is about 15 kilometers NE of Transalp frequent stage town Kaltern, and 45 kms SE of the frequent stage town of Naturns.   Ahh, Naturns -- where we celebrated our victory over the Timmelsjoch and strolled the hillside after dinner in 2009, watched the sun set from the alp south of town.  Kaltern, where we slept outside and Jerome was attacked by ants after Day 6 of Transalp 2009, and had a memorable meal after our strongest team effort in 2011.  The linked blog posts do not do these experiences justice. You had to be there.

South Tyrol is one of the great areas in the world for road cycling, and very close to the Gods of Cycling.  So when I wear these clothes, I will think of descending the south side of the Alps, coming into warm sunlight, orchards in the valley west of Naturns, the soaring passes of the Stelvio and Gavia, the pain of climbing the Mortirolo, and the epic effort of the 2009 "queen stage" from Livigno to Kaltern.

I REALLY want to go back again in 2015 or 2016.  And when I do, I will be wearing Q36.5 clothing.

UPDATE:  The Q36.5 Japan Facebook page has lots of information, including a list of the shops carrying the brand in Japan.  A large group -- including Nalshima, Positivo, Enosan (for those of you in Niigata), and on and on.  Over 100 locations so far, widely distributed around the country.

UPDATE 2:  Took a third ride with the Q36.5 clothes on the holiday Monday, and got wet in a light rain when coming back in from Kobu Tunnel down the Akigawa.  These clothes dry FAST.  Only a few minutes after the rain had stopped completely, the bib shorts and jersey felt dry to the touch.  Very impressive, even on a humid day ... hints of the upcoming rainy season.

UPDATE (Dec 2014):  See here for my later review of Q36.5 early winter clothes.

UPDATE (May 2015):  I WILL go back.  I am planning to join MOB and others for the Giro delle Dolomiti at end of July this year.  6 days of riding in an area like heaven on earth (... well, if you do not mind climbing hills ... )!

No comments: