Cycling clothing is deeply personal, and none more so than the interface between the saddle and the rider's backside. Representing one of the three contact points with a bike, bibs can make - or break - a ride. It's the standard by which we hold entire clothing lines. My own experience with high-end cycling wear is extensive after long stints at premium retailers and professional teams. Prior to being introduced to the Q36.5 L1 Essential, I had well over 20 pair of premium bibshorts cluttering my dresser. Now, most are now enjoying better lives...unused.
Don't believe me? Take it from Bicycling test guru Joe Lindsay.
"On a test bike, on strange roads, the last thing you want is to be uncomfortable. I never was—not on climbs, not when we stopped, not even when leading a paceline home into the setting sun, ticking over a steady tempo and trying to stay as still as possible in the saddle to be a steady wheel. On a long day, I counted my blessings that I picked a short I’d never worn before over even some tried and true favorites from my closet."
Myself? I put the L1 Essential through absolute hell. In my first week of ownership, I crashed in them. I rode eight hours in blistering heat. I sunk them in the bottom of my laundry basket, sweaty and acid-soaked. I even threw them in the dryer a few times to see how they held up. Six-months on, they're still going strong, and still my go-to when it comes to bottoms on the bike. They are my bar for comfort, for durability, for fit, and performance on the bike. Many others come close, and I'll grab them for shorter days, but when it comes to long weekend rides, the L1 Essential are my secret weapon.
CONSTRUCTION: The L1 Essential is a remarkable piece, primarily built from a a single panel of proprietary high-density woven fabric that Q36.5's mad scientist, Luigi Bergamo, designed specifically for implementation in the bibs. It feels unlike anything else, with a tactile sensation reminiscent of crepe paper. The polyamide fabric is actually woven in varying densities throughout the bib to specifically support musculature under pedaling force. The chamois is a proprietary design made by Cytech, and it's got quite a bit of surface area compared to other brands, but isn't overly thick or diaper-like. Tubular stitchless bib straps reduce chafing possibilities and weight, though I'd be happy to see a little more substantial lay-flat strap design to keep them from bunching. The whole short is also insanely light - 160 scant grams. Q36.5 declares that the svelte weight of most of their pieces is a result of their exhaustive R&D process, never an objective. Made in Italy, finish quality is on par with other high-end brands like Assos.
COMFORT: The new standard. The bibs take a solid 5-10 rides/washes to properly "break in", and once they do, they seem essentially made for the wearer. The fabric is mildly compressive, but not so much that it constricts - just gently supports. Unlike other compression bibs, I've never had the sensation of shimmying around inside a spandex sausage casing. The molded-on, evenly compressive feeling lent by the unique textiles developed by Q36.5 also reduces unsightly muffin-topping at the equally unique lime-green gripper. Just as well, that slight compression keeps my legs feeling fresh after five or six hours in the saddle, where my normal go-to bibs, the insanely-minimal and compression-free Castelli Inferno shorts fall short. While the high-density fabric is slightly water-repellant, I've never experienced issues with heat management in warm conditions, possibly owing to the minimal weight of the bib.
DURABILITY: The longevity of the bibs is unparalleled. In my first week of ownership, I promptly rolled a tubular coming down Mt. Tamalpais at 36.2mph, sliding directly on my backside for a dozen meters. I was devastated, positive I'd utterly destroyed the Essentials, and expected to hang out on the side of the road waiting for a ride home with my ass hanging out. Fortunately for passersby, the Essential bibs are possibly indestructible, the only evidence of my folly a tiny .5mm hole in the fabric, not even necessitating a repair. Impressive. Over the past six months wearing them for 8-12 hours a week, I've not experienced any serious wear issues, save the usual bit of sheen at the saddle contact point on the chamois.
LOOKS: Minimal is the word. Almost entirely-black, hardly any branding, unique, sleek fabric with a matte look. The short length is right in the "happy medium" range, eschewing the trend in the pro peloton towards bibs that look like knickers. The slight lime green band on the gripper can steal the attention of the eyes, but blends perfectly with all of Q36.5's tops that share similar highlights. If you were a fan of Assos' bib aesthetic, you'll be a fan of Q36.5's.
Will I find another pair of bibs to top the L1 Essentials? Perhaps. I still wear a few others (emphasis on few), but every time I come back to the Essentials it's like pulling on my favorite pair of jeans. Except I wash the bibs regularly.
Shop Q36.5's peerless Salopette L1 Essential bibshorts here.