SAN PIETRO DI STABIO, Switzerland (BRAIN) — Assos, the Swiss company that invented the Lycra cycling short in 1976, rarely updates its clothing designs, but 2013 is the year for the launch of a new line of bib shorts to replace its S5 line, introduced in 2008.
The new S7 line of bibs includes four models, ranging in retail price from $199 to $519. The company made the most of the rare event, introducing the line to U.S. cycling journalists at an event at its headquarters a few days after Eurobike closed earlier this month. The journalists were shown the line and taken on a ride around the Lake Lugano region to test the bibs, on agreement that details not be published until Monday.
Since Assos' relationship with longtime its U.S. distributor, Ochsner International, ended in 2008, the brand has been rebuilding its U.S. dealer base. Assos now has about 200 U.S. dealers, who each buy more deeply into the line than Ochsner's thousands of dealers did. Watch for an article in BRAIN's November issue about the company's retail Pro Shop program and more.
As for the new bibs, Assos said it tried to improve on a product line that was already well received by high-mileage (and high-income) roadies who embrace the company's motto of "Sponsor Yourself."
Assos said the new line was in development from soon after S5 was introduced. An eight-man research & development team, along with high-milage in-house test riders and a regional gran fondo team, were key in testing and developing new liner designs, new cuts and new fabrics. The company said innovations in the new line are protected by eight patents.
While Assos managers insist they aim to develop the best possible products and let the retail prices fall where they may, they are aware of a responsibility — to their sales reps and bikeshop salesmen if nobody else — to explain why their products cost as much as they do. They also must be able to explain price differences between four bib models that externally appear almost identical.
"I can justify this cost — it's not just Assos making huge profits," R&D director Omar Visentin confidently told the journalists before going through the S7 line last week. (Assos employees also like to point out that although a $519 bib sounds expensive, it probably can improve a ride more than a similarly priced carbon stem or other component.)
The S7 line includes one more bib model than the S5 line. "We cover more ground in terms of complexity and price point (than the previous line)," Visentin said. "There was risk is in establishing enough differentiation between the models. But even with one more model, our sales department says we have more differentiation than S5."
Across the line, S7 has fewer seams than S5 and is lighter, achieving two of the key goals the company set when it began the long development process. For example, the $199 NeoPro has 47 percent less seam length than the S5 bibs, contributing to a 14 percent weight reduction.
Moving up the line, the bib liners get increasingly complex. Much of the complexity is visible if you turn a pair of bibs inside out, and anyone who has ever wrestled with a sewing machine can recognize that each additional feature represents construction/labor time that inevitably contributes to increased costs. Assos plans to give retailers access to hanging bib liner point of sale displays that show the differences clearly.
All the new liners include a feature called the "Golden Gate," whereupon the middle section of the liner is not sewn to the bib's outer material. Assos said the unattached section allows increased air circulation and isolates the body from some saddle movement transferred to the bib's outer material
The second model in the S7 line, the $269 Equipe, adds a new liner feature that might be the most externally visible change to the entire line. It also has the most amusing name. The front of the liner is cup-shaped to accommodate male genitalia, a shaping that is inescapable (but rarely remarked upon, in BRAIN's experience) when the bibs are worn off the bike.
Assos designers nicknamed the feature the "KuKu Penthouse box," to the delite of the assembled media.
"Because it's where you store your jewels," Visentin explained.
Besides the box, the Equipe is upgraded from the NeoPro with a two-panel design in front and a fabric treatment to reflect sunlight for a cooler feeling. The liner surface also has microchannels to improve ventilation and the liner padding is trimmed more precisely to reduce material. The liner also has wings at the sides to reduce friction on the inner thigh.
The third model is the $369 Cento, designed for extra-long rides. It has a slightly less compressive fabric than the other models, for comfort on 8-10 hour rides. It also has a slightly more relaxed fit throughout. Its foam pad is 10mm thick, instead of the 8mm pads on the other S7 bibs.
The Cento's Kuku box has a cut-out lined with very thin and soft material for extra comfort; Assos nicknamed the cut-out the "KuKu Penthouse." The Cento liner also is attached to an extra piece of fabric at the rear, to spread seam stress over a wider area. The liner's backing also is perforated for extra ventilation.
The Cento liner is visibly complex; Visentin said its construction costs the company more than twice as much as any previous liner.
The top-of-the-line Campionissimo bib has the most compressive fabric of any Assos bib; it's the first Assos bib made with a woven, rather than knit, fabric. The fabric compresses around the leg muscles but is not compressive up and down the leg. It's 39 percent Spandex, almost twice the Spandex content of the other bibs.
The Campionissimo's 8mm foam pad is sewn to the outer shorts, rather than to the liner, to reduce seams touching the body and further isolate the body from small movements of the saddle. The liner also borrows the "Kuku Penthouse" feature from the Cento bib.