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The $519 Cycling Short: Why Assos Costs So Much

  • By Aaron Hersh
  • Published Sep 9, 2013
  • Updated Sep 10, 2013 at 6:45 PM UTC

The first new bibs in six years from the leading short maker impress.

The Assos textile lab is filled with samples of the dozens of fabrics used in the company’s garments and hundreds more that have been tested and rejected. None of these materials come from the cheapest possible suppliers—the über-chic Swiss cycling clothing manufacturer only buys from European textile factories and factories in the Far East that carry a certification.

The textile laboratory and the rest of Assos headquarters sit on the Swiss side of the border with Italy in a small village named Stabio. Every room in the small compound is immaculately appointed with simplistic modern décor; a man-made waterfall flanked by palm trees and a carved stone archway sits in the middle of the courtyard; there is a vineyard opposite the buildings to the front; another vineyard is behind the property; the three cars used for company business and to support an Assos-sponsored cycling team are all Mercedes wagons. Suffice it to say that Assos is making enough from their stratospherically expensive cycling gear to live well. But it isn’t the lifestyle or even the top-shelf materials used in the garments that are responsible for the famously hefty Assos price tags—time is the biggest factor.

Eight full-time employees work in the Assos research and development department. R & D director Omar Visentin curates the efforts of three stylists, three test riders (full-time cyclists who ride equipment and give feedback, that’s the extent of their jobs) and a “textile officer.” And the CEO—Roche Maier, son of the founder, Toni Maier—is for all intents and purposes another member of that team, and the one responsible for many of the unique concepts in Assos cycling shorts.

The design process behind the new S7 generation of cycling shorts went like this: Maier thought of an upgrade to the shorts, Visentin worked with the stylists and textile expert to craft a prototype, sewers at the Stabio facility created samples, Visentin created a testing itinerary for the test riders including the distance, temperature, weather conditions, daylight and incline covered and they returned with feedback. This process itself isn’t all that special. The number of times the Assos R&D squad goes through the process, however, is unique. Maier started thinking of ways to improve the prior-generation S5 shorts in 2008. After four years of thinking, prototyping, testing, refining, testing and refining the products in this line of cycling shorts, they finally finished in 2013. By the time Assos’ new cycling shorts come to market, six years and more than 50 prototypes will have gone by since they last released a new pair of bibs. And they haven’t spent this much time iterating just for the sake of saying they did. Assos has thrived for more than 30 years while always selling shorts that cost well beyond any definition of a “competitive” price because they make incredible cycling shorts that truly improve the experience of going for a bike ride, and the newest S7 generation continues that standard.

PHOTOS: Assos Reveals New Bibs

Ride Test

The new S7 line is comprised of four different bib shorts, and we tested the T.Equippe. Dubbed the “racing short” of the line, the T.Equippe is the third most expensive, but I found it to be more comfortable than Assos’ prior flagship short (and my former personal favorite cycling short) the S5 Fi.13.

The shorts are true to the label and fit tightly, but they aren’t undersized or ludicrously compressive. I found them to be true to size—I wear a medium in pretty much everything and the medium T.Equippe fit me perfectly.

The pad is the heart of any cycling short and Assos trademarked and patented enough features and cute names for those features to match any bike. While riding, the T.Equippe shorts were always an afterthought. They never created discomfort that demanded attention. Through the first 175 miles of ride testing, they haven’t bunched even once or created a single friction spot. When getting back into the saddle after standing or stopping at a red light, the pad keeps itself stretched against the body and never gathers into a hotspot while most shorts require a little adjustment when sitting back down. One of the labeled features in the chamois is called the Golden Gate, which is a fancy way of saying the pad is sewn into the short only at the front and the back and the middle portion is free to lift off the short. Because the pad has an unusual amount of freedom to move around, it slides over the fabric while sticking in place against the rider’s body. This further reduces the possibility of the pad bunching up and creating friction or pressure.

Inside the pad is a foam insert shaped like an ISM saddle and the T.Equippe creates a sensation reminiscent of riding an ergonomic tri saddle for the first time. When I got on my road bike for the second day in a row while wearing these shorts, I felt a little tenderness toward the outside of my sit bones, indicating that a portion of my underside was supporting more weight than it had before. Transferring the pressure from the soft spots in the middle to the bony structures on the outside helped relieve unwanted pressure and reduced numbness to zero when riding on my favorite road saddle. Another effective invention in the S7 shorts is the length of the pad. It stretches up further toward the front of the rider’s body and curves all the way around the sensitive region like a cup to protect from friction. When riding in the aero position, the additional padding up front was noticeable against my underside.

Another upgrade over Assos’ previous shorts comes from the suspenders. They stripped away material that covers the stomach and moved the supports further to the outside. This relieves pressure from the gut and adds to the T.Equippe’s ability to be forgotten, especially while riding hard and breathing forcefully. They are made from quick-drying and semi-rigid polyester, which helps the supports stay firmly in place against the body.

The legs aren’t quite as long as some and have a new gripper design. While some manufacturers have opted for more novel grippers that terminate without a seam or use overlaid mesh, the T.Equippe (and all of the Assos shorts) uses a taller version of a traditional leg gripper with silicone lines to help secure the shorts in place. It works well. The tester pair stayed so still that my thigh had a distinct impression of the seam connecting the leg to the gripper after each ride, meaning they didn’t move a millimeter.

While far from cheap, the T.Equippe shorts will go for $269 (another pair is $519) and, like all Assos shorts, come with a two-year warranty. Yes, the prices are exceptionally high, but I believe that riding a great pair of shorts is more valuable than upgrading from an aluminum stem to a carbon version. If the budgetary decision comes down to buying a race entry or a new pair of tires before a race, the cost of these shorts is tough to justify. Assos doesn’t have a monopoly on quality cycling apparel, but based on my personal experience with the T.Equippe, I would rather spend on these shorts than use that same money on a stem upgrade. “At the end of the day, I think it’s a good deal for the customer,” says Visentin. Considering all the time that goes into these bibs and the way they feel on the bike, for the right person, I think he’s correct.

The rest of the S7 line

While we have only ride-tested the T.Equippe short so far, these are the features that distinguish the other three new bibs.

T.NeoPro
These are designated as the “daily worker” cycling short and have a slightly more forgiving cut than the T.Equippe. Instead of using independent panels of fabric to help isolate the most sensitive regions, these shorts use a single panel for each leg. Every short has its own distinct chamois and the insert used in the T.NeoPro has the same Golden Gate feature that is intended to help the pad move with the rider, but it lacks the curved basin up front. All four inserts are built around a pair of foam pads shaped like an ISM saddle, and the T.NeoPro (and the next two pair) use a fabric support to connect the foam tongs and help stabilize them underneath the rider. Retail price: $199

T.Cento
This pair has the gentlest fit of the four and is designed for long-distance riding. The shorts themselves are shaped to be less compressive and a mesh fabric below the belly helps with ventilation. Other than fit, the chamois is the biggest difference between this short and the other models. And the pad’s distinguishing feature has a name: the Cuckoo Penthouse (trademark).

A window is cut out of the curved extension in the T.Equippe’s pad and replaced with a sheet of ultra-soft fabric that feels like sunglasses cleaning microfiber cloth. Assos calls it the Cuckoo Penthouse and it means exactly what it sounds like. The ISM-shaped foam inserts are also thicker in this pad, 10mm compared to 8mm.

In addition to the Golden Gate sewing method, the rear and front edges of the pad are sewn to pieces of fabric that wrap around and are sewn into pre-existing seams in the short. While we haven’t tested this pad construction, the idea is to allow it to move even more freely as the rider makes small adjustments over the saddle during the course of a ride. Retail price: $369

T.Campionissimo

This is the bib with the stratospheric price mentioned in the article title. It features a distinctly different woven (instead of knitted) material used in the leg panels. This material feels similar to the fabrics used in swim skins. It stretches less than the elastic materials in the other three shorts. Assos selected this material for added compression and stability, although it is admittedly less abrasion resistant.

The front and back sections of the pad in the T.Campionissimo are separated from the short in the same way as the T.Cento and it features the Cuckoo Penthouse, but the padding is also attached different. The 8mm-thick sections of padding that support the bulk of the rider’s weight are sewn directly into the short itself. Only the upper section of the pad touches the rider. Assos used a similar strategy in their prior-generation Fi.13 shorts and it helps prevent the pad from gathering beneath the rider and applying undue pressure. This pad should be the freest moving of the four and least likely to create discomfort. Retail price: $519

Learn more about the new bibs from Assos in this photo gallery.

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FILED UNDER: Bike / Gear & Tech / Hi Tech Upgrades TAGS: /

Aaron Hersh

Aaron Hersh

Aaron Hersh is the Senior Tech Editor of Triathlete magazine. To submit a question, write Aaron at Ahersh@competitorgroup.com.

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