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When did carbon fibre become a standard? When did Lycra turn wool and acrylic obsolete? When did the leather chamois fall out of fashion to be replaced by high-tech memory foam? Come to think of it; when exactly did the modern era of cycling apparel begin? Who came up with these revolutionary ideas?
[First carbon fibre track bike 1976, first aerodynamic profile tubing 1976, first lycra short 1976, first lycra skinsuit 1978, first sublimation on sports clothing 1980, first aerodynamic profile rims 1980, first elastic insert 1995….]
If there's one man who can answer these questions then it's ASSOS of Switzerland founder Toni Maier and his story of how a string of Firsts brought cycling to where it is today. But where is cycling today? To answer these questions we’ve assembled a cast of riders, each close to the ASSOS story.
As a brand our heritage is something that we rarely talk about, and even more rarely celebrate. Our daily thought process is the same as any cyclist: we look forward with the aim of improving what we do.
But sometimes it is good to look at where you’ve come from, because without that reference point it is impossible to see how far you’ve come and we can honestly say that the past 40 years have seen a revolution in cycling apparel. To celebrate this we invited a select group of riders to a hotel in Paris, just off the iconic Champs Elysees, to chat with ASSOS founder, and instigator of many revolutionary changes within cycling. Collectively, there were 19 Grand Tour victories, 11 Tour De France victories, 13 World Championships, 19 National Championships, 3 Olympic Golds and 6 Monument victories.
Joop Zoetemelk, Bernard Hinault, Urs Freuler, Miguel Indurain, Nicolas Roche and Greg van Avermaet made up the guestlist along with Toni Maier. They are inextricably linked to the brand and its heritage.
It's a blustery Wednesday evening in late November when they sit down to discuss the merits and the status of professional cycling over the past 40 years. The founder of ASSOS, signor Toni Maier, sits to the right of Bernard Hinault, the Badger. They greet each other with a warm, open-armed embrace. To Maier’s left sits Swiss cycling legend Urs Freuler, known for his indomitable speed on the track. To his right is Nicolas Roche, who is sitting opposite Indurain, needing no introduction as he had cradled his Ernesto helmet earlier in the day.
Maier, the Swiss German founder of ASSOS, pioneered advances in cycling apparel back in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the first person to ever manufacture a carbon fibre bike, deploying a material he obtained from NASA under strict obligation 'not to share it with the East.' His research into aerodynamics prompted him to go beyond the bike, and research the rider's position and clothing. These developments in cycling apparel elevated performance and comfort in the saddle, making woollen, rain-soaked shorts obsolete. His introduction of lycra led to faster and even more hard-fought racing. The ability to sublimate on cycling apparel led to increased sponsorship, more financial stability for the support, and more exposure.
The first time that I wore the ASSOS clothing was thanks to Gissinger, who was also on the Mercier team. It looked like a superb material and I've always had a problem with my backside because it’s very lean. Gissinger recommended that I try the ASSOS shorts and that was that.- Zoetemelk
I think that my first time was with Renault at the Tour de France, using the time trial suit. I have a fond memory of it because it was my first piece of cycling clothing that came with elastic at the bottom of the leg to stop the shorts from riding up. For me this this truly marked the debut of modern materials in cycling - Hinault
My first contact with ASSOS was with the Swiss Champions jersey, I think that was in 1980 when I won the points race at the National Championship. Afterwards, I did lots of Six Days, and in the Six Days it was very important to have comfortable shorts. And even with other teams we used ASSOS too. It's a good product - Freuler
I never raced in ASSOS, but I came across the brand with the Teka team, who wore ASSOS jerseys. Back then it was the new thing in Spain. It was a very different type of material. I know and ride in ASSOS clothing now though - Indurain
I started as a customer when I was a junior and U23. When you're in amateur teams you don't have every piece of equipment that you need. So I had to go and buy them anyhow. And now 15 years later ASSOS are now a sponsor for my team with BMC. When we arrived in the peloton at the start, last year, all the riders came over and said what luck, oh you’ve got ASSOS - Roche
I remember my dad buying ASSOS shorts in the 80s and I was just a kid and I thought the materials were great. Right now it's very good because it's able to keep you warm at the right moment which is crucial for Classics rider who needs to come fresh into the finish - Van Avermaet
Toni Maier -
'I think I was vaccinated with a bicycle spoke because I was born over a bike shop. I dreamed of becoming a professional, but had a bad crash as a junior that stopped me from racing. I was born into cycling and I stayed in cycling. You can say it was both my biggest hope and my biggest disappointment.
Later on, I had an amateur team; it is quite funny because I fell into making clothing through outfitting a rider. The best rider had a great spring season but then got injured. By autumn he was allowed to start training again. And I thought 'the poor guy, now winter is coming and he has to train. I had seen all these new materials in skiing and I thought 'my goodness, it has to be possible to make some clothing, where inside it feels like you're on the Cote d’Azur but outside you're in Switzerland.
The extent of my cycling shorts business was quite unexpected; it seemed like everyone wanted it all; all, or most of, the teams and the racers. I had a podium at the World Championships all wearing ASSOS shorts but I did not see a single logo. The Champions, and almost everyone, came during that time. Officially or unofficially. You wouldn’t believe it but I think they all paid.
For me it was a career on the one hand, as well as being a hobby and tied to my emotions. So it was really my life. When you're so immersed in an objetive you don't realise when things are changing on the whole within the industry. At some point I was told I’d made a revolution in apparel. Hey, it's a super compliment but life goes on. The revolution stays where it is.'