Assos began life as a clothing company in the mid 70’s but started long before that, as the Maier-Moussa family started like lots of companies as humble servants to cycling in a shop…
The next generation of the clan had two wheeled blood flow that led to Tony Maier-Moussa fabbing one of the first carbon frames. Being Swiss (Swiss-Greek actually) job one wasn’t marketing, but testing, so it was off to the wind tunnel which resulted in an early example of a testing conclusion that lots of frame and parts companies would love for you to ignore… That the rider’s body is several times more important than the frame and bits in drag reduction.
With that in mind, Tony’s thoughts turned from hardware to soft. Partnering with a ski suit maker, the net result was one of the first examples of Lycra shorts for cycling. And it’s with that same careful thought process and functional product development (versus branding / marketing) that Assos bring a host of products for review.
While Assos HQ still includes the house where the very first products were stitched together, back when the company included Tony, his wife and a seamstress (it’s still a family owned business, with children now running the company), it’s now grown to a full development complex and HQ with 68 (+/-) employees.
All of the product development, design, testing and initial production runs are in Switzerland. Production for sale is also here, as well as in Romania, Greece and Bulgaria and all the facilities are either partly or fully owned by Assos.
From those hands come the late summer / fall kit we have for review today.
We’ll put a priority where most guys put a priority… on whatever will interact directly with their genitals.
Assos are perhaps best known for producing exceptional bib shorts and the T FI.13 S5 series I have here are the finest example of cycling kit I have ever worn. [You can look long and hard through a decade plus of reviews and not likely find 5 products that I’ve been willing to say that about.]
While every part of this pair of shorts warrants praise, the stand out feature is the chamois.
Skin side, this doesn’t look like anyone else’s pad and it doesn’t feel or behave like anyone else’s pad. It’s made up of a couple of parts. The skin side fabric is designed to create as little friction as possible to allow free movement. It’s also sewn to form a slight “cupping” …
… in an area that appreciates being gently held with a little bit of space. When you pull on these shorts, your twig and berries are cradled rather than smashed by a flat piece of fabric (even soft fabric).
The elastic foam pad underneath the soft blue skin-side material is also upgraded.
Assos led virtually all other manufacturers in cycling to the use of elastic/memory foam padding for chams. I still remember the first pair of Assos shorts I owned that had the first elastic pad and it was a revelation at the time.
Over the years, most quality manufacturers have followed and some have come to equal the previous generation Assos pad. That makes sense given Assos development partner (CyTek) now make pads for several manufacturers.
With the S5 FI.13, Assos have continued moving, in the form of an updated design that allows for better, eh… continued moving…
They do this by cutting the FI.13 into a split shape (cut in a fashion that allows the “cup”, because straight sections wouldn’t do this).
But beyond that split and shape is the fact that Assos sew the pad sections only to the saddle side (outside/bottom) of the shorts, leaving the skin side completely free to move.
This, along with a fairly grippy exterior fabric…
…hold the pad fairly securely in place against the saddle to resist any sort of bunching and to limit pad movement.
The pad itself is also a lower volume (thinner), more flexible elastic foam, but it still offers the cushioning and shock absorbing of many pads that are far more thick / bulky.
The on-bike result is all of the comfort of big bulky padding, with all the freedom of movement that you used to have when a chamois was an actual piece of suede leather… Add to that, more breathability than sued or bulky pads… It really is fantastic.
Beyond the chamois is the material choice and cut for the remainder of the shorts.
These are 6 panel construction, but the panels are heavily shaped for riding position to the point that they look and feel a touch odd standing in them.
The fabric choices here are as critical as the cut. The legs are made to stretch in pedal stroke direction (allowing stretch at the thigh top and glutes while adding a roughly 20% jump in compression around the radius of the thigh during the full (and freer) range of motion.
Even the leg grippers are set up with spacing rather than a continual piece so that they will stay in place while allowing movement / expansion…
The upper straps are focused on keeping the shorts up and in place and have a breathable but flexible mesh at the lower belly and up over the shoulders.
Between the shoulder blades, down the middle of the back, a carbon mesh works to keep the straps in line all the way to your glutes for proper support. Beyond that, they don’t need to flex like the belly and shoulder material and instead are focused on breathing, giving moisture as little as possible to hold on to.
Up top we have the SS.Mangussta S7 (Mongoos).
It seems fairly straight forward out front…
And fairly simple out back…
It’s not till you start to look closely and or put it on and ride that you start to appreciate it fully.
This is a couple of materials and 24 pieces / components put together not just to breath like a simple mesh does well, but to create a microclimate that is actually offering a bit of sun and wind protection while managing heat and moisture better than simple open mesh / breathable jerseys can.
There are two primary fabrics involved.
The main body and top of arms uses a material that initially acts to draw and hold a slight bit of moisture. If the temps and exertion level hold your seat level to a slight to medium saturation, that moisture acts as a bit of an insulator and can both hold heat and/or act like a bit of a cooler depending on temperature.
But once saturation reaches higher levels, the weave acts to move excess moisture to the outside of the garment so that it can evaporate more quickly.
This weave is also a 50 level sunblock and has a bit more wind shielding properties. Fabrics that are more open mesh offer very little sun and wind protection.
The mesh portion is only in the spot where it makes sense… The inside of the sleeve and underarm area…
Very easy to see the difference in fabric density here… (and that open mesh does a poor job of blocking UV)
All that might almost sound like a winter jersey, but this is anything but… Here in Phoenix, my rides typically end in 100 plus degree heat. I was a little skeptical about this jersey performing versus more breathable fabrics but it works as advertised. I noted that it felt a tad less breezy, but it was no less cool to ride in. There are motorbike products like evaporative cooling vests that Arizona riders will use and this jersey seems to work a bit like those. Your body naturally sweats to cool down and while this jersey sheds excess moisture well, it also holds a bit of that moisture and lets it do its job as coolant.
As far as fit goes, the jersey sits between starved skeleton and club-chub… Fit’s a personal thing, and the Mangussta is cut for a bit more athletic build. It’s no place near “roomy” but it also doesn’t act like a tourniquet like a lot of race cut kit does for guys that have the arms and shoulders of your typical pro (and or 12 year old girl)…
The jersey is dimensionally cut across the back, chest and sleeves as well, but the most easily notable location of tailoring to suite more well-rounded athletic bodies is at the side panel.
And it’s also an example of Assos AEDP (Advanced Ergonomic Pattern Design).
You’ll note that there is a bit of a “hump” shape to this rather than tapering evenly away from a center-line of the side panel. That’s because you’re arms are stretched out in front of you while you’re on a performance bike… Your chest is a bit more constricted across the front, while your back is stretched and expanded. The fit of all of this kit is on-bike performance focused to a degree not found in most other road kit.
Both of these fabrics for the Mangussta feel like they were squirted directly from a worm’s ass onto your skin… That is to say, it is a silky feeling… But most silk weaves don’t allow for this level of unrestricted movement.
Like the bibs, the jersey is detailed again down to the grippers. In the case of the Mangussta, the grippers go only across the center of the back and not at the sides and thighs so that movement is completely free where it should be, but secure where you want it to stay put.
And, like the bibs, Assos have also made the nicest spring/summer cycling jersey I’ve ever worn.
But it’s not always sunny…
Actually, here in Arizona, it pretty much is always sunny, but for the rest of you that have seasonal changes, we also grabbed Arm and Leg warmers and another great piece of clothing in Assos Climaschutz vest.
The S7 Arm Warmers are, like everything else Assos make, cut specifically for on bike fit.
No simple tube shapes here to bunch up on the inside of your elbow joint that creates material overlap, more rubbing and gathering more sweat. No overstretching on the outside of the elbow joint, pulling the fabric open and letting in more cold.
Assos make these in a basic curve at the elbow to conform well and, like the shorts and jersey, basically disappear on your arms.
Two materials here work perfectly through a pretty broad temp range.
The black material is Assos RX fabric. That’s a weave that is very tight / dense at the surface but fluffy on the inside against the skin. It does a good job of blocking wind and the fluffy area inside works to put a bit of air-space between your skin and the surface of the material to act as an insulator.
The white material is a newly developed fabric that is exclusive to Assos called RXQ.
Right away, you’ll notice the surface is different, almost like little holes in the material.
RXQ is a multi density material that alternates from dense to a more open weave.
Like the RX, the inside (skin side) of the new RXQ material is also more fluffy than the surface so it still blocks wind, but because of the nature of the thinner more open sections, it insulates but also breathes better than the outside (black) material.
The combination makes the new warmers function through a much broader temp range than a solid RX-only warmer would, as it both breathes and removes excess sweat but maintains most of the chill blocking of a solid RX unit.
The same basic principal applies to the S7 leg warmers…
Again, fit is all about performance and the leg warmers are pre-curved at the knees.
Two materials here again are mostly RX and RXQ, and they’re positioned for the same basic reasons…
Here, RX material is at the inner thing area and RXQ for most of the outside thigh.
There’s also a double layer at the front of the knee with RXQ and Lycra for stretch and a touch more wind resistance. A thinner brushed lycra panel is at the back of the knee for ease of movement and less insulation.
A neat feature for these warmers is an ergonomic cut shape at the top of the thigh.
The material at the outside of the thigh is cut longer to cover more of the thigh and hip joint while the inside cut is curved for less interference with the saddle/chamois area.
The material choice might seem a little odd as lots of companies put their different materials at the front and back of the legs. Depending on the weather this isn’t a bad idea (and Assos certainly have colder weather kit designed like this). But the leg warmers, like the arm warmers are designed again for performance in a broad temp range rather than being cold focused.
On the Bike the arm and leg warmers work in a range that carries me comfortably from the low 70’s down to @ 40-45 depending on exertion level.
When I say comfortably, I mean just that… The effectiveness of the fabric compression working virtually without any restriction of movement is very good. No bunched material inside the elbows or at the back of the knee’s is also darn nice.
The textiles effectiveness through a relatively broad range of temps is also a nice change.
I’ll guess that this winter (again, Phoenix AZ isn’t normal…) I will find myself starting and finishing rides with this kit still on, versus a lot of the season where I find myself with massively overstuffed pockets as I have to shed the typical warmers (both arm and leg) made from a single “Roubaix” type material that simply will not allow me to ride above 60 without stripping them all off.
Of course I couldn’t get below 55 degrees without running a vest and the ClimaSchutz vest also excels.
On the surface this looks like a vest similar to a few other semi-clear fabric gilets on the market…
But it’s just not.
Every other vest that I’ve tried that was clear enough to showed your Jersey pattern through the material vented moisture and breathed about as well as wearing a solid trash bag as a wind blocker (and yes, I’ve done that). That is to say, most things translucent have very poor breathability.
Some designs try and get enough mesh onto the sides and back to make up for the lack of breathability but they either wind up still being sweat bags that still can’t shed moisture well and or wind bags that let way too much cold air in.
The ClimaSchutz is made from 5 different materials with the main panels made from an Assos in-house developed 2 layer laminate (called “ClimaJet”), as is stated on the fairly curiously large orange and black label that is the one pet peeve I have with all of this clothing… No idea why you put a label this large and colored inside the breast of a clear garment.
But in the case you’re a geek, forgetful, have recently stolen the vest, the label means you can regularly read up on the material character and be (re)assured that the laminate is there to be both a rain barrier (“waterproofness: 6.00 mmH20 and up”) that protects from the outside while also allowing some moisture to exit (“Moisture Permeability: Yes”). That’s not an easy combination of water management abilities for a fabric and is limited to high tech materials like GoreTex. Yet you won’t find many (I don’t know of any other fabrics) that are semi-transparent / clear and also breathable and waterproof.
This material also has some stretch / give to it. ClimaJet has another plus versus in that it has some stretch / give to it versus most other wind blockers (never mid breathable rain blockers) that have no ability at all to stretch and move with the rider.
Again, the fit is all bike. Right down to the back that will snug down over your lower back and butt.
Hit a light drizzle or a few puddles and you’ll be happy for the added curve and coverage. And again, the gripers are designed to hold things in place but also allow for movement…
There’s one main middle pocket on the back that serves for storage and also serves as a roll-up & wrap pocket for the vest. Another nice touch are the flanking pocket cut outs (that are covered by a flap of material) that allow access to your jersey pockets while riding.
The collar is a standard affair out front. It’s got proper height and rigidity to hold in place and cover the neck well. It also has the little zip protector. But the best part of the collar area isn’t at the front…
It’s actually the soft neoprene like material.
The back of the neck for vests that have a continual collar of the same material almost always create a little scoop that sucks in cold air as you’re in the drops and or as you move your head and neck around. That rigid fabric also rubs and chafes.
The ClimaSchutz use of the more pliable material really conforms well to your neck, virtually eliminating air scoops even while you’re moving around. It’s also very soft to the touch and doesn’t rub you nearly as bad as more rigid material.
So That’s that…
Every bit of this kit is class leading…
I’ll go one better and make mention that Assos have tended to also be class defining and, literally as I was writing this review, more fortunate journo’s were walking the floor at Assos HQ after hitting the Eurobike show and learning about bib shorts that Assos believe are even better than the pair here.
They’ll launch their S-7 series bibs in a few versions today (9-11-2013) in fact.
I started this review off by saying that the FI13 S5 are the finest piece of cycling kit I have ever worn and I’ll add that the other pieces here are also the best examples of jersey vest and warmers.
I’ve had loads of clothing, both reviewed and simply ridden and nothing else has had the end to end detail of ergonomic cuts and fabric / parts that add up to the on-bike performance of the pieces here.
The combination of the freedom of movement while maintaining high compression and the near lack of any feeling of a chamois, despite ample padding in the bibs is special.
The jersey is more of the same…
I was describing the material on a ride a couple of days ago and trying to explain why holding a small amount of moisture would act as a coolant and I wasn’t getting anywhere until I said, “Imagine stopping at a stoplight after a bigger effort when it’s 65 degrees out. And think about that chill you get when you first start riding again, because the sweat soaked you a little…” It’s as if the jersey holds that little bit of moisture, but allows most of the excess to evaporate well. Add a good base layer to put a slight air layer between you and the surface and you get a broad temp range tool.
That broad temp range tool is exactly what the warmers provide as well.
Sure they’re ergo fit to the point that, like the shorts, they disappear in use. But it’s the effectiveness of the new RXQ material that adds what I would guess is another 10+ degrees to the operating range for both arms and Legs. That may not make a difference for some of you, but for places where your morning ride temps can have as much as a 20-30 degree swing, you’ve effectively added 30-50% more comfort time.
The vest is icing on the cake here as it really allows the full kit to explore at colder temps acting as a wind screen. The fit (especially the neck detail) makes for a less flapping and air leaks. None of that would be nearly as effective without a breathable material though and again, the combination of textile tech and ergonomic design kicks winds ass while almost disappearing on your body (and packing up very small).
For most of the 90’s and early 2000’s, Assos was clearly at the top of the cycling clothing mountain. But over the past 5-8 years or so, there seem to be a few other brands that have closed the gap especially in terms of marketing, branding and (high) price. That said, a fair few folks are genuinely competing with Assos in terms of product, materials development, ergonomic design and overall build quality.
For a full look at their kit, see them at ASSOS.COM
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