I’ve mentioned, many times it seems, my personal view of Assos being the benchmark against how other shorts are judged and, equally, how much I rated the older Assos (S5) Mille. And as I write this review it’s almost 40 years to the day that Assos released the first lycra cycling short and the rest, they say, is history. They know a thing or two about doing this and their contribution to the industry is a significant one.
I do think that many of the premium manufacturers (and indeed some of the budget ones) have caught up to Assos now though and, for example, my Parentini Shark.2 bibshorts are just sublime. They offer fantastic value and all the features a high end short should have. And the more I wear them, the better they get. That they retail for £100 is a bonus.
The cycling clothing marketplace is huge. Every day I come across new manufacturers who I hadn’t remotely heard of before. Someone asked me the other day to do a run down of all those smaller firms you may not have heard of. I intend to do that, but it’s actually a huge task and someone will get missed. The truth is that there is still a lot of buzz around the bigger brands and whenever you seek opinions on the ‘net those brands seem to be the default choice. The problem with default choices is that the end user may only have that experience and as such the default choice is propagated.
Perhaps it’s the surge of newcomers to the market, perhaps it’s the pace of change, perhaps it’s Assos’s desire to push the envelope, perhaps a bit or a lot of all of these things, but the old S5 range has been refreshed (admittedly a little while ago now) and an entirely new range of bibshorts was brought in. Assos claim that these are Game Changers, their spin, and that’s literally writ large on the shorts themselves (and the box, and the advertising and the booklet……)
The old S5 range was pretty easy to follow. The Uno was the base model, the Mille the endurance one and the Fi.13 the, well, really expensive one. Although the new range doesn’t necessarily eschew that structure it’s fair to treat it as all new. So at the bottom we have the Neo Pro. In the middle we have the Equipe and Cento. The range topper is the Campionissimo. None are cheap, of course, the RRP of the least expensive (let’s use that as a term) is £120. Shop around and you can get them cheaper most of the time. But it’s still a £100 short. The Equipe are £155, the Cento £210 and the Campionissimo a few quid shy of the B’Twin Triban 500 SE racing bike. That’s a damn good bike by the way at a shade under £300. Marginal gains are going to have to be a little more than marginal or be quite the plural to justify a purchase based on performance. Nothing is needed, of course, to justify a purchase on the basis of brand loyalty.
Of course, one of the things Assos do well is pads. Yes, there’s a load of other stuff going on but the pads are always very good and work in tandem with the rest of the innovation. On the old S5 the pads differed but they were, really, just pads. Great ones, undeniably, but pads all the same. The S7 sees a departure in terms of what the pads offer and how they vary across the range. And, as we’ll come to discuss, they are entirely different to anything else out there.They’re still made by Elastic Interface but they are otherwise proprietary. Before I drone on, here’s a photo to see what we’re dealing with.
The NeoPro and Equipe both look fairly normal but how they are attached is not. The Cento and Campionissimo clearly look very different indeed. Note that black section at the front. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to introduce you to the Kuku Penthouse. Seriously. Kuku? I stuck that through Babelfish, tried all 4 Swiss languages (German, French, Italian and Romansch) if you’re interested. Nada. Is it a play on cuckoo? I’ve no idea. It’s. Just. Weird. And Penthouse? That’s normally the flat at the top of the building. Not somewhere down below and hidden. What is it? It’s a garage for your gentleman’s sausage. When I say garage it’s not somewhere you drive into though. It’s actually more of a layby really. You just park there and leave it there. Long term parking or something. The idea is that there’s a fabric insert there (and no padding) so that there’s no irritation or friction? Gimmick or masterpiece?
The other innovation is Golden Gate technology. And that’s where things get a bit controversial. The chamois on all of these is free to move around in the middle section. It’s not sewn into the shorts. Less seams say Assos, but is that true? Let’s take a closer look at what that means in practice.
The above picture is of the Cento model. Essentially that side piece is allowed to float. You can see the innards of the pad underneath. Lots of waffly stuff, an internal 3d structure and a pretty beefy looking bit of padding. Turn it inside out and you get to see what you’re sitting on.
This is no one piece pad. Each underside section has its own lobe. It’s free to wander round and conform to whatever body shape you are. Notice also that it’s a bit like the perineal cut out of a saddle. There’s a groove present for your underparts. When you sit on the pad properly and feel underneath you can feel that groove. It’s quite pronounced. I’ll come back to it a bit later. So, there you go. There’s a load of revolution here. If it’s not game changing then, at least, Assos are trying to change the game, trying to make things as comfortable as they can possibly be.
Before any meaningful testing takes place there is the arrival of the product. Assos like boxes. I like boxes. Boxes have nice things in them and opening an Assos product is a bit of an event. Now, none of this means anything at all in any meaningful way. But it’s nice, it brings out the child in us all. There’s a bit of theatre here. You get the box, you get the story (somewhere between a fable and an epic!). You get a nice manual charting the product history and current line. There are percentages on the box telling you how much the game has changed. Truthfully it’s actually a bit shouty. Is there a need for quite so much statistical puff?
Still, we also get the history of purple. It’s more dark pink in my eyes though, sorry guys!
And when we get to the shorts themselves those bold claims are still being made. Just in case you ever have someone following you while you’re topless I guess. Or perhaps just to remind you why you paid so much for these in the first place? I have no idea why the game changer has changed direction here either.
If all this sounds a bit negative then it’s just gentle ribbing really. I trust Assos have a sense of humour as a company even if they do occasionally seem a little po faced. They’re not alone in that. It’s important to laugh at ourselves. And none of this matters a jot. It’s all about whether they work and, of course, whether they are substantially better than those that they compete with (or indeed those that are cheaper).
In terms of their appearance Assos have gone for a central groin section with as few panels as possible on the rest of the garment. Don’t worry about that central seam. It’s a common feature on many garments and provides no issue. There’s a bit of a contrast between the Equipe (first pic) and the Cento (second pic). You’ll see that the Cento has a Schumacher era Batman groinal piece. It’s a much lighter and airier affair than the normal lycra section in the Equipe. Perfectly sensible given the claims of the Cento being long distance and, by implication, the Equipe being less so. Both fabrics seem suitably hard wearing and are a more matte finish than shiny. That’s a good thing in my book.
Then we have the straps. These are singular pieces of elastic sewn on rather than bonded on. The straps are, arguably, also controversial having moved from off centre on the abdomen to virtually at your side. Better? Worse? I have to say I don’t feel any real perceived benefit to the offsetting though others have noted that they do. The purple Y frame section is intended to mean that the straps sit properly and don’t wander around. It does its job. There is no wandering and the whole set up feels great. The straps are totally seamless so you really don’t feel them at all. As usual standing up in them is not a great test, they just work when you’re on the bike.
There’s another change in the belly area as well. The S7 are cut slightly lower than the S5. Now, this is of great benefit to Assos man as we are able to see more of his 12 pack in the advertising. For mere mortals there is an argument that evidence of any excess is more liable to spill up and over. There’s less of a feeling of security. I actually think they’re ok. Perhaps a tad short but we are all so different. And, of course, once they are on and you’re on the bike then the fit does snap into place.
Round the back and they’re both pretty similar overall, no really obvious differences.
The leg grippers are very nice. A bit softer than the old S5. You get pink, sorry, purple on the Equipe, Cream? on the Cento, a kind of warm beige on the Campionissimo and nothing on the Neo Pro. Inside are some small silicone grippers. These are very comfy terminations indeed and work very well. They’re quite suited to Hoy like thighs like mine as well. Leg length? Pretty much like the old S5 Mille as well. Goldilocks for me. I’d say they are of regular rather than long length. They’re a few inches above my knee. There are no long leg versions available at the moment.
And all of this is lovely. But rather besides the point. We know they’re quality, we know they’re class but are they any good?
Yes. They’re really bloody good. Mostly. Let’s start with the Equipe. I wore them on the Velothon. Almost 90 miles on a new saddle. Actually, let’s stop there. My new saddle is ok but it’s not great, so that’s getting swapped. And saddles make a huge difference to how certain shorts work. Anyway, I wore the shorts on the Velothon from 5 am to get to the event, throughout the event from cloud to nasty rain, to drying out and blistering sun. I wore them home. And they were superb in every way. They’re really nice shorts. BUT, I can’t honestly say that they are better than the S5 Mille. I can’t say that because as good as they were the Mille were always that good. For all the tech while there may be marginal gains in something I’m not awfully sure what they are. That doesn’t diminish the Equipe. The Mille are, for me, a benchmark.
And then there’s the Cento. No rain in these bad boys. Plenty of sun though. Plenty of warmth. And that Kuku thingy. That really works. It’s really cosseting, you can feel the air coming through the waffly fabric and you can feel that you cannot feel any irritation because whatever that fabric is, it’s really kind to your KuKu. And the pad is also excellent, mostly. But there’s another but. On my first 50 miler I thought it was really good but not really better than the Equipe (KuKu aside). On today’s rather forced (i.e. I was a bit jaded) 30 miler I did think that the part at the back was a little more noticeable than it was on the previous ride. Odd one and I will have to keep an eye on it. That happens sometimes, the off day. Bits niggle at you and you can have a tendency to look for things which niggle. There are some differences between the Equipe and Cento pads. The Cento is slightly narrower at the rear section. Sometimes it’s that combo between pads and saddles that can be different. I will report back in due course.
Others have reported that they find one or other of these more or less comfortable than each other. As I say we’re all different. And there have been some who say that the golden gate tech does wander round a bit particularly if you’re prone to being in and out of the saddle a lot.
So, at the moment, my view is that these are both great bibshorts. That’s to be expected. The Equipe are the equal of the Mille in terms of comfort and any niggles they have are offset by the gains. The Cento are a bit of a quandary. I need to keep an eye on them for comfort. But that KuKu is brilliant. I’d be in favour of that across the board and would like to see others implement it as well. I’d also suggest that it might be a bit of a wise inclusion on the winter range. Now, bear with me here. I appreciate that the KuKu combined with the waffle front of the Cento is designed to be airier. But I see no good reason why the insulated front of something like the Tiburu could not offer adequate protection with a KuKu inside. My experience is that chafing is more likely to occur when you’re cold and wet than when you’re warm and dry. But that’s just my experience.
I might be swapping my saddle this weekend and I will report back shortly after doing some more long rides. I do think that both of these shorts are great. I’m just not convinced that the Golden Gate tech offers me anything more than a traditional sewn in chamois and I’m still firmly of the view that there are others out there that have caught up and, arguably, offer better value. You do, of course, get great back up with Assos still so that goes someway to offset that additional cost. Whether it goes the entire way is a matter for you.