An event to celebrate women’s cycling that is hosted by Assos? Am I dreaming?
As a women’s cycling journalist, I've long been aware of cycling clothing brand ASSOS of Switzerland – I’d like to say it was because of the great product, but actually it was because of some of the cringe-worthy imagery that used to be on its website. To sum it up, think ‘Page 3 does bib shorts’.
So notorious was this site that, for me, ASSOS came to represent all that was wrong when it came to marketing our beloved sport to women. We wanted images that reflect the joy of being a female cyclist -ASSOS gave us a topless model in Lycra.
But there was a dilemma too: it would have been easy to ignore ASSOS in the hope that it would just quietly go away, had it not been for the fact that the brand actually makes really great product. They're not a brand any of us wanted to boycott.
ASSOS was founded in the 1970s, and has always focussed on creating a premium (i.e. great quality but expensive) product based on technical innovation. Most famously, for example, they were the first to use lycra in cycling shorts.
The black and white Swiss giant makes kit for USA cycling, supplies the leaders jerseys for the Cape Epic, and developed specific new products for the Swiss Cycling Federation that helped Fabian Cancellara and Nino Schurter win gold at Rio 2016.
Speaking from rather more humble personal experience, my other-half has owned anASSOS jacket for over ten years. It’s admittedly the most expensive riding garment he’s ever possessed, but it is also the only garment in his kit that has lasted that long, and its still going strong.
So I’m very happy to report that it seems our protestations have not gone unnoticed.
ASSOS has changed...
The recent arrival of a new CEO, Phil Duff has made all the difference. Duff, in 'mini-dinner-party-intro' format is a father of three daughters, and husband of Amy who cycles everyday and has done for the last ten years. He has seen the marketing strategy ripped up and rewritten to wholeheartedly reflect what it means to be a woman who cycles. Albeit one with a big budget who doesn’t mind choosing from a currently limited range.
Not only that but, rather endearingly, ASSOS has not shied away from admitting that marketing mistakes were made in the past.
"We can’t change what we did," said the ASSOS representative to a crowded audience of women at LMNH last night. But boy can they try to make amends. Hence an evening of Prosecco, canapés and goody bags, alongside a line up of ASSOS spokeswomen – cyclist and writer Juliet Elliot, journalist Rebecca Charlton, Laura Winter of Vox Women and five times Cape Epic winner Ariane Kleinhans - to represent the new vision of the future.
And, I am told, this is merely a starting point on a long road – the aim is to have more female ambassadors, and to increase the women’s range. ASSOS seem serious about this too - upon arrival, we were each asked to suggest a product we would like to see ASSOS make.
Personally, I would like to have also seen the existing range on show last night, and to have heard about the brand’s history - the absence of both felt like a missed opportunity.
But choosing to hold an event in a venue that only a few months ago hosted a hugely successful debate about women in the cycling media - where I was a panellist - was a bold move. ASSOS didn't come out of the evening's discussion well - but instead of running screaming, they went straight back in to the same den. I admire the brand for that.
I hope I’m right in having huge expectations for the future of ASSOS in women’s cycling. Let’s watch this space.
Read more about ASSOS and their changing brand: