Glancing around the Capo world headquarters in Emeryville, the first thing you see after a warehouse full of cycling clothes is a warehouse full of cyclists, and bikes, and you quickly understand that the people working at this company aren’t just about making the clothes, they’re living the life.
Started by two third-generation Italians, Gary Vasconi and Rob Carbone, the company is as much a testament to life-loving Italian culture as it is to that nation’s inexhaustible passion for bicycles.
“We began 10 years ago and have been called Capo for seven,” says Vasconi. Most of our interview is conducted on a 2-hour roller-coaster bicycle ride through the mountainous Oakland and Berkeley Hills. Vasconi is sitting on $10,000 worth of bicycle and he knows how to use it, which it turns out is one of the keys to the company’s success.
In less than a decade they have grown from a Northern California company to distributing throughout North America, Australasia, and Europe.
“There weren’t any other companies in the Bay Area making cycling clothes when we started,” explains Vasconi. Now there are several, and most are run by cycling enthusiasts. Yet in keeping with its name, Capo, which is Italian for ‘the boss,’ is the clear market leader.
In fact, Capo is not only a leader in the US market, it has grown into a leader among international brands such as Castelli and Giordana - two Italian based companies - the Swiss/Italian manufacturer Assos and others like Belgium’s Vermarc.
“We roll out at 4:30 and ride for two or three hours in the Oakland and Berkeley hills. We get back at about 7 and have pizza and talk - then finally leave at about 10 p.m. For us it’s so much about community. Being Italian that’s just a big part of who I am and why I got into this business,” says Vasconi.
The Capo approach to cycling apparel is three-fold.
“It must look good, work well, and last more than a couple of seasons,” Vasconi says, and he happily admits that their profit margin might be smaller than some of their rivals. “We are not in this just to make money. We’re cyclists, we want to make a genuine contribution to the sport and be a respected contributor to the cycling community.”
“We are not in this just to make money. We’re cyclists, we want to make a genuine contribution to the sport and be a respected contributor to the cycling community.”
Back in 2009, the organizers of Levi’s Gran Fondo, one of the largest recreational rides in the US, was researching potential clothing sponsors prior to their inaugural event. They approached NorCal Bike Sports in Santa Rosa where the ride is based, and on asking about the Capo’s jerseys were told quite flatly that the company “makes the best quality jersey in the $90 range.” Capo has remained a popular ride sponsor.
Capo’s production facility is not in Emeryville. It should be no surprise that more than 90% of their products are made in Italy, where clothing manufacturers have vast experience in textiles and manufacturing, and a love of cycling to go with it. This experience, says Vasconi, has accelerated the brand to the top rank. “Advanced textiles, precise chamois placement, and expertise in sublimation have made them an industry leader over the years. They are passionate people who take pride in the products that come from their factories, so they like to participate in the product development. And like us, they have cycling flowing through their veins,” he says.
The SC-12 line of clothing has been immensely popular among the racing and century ride cyclists for its high-end performance at a mid-range price.
Shorts are often the most problematic article of clothing, and when the chamois isn’t quite right, or the shorts ride up and bunch around the hip crease the result can be minor chafing which is just one more thing to deal with when you’re getting tired on a long ride.
The SC-12 bib short at $200 is not quite at the amazing comfort levels of bibs in the $300+ range, but it’s a clear step up from those at lower price points and works as a year-round garment.
Composed of 40 gauge Power Lycra that is anatomically shaped for the bent-forward racing position, arguably the biggest single factor in the comfort of these shorts comes from the way they grip your mid-thigh, and hold this position, which keeps the chamois in place when you stand up on the pedals or shift on the saddle.
Movement of the chamois against the skin is what can cause much of the discomfort, and if it should ever catch the saddle nose when you stand up to pedal, or sit down from standing, some in-motion repositioning will be needed to set things straight.
The Power Lycra thigh grippers are just over 3” deep. This single layer gives some compression, which helps blood circulation, and about 1” of it is covered with a very thin silicon coat. This silicon coat grips well, so well that some technique is needed to put on the shorts and get them positioned right.
You have to roll back the 3” leg grippers when pulling the shorts on, and go into a half squat position to get the chamois to hug your saddle contact area. Adjust the short legs to maintain this chamois position, and roll the leg grippers into place. Then you’re ready to ride. The sizing is based on pro cyclists, so those with a more average build may want to size up one or maybe two levels.
The SC-12 jersey likewise is a slim fit. Priced at $150, the men’s version has an elasticated silicon gripper below the rear pockets, a full zip and super-comfortable HydroDrop shoulder panel fabric that hugs tight on your arms and shoulders in a range of positions and has a cool, lightweight feel. I would have preferred a slightly narrower collar, but this is always an issue with me in shirt-sizing and many will find it a perfect fit..
Not surprisingly the Capo clothing range is constantly developing to stay at the forefront of cycling apparel technology and design, and as the days start to shorten for Bay Area cyclists Capo’s advanced offerings for reflective and bright clothing will be of great interest to those shopping for performance-related items, as opposed to looser-fitting commuter wear.
Their HiVis reflective and FLO dayglo yellow lines make great sense for longer rides on foggy winter days when bright or reflective colors will help other road users see you from a distance.
The HiVis reflective material creates a non-breathable layer, so the clothing is perforated to provide vapor to escape.
The Bay Area is often difficult to dress for. It can be cold and clammy at the start of a ride near Golden Gate Bridge, but only an hour later the sun can be bright and the temperature very warm. It is only by going through the wide range of clothing items and accessories, that Capo make, and using their clothes, that you start to understand how valuable it is that everybody that works there rides all the time in this climate and that they have the resources and will to make clothing that works across a wide range of conditions.
Their website, capocycling.com, is definitely worth a close look as you shop for your winter cycle clothing this year.