As its 50th anniversary year winds down, there is little mystery as to how and why Alpinestars continues as a leading manufacturer of protective gear for professional and recreational riders alike – the company remains driven and true to the vision of founder Sante Mazzarolo.
"The company has come a long way primarily because we've always looked forward to see what we can improve and do better and not been satisfied with our performance levels," said Jeremy Appleton of Alpinestars' Media Services during an extensive phone interview with AllAboutBikes from his office in Italy earlier this month.
The company recently hosted a 50th anniversary party at an F1 event in Milan. It's rolled out a special commemorative logo, produced a limited edition 50th anniversary book, and has honored those who have been important to the company since the early days.
Established in 1963 as a maker of boots for climbing, hiking and skiing, Alpinestarschanged course in 1965 to match Mazzarolo's interest in leather technology. The company is now under the direction of his son, President Gabriele Mazzarolo.
"He was very much a visionary. He saw technology in the ski market moving to plastics and he didn't necessarily want to get involved with that. He was more interested in leather," said Appleton of the elder Mazzarolo. "Then, a little bit by chance, he started to meet with a local group of Motocross and off-road riders. They were really not equipped to ride the bikes they were racing and, especially with their footwear, there was nothing remotely suitable for their protection."
So, Mazzarolo set about designing and developing the boot of choice, the latest iterations of which are the Tech 10 motocross boot and the Supertech road race boot. Today Alpinestars manufactures in excess of 300 technical products with more than 500 variations across multiple lines, including applications developed for NASCAR and Formula 1.
Focus on Technology
What separates Alpinestars from its competition?
"First and foremost I think it's the depth our investment in technology and not just financially," said Appleton. "We have a number of specialists in all our technical departments and that gives us a great deal of strength. We're always looking to push forward on all fronts. Every time technology is added, it's been done following a build-up in expertise.
In other words, research and design includes product testing by riders performing under extreme circumstances.
"We seek their feedback and incorporate it into the development of our products. I think that makes us unique," Appleton noted.
Alpinestars' rich history of riders is rich dates back to five-time World Motocross Champion Roger de Coster in the 1970s and 1978 Grand Prix World Champion Kenny Roberts. Jeremy McGrath owned Supercross throughout the 1990s and today's stable includes 2012 Motorcycle Grand Prix World Champions Jorge Lorenzo (MotoGP), Marc Marquez (Moto2) and Sandro Cortese (Moto3). Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso and NASCAR champion Kurt Busch are others who have been influential in product development.
Tech Air Race System
In order to develop its sophisticated electronic airbag system, Alpinestars started by researching how to conduct the research and developed components from there. The program began in 2001 and research continues as the system in continuously updated.
"There was a steep learning curve, from how to capture the data to understanding the forces a rider experiences to understanding what goes on during a crash, all from scratch. Nothing had been developed and there was no wearable technology. Now we have a self-contained system that functions without any external intervention and is fundamentally performing very well," said Appleton.
While Alpinestars is, at its core, a motorcycling company, Appleton noted the potential to expand the application into other action sports certainly exists. And, the technology could help alter the perception of motorcycling.
"The idea is to make it affordable and extremely protective. Motorcycling is a practical form of transport, especially in urban areas but there's perception in government and society that it's dangerous. The airbag technology sends a very positive message about improving safety," Appleton observed.
The Next Big Thing(s)
While he obviously can't elaborate on proprietary information, Appleton offered a classic teaser when he said "within product development there is all kinds of development and a game-changer may be around the corner."
Mass production of airbag technology that provides superior protection while being affordable is top of mind. And the company will never stray from manufacturing its superior trademark boots.
"Boots are still the core of the company. The Tech 10 is a huge success for us in the U.S. That and the Tech 7 are enormously important to the U.S. market. Those are the key products," Appleton proclaimed.
The company now employs 480 globally across all locations. In addition to its headquarters in Italy, main centers are maintained in Los Angeles and Tokyo. Appleton anticipates growth will come on two fronts – the company's burgeoning fashion line and in emerging markets.
"Clothing offers such a broad market. We have a strong fashion and design team in place and that's proving to be a very big growth area. We've grown it organically and have been diligent about how we develop it but it has loads of potential," Appleton said.
Meanwhile the company is working diligently to enhance distribution across emerging markets in Southeast Asia, South America, Russia and India.
"Those are substantially untapped and we could see triple-digit growth. It's a big audience. It's a matter of finding the right distribution partner," Appleton said. "Also, we're looking to producing smaller bikes and getting more youngsters involved. There are definitely opportunities for growth."
Opportunities that remain true to the vision of Sante Mazzarolo. Understanding where it came from will likely keep Alpinestars driving forward.
Through The Years
- 1963 – Founded by Sante Mazzarolo in Maser, Italy
- 1965 black porn – First motorcycle boot introduced
- 1970s – Alpinestars' rider Roger de Coster wins five World Motocross titles.
- 1978 – Alpinestars' rider Kenny Roberts wins first Grand Prix World Championship.
- 1980s – New facility opens in Los Angeles
- 1990s – Alpinestars' rider Jeremy McGrath rules Supercross
- 1999 – Development of high performance road racing leather suits begins
- 2004 – Partners with Honda in the Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup
- 2004 – Division dedicated to developing casual sportswear opens in Los Angeles
- 2012 – Alpinestars' riders claim titles in all three classes of the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship.