Matteo Cassina: The Ride of a Lifetime

Matteo Cassina worked in banking and spent up to 250 days a year sitting in airplanes. Then he did an about face, took over the British bicycle magazine Rouleur and acquired the boutique bicycle brand Passoni. Speaking with him, there’s one thing you notice right away: Matteo Cassina is right where he belongs.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Rouleur

Have you ridden your bike yet today?
Of course! After months in lockdown, today I finally managed to ride my new titanium gravel bike up the Splügen Pass. That’s where I spent my summers as a child and where I try to spend most of my spare time these days. I was very lucky and was also able to do a full session of ski touring up Pizzo Tambo, which was a wonderful way to celebrate the easing of the lockdown restrictions in Italy and the arrival of the queen stage of the Giro in Madesimo.

You mentioned your childhood. Where does your personal relationship with bicycles begin?
I fell in love with bikes because they made me free to explore my surroundings without having to ask my parents to take me somewhere. At the age of six, I was already riding to school on my own, and by fourteen I was biking up to our family home in the Alps – and the radius kept getting bigger. My fondest memories with my friends are of us riding our bikes: riding BMX or jumping into a swimming pool, mountain biking with the first snow, my first bike with drop handlebars . . . and crashing into a door slammed open in my face. Which is not the best way to remember your first ride on a race bike. I ended up getting six stitches on my forehead. Luckily, that was the only accident I’ve had on a bike so far.

But cycling is your favorite sport . . . ?
Well, I love my bikes, and I’m a fetishist of the object itself, but my favorite sport is still rowing on the Thames. I spent many years rowing at least once, often even twice a day. As far as cycling goes, I ride indoors four to five times a week and out on the road on weekends. Every bike I own is special and I have a special bond with each of them. I ride Passoni, but I also have other older bikes from different cult manufacturers – most of them Italian, of course!

Can you explain this special bond?
There are three different dimensions to my passion for bicycles. First of all, as a fan. I grew up watching the Giro, the Tour and La Vuelta, being inspired by the heroes of the sport. Secondly, like I said before, as a fetishist of the object. When my bikes are not on the road, they live with me in the living room of my house. I can spend hours just staring at them and discovering new details. And finally, as a practitioner. Spending a day with friends and family riding along Lake Como, where I grew up, is one of my favorite pastimes.

“I ride indoors four to five times a week and out on the road on weekends. Every bike I own is special and I have a special bond with each of them.”

Credit: Pauline Ballet

How do you see the bicycle evolving? After all, bicycles aren’t just for sports or a means of transport anymore but have also become a style and status symbol.
With the arrival of electric bikes, I can see how they will replace short car journeys in the future – both in emerging economies as well as in developed countries. People say that cycling is the new golf, but in my opinion this analogy is wrong. Bikes are for everyone, and biking shouldn’t become an elitist sport. I know that may seem a bit unexpected coming from the owner of one of the most expensive bike manufacturers in the world.

Which brings us to Rouleur. What exactly does that mean anyway?
In road bicycle racing, a rouleur is a type of consistent all-rounder who can ride well over most types of course. A rouleur will often work as a domestique, a rider who works for the benefit of the team, supporting the team leader, sprinter or climber.

And how would describe the magazine Rouleur?
An editorial project where we celebrate cycling in all of its permutations.

"People say that cycling is the new golf, but in my opinion this analogy is wrong. Bikes are for everyone, and biking shouldn’t become an elitist sport."

Matteo Cassina

How did it all get started?
Simon Mottram, founder and CEO of cycling lifestyle brand Rapha, created the magazine thirteen years ago together with Guy Andrews. I invested in the business five years ago and in January 2020, on the eve of the pandemic, decided to take over the business. Perhaps not the best timing – but hey, it’s never the right time, is it? So we huddled up and made it work – big time.

How has the magazine evolved over the years?
For the first hundred issues, Rouleur celebrated the legacy of cycling and re-wrote many long-forgotten stories. Then we decided to shift the focus to a wider audience with stories about the depression of a retired rider, a female cyclist’s struggle to make a living from the sport, discrimination in cycling, and wonderful stories about illuminated entrepreneurs, food, regions and, of course, races and champions – past and present.

Matteo Cassina studied economics at the University of Pavia and then went to Argentina to work for the auditing firm Arthur Andersen. The following years he was with Goldman Sachs, Citadel and Saxo Bank, and Cassina is considered a pioneer in the digitalization of financial services. In 2012 he purchased the Italian luxury bike manufacturer Passoni and in 2016 he invested in Zwift, an online fitness platform for cycling and running. He also bought British sportswear brand Ashmei and the high-end cycling magazine Rouleur. “Being a publisher,” Cassina says, “fills me with pride.”

But Rouleur is more than a magazine?
At its core, Rouleur is a bookazine, or a mook, a hybrid between a magazine and a book, issued in three languages and distributed to subscribers in over sixty countries in the world. But we are also a very digital business – we send over one million newsletters a week – and we have a podcast and a video channel. We want Rouleur to be […]

Read the entire interview with Matteo Cassina and more about Rouleur in the current ramp #54.

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