A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

LOUIS VIGGIO AND THE STORY OF DUAL EYEWEAR

This content is sponsored by Dual Eyewear. Find out more about our sponsored content policies here.

Here is a cold, hard truth: Almost all cyclists of a certain age, usually in their mid- to late-40s, experience a precipitous drop in one aspect of physical performance. This has nothing to do with power-to-weight ratio or VO2max. You could be at peak fitness and one day realize, perhaps quite suddenly, that your eyes don’t work the way they used to. Your vision has deteriorated. You’ll look at your expensive cycling computer, with all its fancy data, and not be able to read it.

That’s what happened to Louis Viggio. And that’s why he founded Dual Eyewear.

Viggio launched the eyewear brand in 2011 because he couldn’t find a suitable solution for a condition he was experiencing. He had purchased a new Garmin computer to use while riding. He programmed the device, mounted it to his handlebar, and the next day rolled out with his $400 accessory. But before he reached the end of the driveway, Viggio realized he had a problem. He couldn’t read the numbers on the display.

Viggio, in his mid-50s at the time, had developed presbyopia. In layman’s terms, presbyopia is the aging of the eye. It eventually affects nearly everyone to some degree, and its symptoms include difficulty reading small print, which appears blurry up close. Presbyopia can lead to headaches, eyestrain, and an annoying need to hold your phone at arm’s length to view its display.

A simple solution is a cheap pair of “readers,” eyeglasses that magnify small type for up-close reading. Some people require bifocals, which are constructed with more convex lenses in the bottom half (for close viewing) and less convex lenses on the upper (for far-away clarity). But neither of these options work well on your weekly group ride. As Viggio came to understand, cyclists with presbyopia have specific needs.

How Viggio got to this point in life, the point where he made it his mission to solve this on-the-bike vision problem for cyclists his age, is a story itself. It’s one that involves a South American military coup, the early days of the Coors Classic stage race, Mexican racer Raúl Alcalá and the 7-Eleven Team, Harley-Davidson, and the commercialization of cycling photography during the Lance Armstrong era.

Viggio’s story is that of a behind-the-scenes player in the business of cycling over the past 40 years.

Louis Viggio has been many things over the past 40 years. In the mid 1980s he took on his first team management role with the Colorado-based Team Max.

Long before he thought he would start an eyewear company, Viggio was a kid growing up in Peru. He went to a good school and was part of a middle-class family in Lima, yet his childhood environment is best described as unstable.

“My family lived in Lima, and earthquakes were a big problem,” Viggio says. “I lived through three of them where thousands of people died. Everything would just turn to rubble. By the last one I was freaking out, going to bed with my clothes and shoes on because they usually came at night.”

Viggio’s father recognized that anxiety, and came up with a plan. “We’re sending you to America,” he told his 14-year-old son.

Viggio’s older sister lived in New York, where she worked as an executive secretary for Peruvian Airlines. So Viggio packed up and headed there for six months. His sister enrolled him in public high school in Queens, where Viggio quickly realized he should have studied harder back home.

“My father had always said it was important for us to learn English, and in Lima we went to private schools that emphasized learning the language” he says. “But I thought it was stupid to learn a language I’d never use. I failed every year.”

In Queens, Viggio was forced to learn fast. To adapt. As it turns out, that was a life skill he would rely upon repeatedly in the years ahead. After six months in New York, Viggio returned to Lima. He could now speak English better than his teachers, but his days in Peru were numbered. Now a different sort of instability was unfolding: a military coup. “My dad saw the writing on the wall,” Viggio says. “He knew things were going to get really, really bad.”

Along with a new government came years of internal conflict and hostilities. Viggio’s friends and neighbors were fleeing. “Anybody who had the means to leave, left,” he says. “After a while, I had nobody left that I knew there. The ones who stayed suffered.”

So Viggio went back to New York, this time with his whole family. “We were only allowed to leave the country with whatever personal belongings we could carry and a hundred dollars of currency per person,” he says. “We felt like refugees.”

Viggio had his high school degree from Peru, and he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York with the goal of becoming a graphic designer. He eventually moved into photography and landed an apprentice job at Warsaw Studios, one of the major fashion studios of the time. He started at the bottom, cleaning up and washing developing trays in the dark room.

“But I had the opportunity to use the equipment at night and started developing my portfolio,” he says. “And sure enough, after a couple years I was an assistant for one of the fashion photographers and they were giving me little jobs on the side. They were grooming me to be the next shooter.”

That was the plan, at least.

“I came over the hill and saw Boulder, and I just knew. I said ‘To hell with it, I don’t care if there’s no photography work. I’m moving here.’”

By 1976 Viggio, now in his early-20s, was a working photographer in New York, but says he never really felt comfortable in the big city. That winter he took a ski trip to Aspen. One of his photographer friends from the studio was from Colorado and had an idea to open a new studio out west. He told Viggio to check out Denver and see what he thought. Viggio brought along a portfolio and visited a few businesses to feel out the market.

“It was pathetic,” Viggio remembers. “Back then we were shooting chromes, 8x10 slides. I pulled them out and showed them to people in Denver, and they didn’t even know what the hell they were looking at.”

The commercial photography market didn’t look good. But after a couple of days without much luck, Viggio drove about 30 minutes west to Boulder. “Oh man,” he remembers. “I came over the hill and saw Boulder, and I just knew. I said ‘To hell with it, I don’t care if there’s no photography work. I’m moving here.’”

So Viggio returned to New York the next weekend, quit his job on Monday, packed a moving van, and headed west. With no photography work to be had, he landed a job at a ski shop. Never mind that he could hardly ski and knew nothing about the gear. He was a quick study. One day, after he had worked there for a while, Viggio asked the owner: “Why would you ever hire a Peruvian who knew nothing and could barely ski?”

The owner answered: “Simple. Because you have an accent. In the ski industry, an accent makes you believable.” A few years later, that accent would again serve Viggio well in the cycling world.

Not long after he landed in Boulder, Viggio walked to a nearby park one day to watch the final stage of a bike race called the Red Zinger Classic. It was sponsored by the Boulder-based tea company Celestial Seasonings and named after their Red Zinger tea.

“I had never seen a bike race in my life,” he says. “Not even on television. It was awesome. I got hooked.”

Viggio was first introduced to international cycling as a host and language interpreter for Spanish speaking teams at the Coors Classic stage race (formerly the Red Zinger Classic). He’s shown here working the feed zone for the Peruvian team at the 1983 edition of the race.

Viggio met race director Michael Aisner and asked if he could volunteer. And over the next few years, as the Red Zinger morphed into the Coors Classic — the first major stage race in America — Viggio worked the event as a translator and host for Spanish-speaking teams from Mexico, Colombia and Spain. He also eventually opened his photography studio in Boulder, landing some big corporate accounts including IBM. He specialized in commercial photography for advertising and catalogs. Business was good.

But Viggio would never miss the annual bike race. Every summer he took a month off to volunteer, and by the mid ’80s the Coors Classic had grown into a major international event. In the wake of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, which had introduced U.S. pros like Alexi Grewal, Davis Phinney and Ron Kiefel to the public, the Colorado race had become the backbone of a burgeoning U.S. cycling scene.

Viggio’s favorite riders to host were the Mexicans. He befriended a young Olympian named Rául Alcalá, who had raced for Mexico at the 1984 Olympics. And when America’s first professional cycling team, 7-Eleven, recruited Alcalá in 1985, the young athlete asked Viggio to help negotiate the contract. Just like that, Viggio became the first pro cycling rider agent in the U.S.

Viggio and Rául Alcalá at the 1987 Tour de France. The photo was taken after the podium ceremonies following the finish of the time trial that finished at Futuroscope. Alcalá crashed that day, but he won the white jersey of the Best Young Rider that year.

Around this time, Viggio had also gotten to know British cycling journalist John Wilcockson. The two became friends when Wilcockson moved to Boulder to become editor of a new magazine called Inside Cycling. One day Viggio told Wilcockson, half-jokingly, to call him if he ever needed a driver for the Tour de France. “I figured John must think ‘This goofball is crazy’,” Viggio remembers. “But about a month before the ’87 Tour he told me I better get my passport in order because I was set up to go.”

A veteran Tour reporter, Wilcockson was able to get Viggio accredited as a driver, and, along with photographer Graham Watson and a few other English-speaking journalists, they set out for the 1987 Tour de France. Viggio drove the car, learning the ins and outs of the biggest bike race in the world. And the deeper he got into it, the less interested he was in his day job back at the photo studio.

Before the Tour, Viggio had wrangled a deal with Audi, securing a car to drive for the three-week Tour. The race started in Berlin that year, and they picked up a brand new souped-up Audi 90 at the factory in Ingolstadt. To reach the start, they had to drive through part of East Germany, which was like going back in time. “It was pretty spooky,” Wilcockson remembers. “It was still like pre-war era there.”

Driving through what was then called “the corridor” between West and East Germany, Viggio put the Audi to the test, cruising at 240kph (150mph) on the desolate autobahn. They weren’t too worried about getting stopped by the police, who drove Trabants — notoriously sluggish East German automobiles sometimes called a “spark plug with a roof.”

“They were no match for our four-wheel-drive Audi,” Viggio says.

Viggio was the official driver for Inside Cycling magazine at the 1987 Tour de France. Their team included (clockwise from top left) Graham Watson’s French moto driver, Belgian journalist Noel Truyers, British journalist John Wilcockson, Viggio, Susan Bickelhautt of the Boston Globe, and photographer Graham Watson.

In addition to his driver duties, Viggio also became the voice of an innovative, if primitive, news service for American cycling fans. In those pre-internet days, the only daily Tour de France news one could find was the results in the sports section of a local newspaper— if they bothered to print them. So the publishers of Inside Cycling, which would become VeloNews in 1988, launched Hotline Cycling, which, for a fee, offered recorded news reports from France through a 900 phone service.

When asked to serve as Hotline Cycling’s voice of the Tour, Viggio thought his South American accent would be a problem. But VeloNews publisher Felix Magowan said, “No, Louis – the accent is perfect. It makes you sound more authoritative.”

Before long, Viggio was going to the Giro d’Italia too. And the Vuelta a España.

“I had an assistant and a 2,500-square-foot studio I was paying for, and I was always gone,” he says. “So I made the decision, screw it. I sold my studio, sold all my accounts to a friend in Boulder, and went 100% into the cycling business.”

“Hey Louis, how about you represent me?” – Ruthie Matthes, US MTB champion
“I don’t think so, Ruthie. I’m still not sure about this whole mountain biking thing.” – Louis Viggio

By the late 1980s Boulder had become home to many U.S. pro road racers. Something else was happening, too. Mountain biking. With a growing national race series attracting sponsors and TV coverage, suddenly there was a new game in town. Teams were forming, contracts were getting signed, and many pro road racers were switching to dirt.

One of those racers was Ruthie Matthes, a U.S. national champion who had grown up in Idaho and moved to Boulder. Viggio was out on a ride one day when Matthes caught up to him: “Hey Louis, how about you represent me?”

Viggio wasn’t sure. He already had one mountain biking client, Rishi Grewal, the younger brother of 1984 Olympic road racing gold medalist Alexi Grewal, but Rishi had come from the road world. Viggio had known him for a while. “I don’t think so, Ruthie” Viggio said. “I’m still not sure about this whole mountain biking thing.”

But Matthes was persistent. She persuaded him to come to the 1991 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships in Italy and see for himself. Matthes won that race and took home the rainbow jersey. Viggio was convinced: “I said, ‘Alright, Ruthie. You got yourself an agent.’”

Matthes says Viggio played a key role in her racing career, which saw her win five XC national championships, a World Cup title and that world championship in 1991. She also went on to compete at the 2000 Summer Olympics. With Viggio’s help, she inked deals with brands including Evian, Ritchey, PowerBar and Trek. Today she’s a brand and product liaison with Magura USA.

“Louis and I just really connected on the business side of cycling,” Matthes said. “He’s an innovator. He’s always had these great ideas.”

Viggio with Ruthie Matthes (left) and Susan DiBiase (right), along with Trek team mechanic Scott Daubert in 1993 at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Viggio represented Matthes and DiBiase, along with a handful of other mountain bike pros, in the 1990s.

In the mid-1990s Viggio saw the tide turning with professional mountain bike racing. It debuted as an Olympic sport at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and the backwoods American character of the sport was starting to fade. The UCI had different ideas about the future of mountain biking, pulling it away from the high mountains and remote singletrack trails of American ski towns and giving it a more Euro-centric feel. The European riders began dominating World Cup competition, and Viggio started thinking about pursuing different opportunities in the cycling industry.

A big trend in the U.S. around that time was cruiser style bikes. Viggio saw more and more of the balloon-tired bikes around Boulder, and was struck with an idea. “I thought to myself, ‘what really captures the style and vibe of these cruiser style bikes?’” he says. “The answer was easy — Harley-Davidson.”

At the time, Viggio had no experience in creating and bringing a product to market — but that didn’t deter him. He partnered with Brian Serchinger, who had experience in bicycle manufacturing, and they managed to land a meeting with Harley-Davidson. To their surprise, the motorcycle company was immediately on board, granting them rights to produce a Harley-Davidson branded bike based on two conditions: that they would work with legendary Harley-Davidson designer Willie G. Davidson on the styling; and that they would find an established bicycle manufacturer to produce the bike.

Luckily, Viggio knew just the guy. Richard Long, the CEO of GT Bicycles, was a Harley fanatic. Viggio remembers: “I called Richard, and after a couple of minutes of telling him what I was working on, he interrupted me and said, ‘where do I sign?’ This became Richard’s pet project.” Together, they navigated all the licensing issues and set about making it happen.

“People started gathering around, not wanting to miss out on our 1,000 limited-edition bikes. Buyers started writing orders on the backs of business cards and passing them to us over people’s heads.”

In July 1996, just a week before the Atlanta Olympics, most of the U.S. cycling industry was headed to Big Bear Lake, California, for the annual NORBA National mountain bike event there. Viggio and Long had scheduled a meeting at the venue, but sadly Long never made it to Big Bear. He was killed in a motorcycle accident on his way to the venue.

“I remember being at the venue, and someone came up to me and told me they had just heard an announcement on the PA that Richard had died,” Viggio remembers. “When I heard, I just started crying. He was such a great guy, a friend.”

Long’s tragic death came a week before the contracts were signed with Harley-Davidson, but GT honored his wishes and proceeded with the project. Later that year Viggio booked a booth at the Harley-Davidson trade show to introduce the cruiser bicycle.

“The sample bike wasn’t ready in time for the show,” he says. “All we had was a folding table with a full-size rendering of the bike hanging on the wall behind us. But to our surprise, people started gathering around, not wanting to miss out on our first, limited-edition 1,000 bikes.

“Buyers started writing orders on the backs of their business cards and passing them to us over people’s heads.”

The Harley-Davidson project helped lay a foundation for Viggio’s later work with Dual Eyewear. He now understood what it took to bring a product to life, to take that journey from an idea to the marketplace. The cruiser bikes sold for several years, until Schwinn bought GT Bicycles in 1998.

The Harley-Davidson cruiser bike that Viggio helped bring to market in 1997.

After the Harley-Davidson project, Viggio followed his next idea, which was to launch a website for photographer Graham Watson. The site operated for about 10 years, giving Watson an outlet to sell photos directly to consumers and brands.

“We did really, really well,” Viggio remembers. “Before that, Graham was selling to cycling publications, but with the site we were able to build his brand. And we were licensing images of Lance Armstrong to companies like Coca-Cola.”

Viggio and Watson shut down the website in 2010, which is when Viggio started thinking about his next move in cycling. On that day in 2011 when he realized he couldn’t read the numbers on his new Garmin, he was surprised to discover there wasn’t an easy solution.

“The only thing I could find was these safety glasses that had readers,” he says. The other option was to have a prescription lens custom made for cycling sunglasses, at a cost of $500 or more. “I figured I can’t be the only one having this problem, so I’m going to try and create a solution — glasses specifically designed for cyclists with built-in readers.”

The only problem? “I didn’t know a damn thing about the eyewear business,” Viggio says. So he began researching. After several months of testing and development, he struck a deal with a manufacturer that could produce his initial design. He paid for a full production run up front and crossed his fingers.

“I definitely took a chance,” Viggio says. “I could have received a box of bricks. Luckily it all worked out.”

Today, Dual Eyewear has evolved into the leading brand of cycling-specific bifocal eyewear. To learn more about the company and its products, go to dualeyewear.com.

One of Dual Eyewear’s most popular models, the SL2 Pro.

Follow the link for a CyclingTips review of Dual Eyewear’s G5, TX, and SL2 Pro PhotoPolar sunglasses.

  • doc

    Thank you for the bio on me Viggio. Interesting read

    • doc

      Mr. Viggio

  • Allez Rouleur

    Interesting story! What a set of experiences he’s had in his life.

    One note: As a New Yorker, I’d really like it if people wrote, and said, New York City, if they are referring to one of the boroughs and New York if they mean elsewhere in the state. It’s a big, wonderful state, frustrating when folks act like it’s just “the” city and that’s all. Thanks!

  • John Higgins

    Great background read and an excellent product. I’ve got 3 pair. The only cycling eyewear I use now. Also great for driving. One pair I just keep in the car so I can read the dash display, phone screen or maps without having to change from sunglasses to readers.

BACK TO TOP

Pin It on Pinterest

15 NEW ARTICLES
June 27, 2017
June 26, 2017
June 25, 2017
June 24, 2017