Five minutes with… Troy Lee

The man behind some of MTB's coolest kit talks helmet design, racing and why he's stoked on e-bikes

Back in 1995, Troy Lee Designs’ Daytona downhill helmet helped usher in a new era of aggressively-styled full-face lids, baggy moto kit and an attitude to match, changing the face of the sport forever. Two decades on, its gear remains at the top of many riders’ ‘most wanted’ lists.

Whether you wait with bated breath for next year’s lines to drop or find its kit a bit garish, there’s no denying that TLD is one of the most influential helmet and clothing brands in mountain biking. We sat down with Mr Troy Lee himself during a rare visit to the UK to find out what he’s working on now and where he sees the sport going. Here's what he had to say...

Mild and wild designs

“I focus quite a bit on helmets, a little bit less on the clothing. Graphics are probably what I’m best at. I’ve hired another guy to work on the clothing and he’s super-talented. I’ve also hired two new people on helmets and I’m working with them to see if there’s any new technology we can do. We’ve been perfecting two-tone gloss and matt finishes recently.

You know, I’m really liking the electric-assist thing right now. It’s too damn fun!

“We’re working on, like, five helmets right now, but it’s always like that. I’ll sketch something, we’ll go away and work on something else, then we’ll come back to it. If we think something’s cool we’ll give it to an athlete and see how the public react and how cool it really is. We do 15 custom-painted helmets a week too. I don’t paint them too often but I do draw them up.

“I definitely feel there’s a TLD look. It’s inspired a lot by going to the races. I love working with the IndyCar and NASCAR guys, alongside MX and bikes, and we’ve done ski helmets too. I always try to keep things looking racy and fast. It’s hard because customers vary in what they want. Sometimes we’ll go wild on the graphics and other times we’ll do block colours, so really we do everything from mild to wild.

"Sometimes we’ll do something and the employees will say we’re pushing it, but then we'll put it on someone like [Brendan] Fairclough or [Aaron] Gwin and that endorses that it’s cool. If we don’t keep surprising people then we’re going backwards.”

Embracing e-bikes

“You know, I’m really liking the electric-assist thing right now. It’s too damn fun! I can ride the downs with the power off, but when I want to ride back up, it’s just a dream. I can even push my eight-year-old up the hill! I don’t want to get away from bicycles, because they’re amazing as they are, but having a little battery pack that you could snap on would be great. I like to go riding with [4X champ] Brian Lopes but it’s painful because he’s so damn good, and that would even things out a bit!

I definitely think we should have more DH World Cup rounds, especially American ones

“We just organised an e-bike race, which was definitely a conversation topic! My son raced it and I think the oldest guy was 52. We made the course technical, putting logs and ramps in, and the photos were so cool — three guys side by side, wheelieing out of the turns! A lot of my employees disagreed with me for putting the e-bike race on. Stikman [Craig Glaspell, TLD’s marketing man] said: ‘Dude, we’re getting bad vibes.’ But I think if anyone should be supporting e-bikes, it’s us, as a motorcycle and a bicycle company.

“E-bikes are definitely going to get more people on bicycles and they’re great for older guys. I first got onto it when I tore my hip off and didn’t have any strength in my leg. Specialized gave me an S-Works Turbo Levo that I could pedal with one leg and it really helped me rehabilitate. We’ve got to put some control on it, though. I don’t believe in e-bikes with push-buttons, because that’s a motorcycle, but pedal-assist is pretty cool. If something’s fun it’s going to grow and I think it’s better for us to wrap our arms around it and guide it than not do anything with it.

“I think there’s a market for some e-bike focused products. I wear the D3 [TLD’s top full-face] and the A1 [its trail/enduro lid] and I think there’s room for something in-between. Also, a full-mesh jersey with shoulder and elbow pads could be cool.”

Shaking up the race scene

“I definitely think we should have more DH World Cup rounds, especially American ones. I’d love to see Big Bear and Mammoth back on the schedule. More rounds and dual slalom at each would be super-cool, because to me dual slalom is almost better to watch than DH — it’s super-fun! It’s super-cool for spectators too, because you can put a beer stand at the side and people can look away for a minute and then tune back in and understand it. People’s attention span goes out the window if it goes on for too long. Watching cross-country, you have to be an XC racer to appreciate it, it’s soooo slow.

“That’s where I feel a lil’ bit of pedal-assist is going to come in — it’ll make it so much more fun for spectators! With the batteries getting smaller and smaller, I think it’s the future. And in enduro too — if people could slip a battery into the frame it’d make the climbs that little bit easier! I think enduro in general is going to keep growing. It’s what I want to ride, anyway.”

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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