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Interviews

20 years/20 questions – Troy Lee Designs

A true legend of the industry

TO CELEBRATE THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF DIRT WE’RE SPEAKING TO THE BRANDS AND RIDERS THAT HAVE SUPPORTED US THROUGHOUT THE YEARS. WE’LL BE ASKING 20 QUESTIONS ON THE PAST PRESENT AND FUTURE OF MOUNTAIN BIKING TO THOSE WHO ARE TRULY IN THE KNOW. CHECK OUT OUR 20TH ANNIVERSARY BOOK THAT’S AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER HERE.

Troy Lee Designs make some of the sexiest kit around. It’s favoured by a load of the top pros – and we adore it here too. Who can forget Sam Hill’s yellow and pink jumpsuit, or Peaty’s lion helmet – totally iconic.

Troy is a real champion of all things two-wheeled too, supporting everything from downhill to slopestyle and moto. We had a chat with him about mountain biking past, present and future.

20 questions – Troy Lee

What achievement of the company are you most proud of?
“Keeping my friends and our athletes safe all of these years. Seriously, the bikes have only made everyone go faster, jump further, spin faster and my priority is keeping everyone safe, comfortable and performing the best they can”.

What has been you biggest product development?
“I have somehow, developed to stay in business all these years haha, I think what I said before, developments in safety from our first Daytona helmet, to things we are working on today…helmets that protect”.

What was the brand working on 20 years ago?
“Well, 20 years ago we were working on being a serious contender in the helmet race, just a small guy going against a giant like Bell, Shoei, etc.

We were just starting to work on riding gear for moto and bike, but I was also sponsoring race teams, being a team owner, starting with the team Eric Carter put together, later the Intense team with Leigh Donovan, and many years later my supermoto team which has turned into our KTM TLD team, and most recently the SRAM TLD Racing team”.


What is the direction of the company setting up for the next 20 years?
“I started as a helmet painter, we still do that today of course, and design work internally as well as for other brands inspires me every day as we work on new projects, and that will never change, but I want us to be at the forefront of safety, technical fabrics, protection so we have some new people that are pushing the limits, but that’s where I see us headed”.

 What influence has Dirt had on your company?
“Dirt was always a place that editorialized the spirit of riding and racing, being with your buddies, pushing the limits. If there were any magazine that ever represented me or my company, it would be Dirt, I feel like we are kindred spirits for sure haha”.

What has been the biggest lesson the company has learnt in the industry?
“Treat everyone like Switzerland, keep the peace with everyone, you never know who you are going to work with next… from people within the industry, or even brands we work with, never burn any bridges”.

What do you dislike about working in the bike industry?
“Not a whole lot, it’s why I do it! I love the people in the industry, from the people that work in it to the bike shops all over the world, just great people on bikes man, I am not a big hater, so I might be the wrong person to ask that haha”.

Give us a story from your wildest moment in mountain biking?
“In the 90’s and early 2000’s when I was going to a lot more World Cups, there was no shortage of wild moments but losing my passport at a club in Italy when I was partying with Peaty, Cedric and the guys. It was after 9/11, but somehow they still let me on the plane!

“I had to hide through border checks in the back of the rental car, under suitcases my GM at the time was not happy with me! I think I lost it on the slide that slid into the basement of the bar, Peaty and I were riding bikes and crashing into the place, what a fun time!”

What has been your favourite moment of Dirt’s history?
“I think staying alive man! I know print has been a tough sell to new people, young kids, but you guys stayed alive in digital and are better than ever. Dirt can’t go away!”

Your favourite or most memorable Dirt Cover?
“I have a copy of Dirt, with Peaty on the cover, 2002 I think, he’s in a red and orange TLD kit, blasting a dry/rocky corner, looks like big bear or something, he just looks huge, like he’s 10’ tall, leaned over, so cool. There was another cover that had a shot of our 4X race we put on, 3 dudes all at different heights, it really captured the excitement and chaos of the race”.

Dirt is well known to be controversial, what experience do you have of this?
“Having an opinion, that’s what I always remember, opening up a dialogue with racing and style, you guys started the movement to stop bullet heads I think! I always liked that haha. Don’t hold back, call it how you see it but with thoughtful commentary on why you have an opinion, Dirt makes you think OR makes you stoked just to see an amazing photo.”

What would you like to see from Dirt over the next 20 years?
“Man, just keep pushing the limits, marching to your own drum and representing the core of mountain bike culture-keep being rad. More e-bike racing! Haha, we just did one in Mammoth, people say I’m wrong, but they can be pretty fun, it’s all evolving, lets be open minded about all bikes!”

What would be the first question you would ask Dirt?
“What do WE as a brand need to do better for the sport that we love!?”

 Who have been your favourite riders of the past 20 years?
“Peaty, Hill, Vouillouz, Palmer, Lopes, Voreis, Tomac, HB…..Cully, Gwin, Semenuk, Zink, Brendog, ….Giove, Chausson, Donovan.”

What Rider has most pushed the boundaries over the past 20years?
“I think you gotta go with Peaty, always thinking he’s 15 yrs old forever haha, all the wins, the never quit attitude. Palmer for the bus, gold capes to wear on podiums, the crowns, winning is bitchin’! Haha”

What has been your favourite or most memorable race?
“Peaty finally getting that rainbow jersey-after all those attempts and heartbreaks. As of recently, Brandon Semenuk’s Rampage, his endless innovating – I know it’s not racing, but it amazes me how one with the bike he is, cat like…but he brings it with a racer’s style.”

What does the next 20 years bring for Mountain biking?
“We’re all going back to 21” wheels haha. I think racing is going to grow again. Downhill racing has always been our formula one and we need to embrace it for what it is, a spectacular sport.

Dual slalom needs a comeback too, we don’t have enough of those and they are so fun to watch, it’s a great development discipline too where you can eventually graduate into DH.”

What’s your opinion on E-Bikes?
“It’s changed my life since I got my Specialized LEVO, I can tell you that….I can ride twice in one day, I could never do that, I can ride with my kids without getting dropped. I used to go ride MX in the afternoon and was too tired to ride my bike that day, but I can go for a pedal later that night now if I want to and still get a workout.

I shattered my hip 3 years ago, mountain biking just got a little more difficult for me and the Levo has given me a chance to ride more, which helps me personally but I can test our product out, give my own feedback but more importantly I am riding, doing little damage to the trails, not going any faster really, just getting a little help.

I have got 16 friends into mountain biking through that Levo, they were getting old and fat, not riding, but they tried it out and bought one-now they are mountain bikers. We are moto people, and these are not motorcycles, we got a real throttle for that!”

What life lessons has Mountain biking taught you?
“Its an amazing tool to keep the family bonded, takes you to unreal places around the world but even if you ride your local trails you feel like you are getting away from it all. It’s taught me how to get outside and enjoy life, which is something I grew up with but mountain biking is always the reminder to stay connected to the outdoors.

Mountain biking helps me with design even outside of the bicycle industry, mountain biking helps boost the creative juices for me really, it draws from so many areas of design… mountain biking is such a cool canvas. Mountain biking has brought me so many great people within our brand too, I think ultimately it’s taught me to not take yourself too seriously, because you’re going to fall sometimes hahaha.”

What’s been the most questionable thing to come out of Mountain biking?
“Whatever those suspension saddle top tube things and flexstems.

Rampage always makes me question where Freeride has gone – not disputing the achievements of the riding or the building of lines, but, I see it and I can’t believe they are going to ride a bicycle down that!??”

Who doesn’t get the credit they deserve in the industry?
“Race team mechanics, team staff – I’m a racer and these people don’t get the credit they deserve for the countless hours of hard work. Course workers, volunteers at races.

But above it all it’s the kids that make dirt jumps, who eventually grow up to be today’s trail builders, without trails we all have nothing, we owe everything to the builders of your local trails, find out who they are, help them out and say thanks.”

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