INTERVIEW: TROY LEE
By Tony Donaldson
It is not the least bit of an overstatement to say that the name Troy Lee is as well regarded in the sports world as any French designer is to the fashion world. Over the years the Troy Lee signature logo has been found on the helmets of Formula One drivers, MotoGP riders and even NHL goalies. Thanks to his design partnership with Adidas (who co-sponsors his motocross team), Troy also designed the helmets for the Notre Dame football team. In short, from his line of protective and casual clothing to the custom-painted helmets that bear his name, Troy Lee is nothing less than a household name in the action sports and motocross world.
Troy is not only known as one of the best-known designers in the world of motorsports, he also comes from a lineage with racing and art in his DNA. His father was a motorcycle racer and artist named Larry Lee, and his grandfather Marvin was the co-founder of the Bonneville Speed Trials. From his earliest days, Troy has been steeped in racing and the culture that surrounds it.
When he was a professional motocross racer in the early ’80s, Troy started laying down some custom paint jobs on several professional racing friends’ helmets. Soon enough, his design skills led to his expanding into the helmet visor business, where he started out forming the prototypes in his mom’s kitchen. His company has grown exponentially from there and is now a top brand of protective wear for motorcycle and bicycle riders alike.
A somewhat recent convert to electric bikes, he is now sold on them and a strong advocate of them—so much so that he’s started the first electric mountain bike race series in the U.S. called the Boogaloo.
We caught up with Troy on one of his Wednesday-morning rides from his house where he heads out into the great trails in Laguna Beach, California. He’s outspoken, friendly and a bit folksy, and he is always enthusiastic. Currently, Troy is beyond enthusiastic about electric bikes. Although it was a bad crash and a serious injury that brought him into the electric world, he is now one of the sport’s biggest fans.
It was 3 years ago when Troy had a bad motocross crash at a track in Southern California where he suffered a broken back and hip. He was in the hospital for a month and in a wheelchair for a couple of months afterwards. It would be six months before he could put his own weight on his left leg. Never one to stay still for long, Troy was determined to get back to riding on two wheels as soon as he could.
Owing to a long-term relationship he had with Specialized, they sent him a Turbo electric bike to help with his rehabilitation.
“It was the first bike I could get on. It was amazing! After about six months I got on a bicycle and just started cruising the neighborhood a little bit. I was an immediate fan! I was like, ‘This thing is insane,’ especially living in Laguna where [everything is] just up and down, you know? I ended up riding that Turbo for about a year until I got strong enough to get back on my regular bike.
“Over the years I’ve done some limited-edition bikes for Specialized, and I heard that they were working on a new electric mountain bike. My friend Sam knew how much I loved mountain bikes, and he guaranteed me that I would love this new bike; he was right! They sent me one, and I did the graphics for it. We did a limited edition of 1000 of them, and they sold out in less than 45 minutes, which was super cool!
“I just finished a new one that’s going to come out around Christmas this year. I’ve just been loving them ever since. I got my wife one and my son one, too, so now there are four of them at the house, and every Wednesday I ride e-bikes always with three or four friends, and it’s always a blast!
“I’ve got a couple of my board members that are 60+ and got those guys a couple of mountain bikes, and now they’re back riding, and they haven’t ridden bicycles in 15 years. They’re back playing in the hills now too!
“It’s a trend that’s not going to go away, so let’s wrap our arms around it. Class 1 is the only one that I’m really pushing for, because I feel like that’s the only one that belongs on the trails with the mountain bikes. If it has a throttle, it belongs in the motorcycle parks.
“I’m a huge fan. Everything I’m touching these days, whether it’s a toothbrush or an electric Skilsaw, is going electric these days. There’s nothing I’m touching that’s not gone electric. I think the batteries are just going to get smaller.
“I just have more fun on the e-bikes. I smile more, and my playground has gotten twice as big as it was with my pedal bike, which is cool. I can still get home after riding e-bikes for four hours and still have the energy to do some ‘=honey-dos around the house!”
TROY LEE THE INTERVIEW
EBA: What do you think about cars going electric?
Troy Lee: I think the Teslas are insane! I’m a huge Elon Musk fan (laughs). That guy’s a genius, man.
EBA: You think he’s going to push battery technology really far?
TL: We know battery technology isn’t going backwards. It just keeps getting better and better every year. Actually, I think it gets better every six months. Have you seen the Roborace? Electric Formula One cars? And autonomous driving with no drivers?
You dress differently when riding an e-bike, you know? You wear long sleeves, and you wear kneepads. We’re working on a new full-face (helmet) over there that’s coming out in May of next year. Your speeds are a couple of miles an hour faster, and you’re willing to carry more tools, and you’re able to get a lot more conversation in. On a regular bike, you’re going two miles an hour and you’re breathing so hard you can’t talk.
I’m telling people, “It’s gonna be your next bike!” I’m sorry to say, in some capacity you’re going to have some kind of electric system in the next couple of years.
EBA: There’s still a place for guys who want to ride a traditional bike.
TL: As a matter of fact, I just went out and bought a new pedal bike. I rode it a couple of days, and when I came home, my wife said, “You’re too tired to do anything?” And I was—too tired to climb a ladder.
I do think there needs to be some trail etiquette. I do think all the bikes should come with bells on them. I do tell everyone that’s riding them, “If you’re pedaling up and someone is coming up on a regular bike, pull over and let them go.”
I feel like I almost want to include a manual about that with our new helmet we’re about to release. It’s called the Stage helmet. It’s for enduro, and I think it’s going to cross over into e-bikes. It’s like a fully vented A2 full-face. I do feel like I want to put a little manual on the hang tags: “If you do use this with an e-bike, here are some suggestions or some trail etiquette that we suggest.” I think just some words of wisdom, like putting bells on your bike for the blind turns, because you are going a couple of miles an hour faster.
Even when I pass somebody with shaved legs on a climb, it’s funny, because I’ll find myself trying to breathe a little harder! Most of them are pretty cool, but some of them will tell you that they’re (e-bikes) the devil, and I’m like, “Well, that rear cog’s the devil, too, man! That’s pedal assist too!” I mean, they didn’t allow a rear derailleur in the Tour de France until 1937!
I get a lot of exercise out there, but now I’ve got screws in my back and I’m not getting any younger, but the e-bike keeps me riding. I ride three or four times a week, where on my regular bike I’ll be able to just ride one. If you ask me, three rides a week is always better than one!