If you ride a mountain bike, chances are you know Troy Lee Designs for its line of full-face helmets and gravity gear. And maybe you are familiar with its origins in races requiring internal combustion engines; Troy, after all, got his start racing motocross as a teenager and painting helmets for his friends in his parents’ garage. But what most people don’t realize is that the company’s first venture into bicycle helmets was closer to the recently hyped A1 enduro helmet than anything in between.
The A1 recently received quite a bit of buzz, and rightfully so. After three years of development and scrapping several concepts, TLD released what it felt to be a proper all-mountain helmet—not a road helmet with a visor. The A1 features deep rear coverage and EPS (expanded polystyrene, the impact-absobing material in most helmets) that is strategically thicker in common impact zones and reinforced with fiberglass strands, but combines that extra protection with “super vents” for improved cooling over similar designs without compromising safety. Inside is a one-piece liner for comfort, so you won’t have to fuss with separate pads. Naturally, as an artist, Troy couldn’t let the A1 leave the factory without a custom look, so techniques used on moto helmets were applied to the paint and graphics along with anodized hardware. It all weighs in at a tidy 320 grams.
“Troy Lee Designs‘ deep [bicycle] roots can be traced back to the ’70s when Troy and his brother Kelly roamed around in the hills of Laguna Beach on beach cruisers,” bicycle division marketing manager Craig “Stikman” Glaspell told The Link. “And later on when Troy started painting helmets in 1981, he would eventually find his way to BMX racing in the late ’80s painting Dave Cullinans helmets, who would be the first BMX racer to have a custom painted helmet.”
In the early ’90s, motorcycle helmet manufacturer Shoei decided it was going to take a stab the mountain-bike market, but needed a little help. Troy got the call.
Shoei’s now-iconic—among those old enough to remember it—louvered shell was soon splashed with wild paint schemes by Troy and outfitted with a custom visor. One of the first “real” mountain-bike helmets was born. Donned by pro riders the likes of Brian Lopes, Greg Herbold and Leigh Donovan in races at the time, it quickly put the motorsport-goods maker on the mountain-bike map. When Lopes wanted a little more protection, Troy devised a detachable chinbar, making the Edge both TLD‘s first half-shell and full-face lid. While the chinbar design wouldn’t pass TLD‘s strict safety standards of today, the concept was revolutionary at the time for a bicycle helmet—and even moto helmets of the day featured removable chin pieces.
“Later in the ’90s was when Troy would make the groundbreaking full-face that set the standard, the Daytona,” said Stikman. The Daytona closely resembled today’s full-face helmets, and was a giant leap forward in 1995. Mike King, Nico Vouilloz and Dave Cullinan—luminaries during the ’90s in BMX and mountain-bike racing—all had their heads inside a Daytona. Soon everyone wanted one. TLD began production in 1996, and soon the Daytona was making appearances on the World Cup circuit on noggins the likes of Steve Peat and Shaun Palmer (yes, the snowboarder was a World Cup downhill racer—and a damn good one).
While the Edge helmet planted TLD‘s feet firmly in the mountain-bike market, the Daytona’s popularity carried more momentum, eclipsing the Edge and eventually evolving into the popular D2 full-face in 2001 and later the D3 in 2009.
Today the company is predominantly known for its strong footing in downhill and freeride helmets and gear but Stikman is quick to point out that it’s only a part of TLD‘s bicycle segment. “Troy Lee has been making BMX and mountain-bike apparel since the ’90s as well, from number plates and racewear to the introduction of trail-riding gear in early 2000, to what is now one of the best lineups in all-mountain, enduro, freeride and racing apparel on the market,” he said. The company counts to its credit an all-star big-bike roster including Aaron Gwin, Sam Hill, Brendan Fairclough, Troy Brosnan,Cam Zink and Brandon Semenuk, but is growing its enduro team as well. Nicolas Vouilloz, Curtis Keene and Lars Stenberg are all on board.
The Link was recently able to preview TLD‘s newest technical trail products—including gloves, shorts, jerseys and even an expansion on TLD’s partnership with Shock Doctor to include post-injury support products such as knee and wrist braces—but most of the goods are still top-secret. We will give you full details as soon as we’re able, but what we can say is that the new gear will round out the line to cover just about any style of riding when it comes time to put two wheels in the dirt.
Lest anyone forget TLD‘s trail roots, cross-country race bikes and kits from the likes of legends like Greg Herbold, John Tomac and Brian Lopes hang among the wild array of clothing, products and memorabilia in its So Cal showroom.
“We have been doing it for a few years and some of the items we have had were the first to market: trail-riding shorts, freeride shorts, loose-fitting jerseys, etc.,” Stikman said. “It is definitely a buzzword right now, but these new formats are things Troy and I did 20 years ago. Racing mountain bikes you had to race the uphill to race the downhill. We were out all day on trails, having fun with our friends, cooking at the campsite, having a beer fireside. It is a lifestyle that we all still live today, not just the latest craze for us.”
by Don Stefanovich