Bikes and motorcycles have been at the heart of Troy Lee's life since childhood. Now in his late 50s, his enthusiasm for everything on two and four wheels shows no sign of waning. He founded Troy Lee Designs (TLD) in 1981 and has built up a roster of more than 200 motocross and bike athletes.
My dad was a motorcycle racer around Southern California. I grew up in that environment. This is what I’ve always loved doing and these are the people I want to hang out with. I’ll be racing with my 19-year-old son at the weekend.
Whenever I got injured, I’d start painting again. The story goes that my mom kicked me out of the house when I started using her oven to customize helmet visors and left the place smelling of burnt plastic. Actually, it was my stepdad – though it made me realize it was time to make my way in life anyway.
I hope it’s a thrill for a young rider to get a personalized TLD helmet, but it’s just as much a thrill for me because I get to work with such great athletes.
During the hour or so we sit together designing their helmet, I learn so much about their life. I never made it to the level some of these guys are at but I get to fulfil my dreams through my art and helping my athletes reach their full potential.
Some of the stuff they’re doing these days is just flat crazy! I have to watch them in slow motion so I can understand the tricks! Backflips, twists, corkscrews, there’s a new name every few months.
This is why it’s hard running a race team. You put a lot of pressure on yourself to keep the athletes safe. They are precious, they’re not a dime a dozen. And you want them to stay at the top for as long as they can.
They’re going to keep pushing the limits of performance so it’s vital that they’re protected. That’s why we partnered with D3O, we really believe they’re a leader in safety.”
When I started we didn’t wear too much protection. My mom made my first leathers and we wore open face helmets. I’ve got a few screws in my body.
In the past, we used to grab protection off the shelf with no real idea of how it performed. But as the bikes continue to improve and the athletes keep going faster, we have to make sure they’re safe and feeling great at the same time.
Fact is, with this number of athletes, barely a week goes by without one of them getting hurt. Almost all of them would prefer to wear nothing, they’d pretty much race naked, but often it takes an accident for them to realize the full benefit of protection.
As we develop better products utilizing D3O® technology, they begin to see how it’s possible to put a knee guard on, for example, then crash and still walk away.
The orange speck on the gear tells them they’re protected. The confidence that comes from having D3O® protection can be the difference that gets them over the line first.
The team tell me about the fastest new kids across motor racing, bikes, IndyCar, NASCAR. They say Troy can help you out, put a little more protection on your body. Then when I get to paint their helmet it’s the icing on the cake.
My business card still reads ‘Sign painter’, it’s my roots. That’s what I was doing this morning. It’s where I began, and what I always go back to. D3O allows me to focus on the art – they take care of the protection.