Troy Lee is a name that most of you may recognize, but few people actually know that there is a person named Troy Lee behind the brand. We sat down with the calm soul behind the legendary brand to find out what drives him, what he still needs to learn, and what it takes to build such a significant brand for the biking community like Troy Lee Designs.

In our “A coffee with…” series, we sit down with fascinating personalities from the world of biking for relaxed conversations over coffee. In each episode, we’ll delve into their lives and ask them some intriguing questions. Join us as we discover the stories behind legends, one coffee at a time.

Meeting Point: Troy’s new Home in Sintra/Portugal.

Before we start one important question: Should life be fast or slow?

TROY LEE: Both! Life is full of grey areas, and this is no exception. Sometimes we need to slow down and take it easy, while other times we need to rev things up and go full speed ahead. The key is to recognize when we need to switch gears and find the right balance between the two. So don’t be afraid to embrace both sides of the spectrum and enjoy the ride!

Who is Troy Lee? Describe yourself in 3 words.

TROY LEE: Fast, Slow and Colourful. My world is about racing and colour!

How and when did you start TLD?

TROY LEE: At a young age, I started customising motocross helmets for a few friends, purely for the fun of it. But word quickly spread, and soon enough, I had other racers lining up to get their helmets painted by me. Before I knew it, I was making money and had to start paying taxes. That’s when the need for a business name arose. My mum stepped in and designed some business cards with the name Troy Lee Designs on them. At first, I thought it was a terrible idea, but in hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thanks, Mum!

Did you foresee this success and that TLD would go into the direction it did?

TROY LEE: No way! But I’m just getting started. I’m hopeful that there’s still plenty of success ahead of me and the ideas we have. These days, we’re producing a whopping nine different helmets simultaneously, which is a far cry from the one or two we used to churn out. We’re branching out into street and MotoGP, supporting more riders, and expanding our production facilities across Portugal, Italy, Hungary, and Thailand. I am right now with an amazing team of employees and partners. I’ve always believed that if you surround yourself with talented, driven individuals, anything is possible. Let’s keep pushing forward and making great things happen!

What was key to your success?

TROY LEE: Loving what I do! And surrounding myself with better artists and great people. I always tell my employees: “If I can do that better than you, I have to let you go. Make sure to impress me!”

What did you (have to) learn along the way?

TROY LEE: I am definitely still learning, but treating all people with respect is one of them. I believe that staying true to what you love and persevering through failures is key to achieving success. When things don’t work out, it’s important to keep swinging and trying again because eventually, they will work out. My personal philosophy is to infuse art and soul into everything I do. When you put your heart into your work, it has a way of working out in the end.

Are you still hands-on? What day-to-day tasks do you (still) enjoy?

TROY LEE: Yes, of course. My favourite thing is working with my artists and creating safe and premium products.

And what do you don’t like?

TROY LEE: Undoubtedly, the hardest part of my work is seeing people get hurt. I’ve watched too many of my friends suffer injuries, paralysis, and even lose their lives while chasing their dreams on the racetrack in cars and on motorcycles. But rather than letting these tragedies defeat me, they inspire me to create better products that can help prevent others from experiencing the same fate. I’m constantly experimenting with new materials, such as the prototype I showed you on our ride yesterday. Safety is paramount, and we need to keep searching for innovative solutions that can help us stay alive while continuing to pursue our passions. The risk will always be there, but we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to do everything in our power to make these sports as safe as possible.

Cycling Fashion is getting more and more subtle and straightforward. Where do you see TLD going?

TROY LEE: My philosophy is that you need to strike a balance between both ends of the spectrum. That’s why I always tell my artists, “Go Mild, Go Wild!” We may sell more subtle black clothing with small logos, but there are times when going wild is necessary. When you’re on the racetrack, for example, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear bold colours and make a statement. During training, I prefer to keep things subtle, but on race day, I love to dress up in the wildest gear I can find. It’s fun!

As the company grows, how did you/do you maintain integrity?

TROY LEE: Racers give me integrity. Without the Racers, we would not be where we are today.

Any Life Goals?

TROY LEE: I haven’t done helmets for astronauts. So perhaps I still have a long way to go.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

TROY LEE: (takes a moment to answer) Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it. Mistakes happen, and I’ve certainly made my fair share – especially on the racetrack. There are moments where I wish I had made different choices, especially ones that resulted in injuries that left me in a wheelchair for six months.

As for business choices, some people have criticised my decision to buy a house in Portugal and move production of our helmets partly to Europe. But I felt it was important not to have all our eggs in one basket. It was a lot of work to make the switch, and production costs are up now, but it’s worth it to know that we won’t go out of business if something happens.

Others have told me that bringing my family into the business is a mistake, but I disagree. My son Max is already in charge of the race team, and I’m integrating my daughter, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews into the company as well. It creates a cool vibe and a lot of trust. Plus, it’s important for me to teach them how to keep the business running in case something happens to me – it takes the pressure off me and gives me peace of mind.

What are you grateful for?

TROY LEE: My wife and kids for putting up with all my craziness.

Weird question, but if your life were to end tomorrow morning, would you be at peace with your life?

TROY LEE: For sure! I accomplished enough but I still have a lot more to give. I’ll keep swinging as hard as I can and give it my all.

Creative blockage! What do you do?

TROY LEE: I have the opposite problem, my mind is always racing with ideas and I jot them all down, but it’s difficult to find the time to bring them all to life. I’m not afraid of failure, so I’m willing to try anything. However, one challenge I face is that I have specific colours in my mind that are difficult to produce due to missing pigments. For instance, there’s no easy way to create fluorescent turquoise. Even something as simple as matching colours can be a struggle, as seen with this wall I’m sitting on that has a different shade of grey than the house wall. I’ve tried to paint it the same way, but it’s just not possible to match those colours perfectly.

If you could do something completely different what would it be?

TROY LEE: Gosh… it would be the worst thing in the world to do. I love racing and bikes too much. I am very happy where I am. But, if there’s one thing I do regret, besides not spending enough time with my family, it’s not putting more effort into learning new skills like playing an instrument or becoming fluent in multiple languages, but I barely speak English. Sometimes I daydream about being a carpenter and creating beautiful furniture from scratch. That’s something that really speaks to me, and I wish I had pursued it more.

Besides family, what would you like to have more space in your life for?

TROY LEE: I definitely want to see the world a bit more.

If you could offer our readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

TROY LEE: Chase your dreams and make sure you do what you love! … Ah and also give love to the people that give you the opportunity to move forward.

Last but not least, do a fast sketch of my assistant Bonnie.

I appreciate your time!

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Words: Julian Lemme Photos: Julian Lemme

About the author

Julian Lemme

Julian has already explored the Pacific in the company of sharks, come face to face with his fear of heights in the Himalayas, sat in Uruguay's oldest prison and found the answer to world peace in the Brazilian rainforest. This globetrotter has travelled halfway around the world while doing the layouts for our magazines. Today, he's almost settled down, living with his dog Bonnie in sunny Lisbon to ride, surf and enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. As art director, the awesome style and layouts that distinguish our magazines are all thanks to him.