I guess you could judge the success of a brothel by all the naked punters, but you can tell their excitement without having to look at their faces. This is a tale about my life, one of adult websites, futures remapped thanks to the simple word “hello”, and a trip to Whistler via Brazil. Life is by no means linear, so pull your hand out of your pants and be ready to say hello, or just keep reading to discover my story and what all this has to do with Troy Lee.
Winter 2009 in Osnabrück
I remember standing somewhere in the woods; it was almost dark and there was snow falling lightly. A handful of us had been persuaded to do a few quick turns on our local downhill trail. But as we were making our way up, two other riders – strangers, back then – came down, looking seriously stylish over the little doubles we’d made. Disbelief rippled through our crew. Who were these people? It’s a small place, the sort of area where everyone knows each other. Like, if I haven’t dated you, I’ve probably dated your cousin, next-door neighbour or babysitter. While the rest of the group carried on up, I couldn’t get over their smooth style, whipping, scrubbing and roosting the frozen berm. As if drawn by a magnet (probably my ego), I turned around and set off after them.
Caught on the line
I catch up with the two unknown riders where the trail ends and learn their names: Maarten and Ruben. They are Dutch and had hopped over the border; something they do a few times a month to scope out the trails around Osnabrück, just west of Hanover and east of the Netherlands. We hit it off, with easy small talk all the way back up. Ruben – an engineer at GHOST Bikes, who raced DH and played on his trials bike – was the chatty one. We swapped numbers. Next time they were around, he should call, I said. He did call, eventually – but not to offer me a ride. He offered me a job.
Back to the brothel
I was a graphic design student back then, 19 years young and working at a small agency that worked with adult websites. My main task involved photoshopping-out distinguishing features of sex workers – and by this, I mean any piercings or tattoos around their private parts – so they wouldn’t be easily recognized on the internet. Other fanfare moments involved designing a tiger-print curtain that opened seductively when you got on the website, and pixelating the faces of bald, fat men who threw naked sex parties – sometimes (but not often enough) wearing a bathrobe. After parties like these ones, where the music isn’t the only thing that’s banging, people clearly like to relive the excitement as they scroll through photo galleries. The job was fine, funny even, for about as long as most old men can last. When Ruben offered me a job at GHOST, it was a get-out-of-jail-free card from the world of erotic entertainment. From this point on, it was like I loved my life, allowing it to go wherever it was pushed. Sure, I’d grab the steering wheel at times, but I trusted it to keep balance. I moved to Waldsassen near the Czech border, became Head of Graphic Design at GHOST Bikes, and sealed that friendship with Ruben. Along with Johannes “Fischi” Fischbach, we went to races, did shuttle days, and shredded our “hoam” trails, as they say in Bavaria.
Set the scene: an underground Berlin club. Me; young, naive, once again greeting the unknown with a smile and following the girl that stole my heart – first to Ukraine, then Asia, then Brazil. No job, but a great suntan. The next time I saw Ruben was in ENDURO Issue #10, doing what he does best: scrubbing. More than a year had passed since we’d last spoken, but I picked up the phone and called him right then. He’d moved to SCOTT and was now living in Switzerland. Me; I was at Copacabana. “Listen,” he said, “I think my mates at ENDURO are growing and could do with a good graphic designer. Shall I link you in?” Boom. That was it. I got a Skype call with Robin, the magazine’s founder, lined up and we did a virtual handshake.
Once a year
This time, I’m somewhere near Lisbon. It’s still sunny, but it’s now 2019. My Skype makes its familiar ring. Ruben’s face pops up: “Mate, I’m building my own bike. Are you up for working your graphic design magic?” This was it. The birth of RAAW Mountain Bikes. If you’ve ever met myself and Ruben you know that we can be like two atoms that are about to collide when we are together. A nuclear fission of bullshit that you might want to get as far away as possible from, an Everest of lame jokes you don’t want to climb.
I don’t think the earth is flat…
Wouldn’t you say it is round like a pancake?
Up for a trip to Whistler?
Ruben is on the other end of the phone again, about a year ago. He’d taken his brand to Canada to rip, and it was doing them both good. ‘There is a new bike on the way,’ he says down the line, ‘it needs a name and branding. Any ideas?’ Within seconds, we’d struck gold. Did I want to come over and test it out, see if it sticks, asks Ruben, forgetting that I’m 8,000 km away in Lisbon. Hell yes. I was in.
Started in Osnabrück, now we´re here!
13 years after meeting Ruben in the snow in Osnabrück, I’m standing next to him at a lift station in Whistler. A-Line to the right, Crank It Up to the left. Whichever we take, he’ll be too quick and I’ll fly down blindly behind. This whole story feels surreal, one episode after another. How this all came to be, where I am and where I was, the serendipitous directions that life takes you. We shuttle around Squamish’s trails, meet new people, including Rob Perry who manages to make us look good (thanks for the photos), and shred until we can’t see clearly.
So, what does Troy Lee have to do with it all?
Not long before I set off for the dream trip to Canada I was out on my local trails in Sintra, just outside of Lisbon. I’ll usually see a couple of riders to say hello to, but this time, there was an unfamiliar face, who said hello with an American accent and gave off some decidedly Californian vibes. “Hey, I’m Troy,” he says, grinning. Like… “Troy… Lee?” I ask. It was. He was passing through and our routes crossed. I showed him the trails, he told me funny stories. I mentioned that I was soon off to Canada and he asked if I needed a helmet for the A-Line. “Um… yeah?” I replied.
There was a package waiting for me when I arrived in Whistler, with a helmet, protectors, fresh kit and a note that read: “A little care package. Enjoy Whistler. Troy.”
It’s probably pretty rare that a casual ‘hello’ leads to a friendship, trips across the world, jobs, or a love story – hell, you’ll probably never meet many of these acquaintances again. But all it takes is one conversation that changes your perspective and lets you see things in a different way. Until it happens, you don’t know which conversation could be the key to a closed door, or the missing piece of your jigsaw in the game of life.
I guess the takeaway from this story is that there are surprises and encounters outside your front door that can change your life in an instant. Give them a chance. Meet them head-on, but don’t force them. Stay true to yourself, but be open to new things and new faces without being shallow or small-minded. Make this the winter that you get outside instead of hanging out on adult websites. Go riding, even when it snows, and say ‘hello’. A new attitude is the easiest route to a new direction – and sometimes it only takes one five-letter word.
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Words: Julian Lemme Photos: Rob Perry, Christoph Bayer, Julian Lemme