Words by Vernon Felton
Studio photography by JP Van Swae

Troy Lee Designs recently invited a pack of journalists out to Laguna Beach to get the goods on the company’s new A1 helmet. The A1, in a nutshell, is TLD’s entry into the burgeoning enduro helmet market. Before you start pounding the table and asking why we even need a goddamned “enduro” helmet (we hear this all the time and put the question to Troy Lee’s marketing guy, Craig “Stikman” Glaspell, so we’ll get to that shortly), here are the basics.

Troy Lee wasn’t content with the fit and function of the helmets already on the market–they offered extensive coverage, but he felt that comfort (among other things) could be improved. The A1 is the result of three years of trying to make a better lid for people who scale big climbs, but want a brain bucket that gives them a bit more confidence when they set out to absolutely slay the descents.

The A1 will hit shelves at bike shops (and at www.troyleedesigns.com) on February 4th. It’s currently available in Limited Edition Gold Metal Flake ($185) and in Black Cyclops ($165). Additional colors will be in the offering as the year rolls on.

We sat down with Stikman in an attempt to dig a little deeper into the what, where and why-the-hell of the A1.

Improving ventilation was a key design goal during the development of the A1 and to that end, the helmet sports 12 generous vents. Meticulously tailoring the thickness of the EPS was key to maximizing strength--the A1 passes both CPSC and the more stringent European CEN safety standards.

Bike: What inspired TLD to make the A1 in the first place?

Stik: I think Troy has had the inspiration to do one for a while. People shouldn’t forget he was one of the first guys to do a rugged, durable MTB lid during a time when most of the top brands were putting a white panty hose liner over an igloo cooler!

Troy and everyone here rides bikes, and between all of us wanting to ride in a TLD lid and our dealers really screaming for it, it was time to get busy. So three years ago, Troy put the helmet team on task to get this thing done.

I think we lost a good chunk of time by going the skid-lid/potty/dirtjump style…we were trying to get that BMX dirtjumper and trail rider all in one and its just was not going to work. So we decided to focus on what our core bike business was, mountain bikers, that are riding rugged terrain, in our Ace, Skyline and Ruckus riding apparel

Taking some design cues from the company's famed D3 full-face helmet, the A1 sports some moto-inspired touches, including anodized, aluminum visor hardware.

Bike: What were the core design goals that Troy had in mind when he went to work on this lid?

Stik: Troy really was put off by all of these little feeble helmets, with cheesy visors on them, calling themselves “all mountain” or even “XC” helmets. He wanted it [the A1] to be the safest helmet you can get, with more coverage than other helmets….

With Troy and his background in painting and design, it had to not only have a unique look, the graphic treatment had to be better than everyone else’s too and that's why we are doing some things that do cost a little more, but give you a custom painted feel, like painting it from underneath, placing our elaborate graphics on and then giving it a shot of clear.

I think the fit and finish of the helmet is unmatched, the EPS is thicker than most in the most traditional crash/impact areas, and the way we have the outer shell wrapping around the underside edges of the helmet, I think, gives it increased strength and most certainly gives it more durability as you place it on the ground, your tailgate, and also when you crash.

The A1 incorporates a one-piece, washable liner, which means you won't have to futz with a jigsaw assortment of velcro'd pieces coming loose over time. Nice.

Bike: Three years in the making sounds like a gang of time to spend on a single helmet—what were the more challenging aspects of bringing this particular helmet to market?

Stik: Like I said, almost a year of that was going down the wrong direction in trying to melt the two worlds together, bmx freestyle/dirt and the mountain bike rider. As our product line shows, we aren't like the big mass-production helmet houses; we come out with a limited number of helmet designs, and make each one a remarkable achievement in design and safety, so our little team just focuses on the task at hand and it’s not a short process. We are also a moto brand, and have to divide design time between bike and moto. Our designers are dedicated, talented, thorough, and Troy works with them daily, we just want it right when the finished product is ready. Apparently that takes time [laughs].

Bike: What sets the A1 apart from helmets that it will be compared to, most notably the POC Trabec? What are its unique features?

Stik: Helmets in this category, and we know the couple that are trending right now, we rode them all and they all seemed so hot, we thought you could get more ventilation in this type of more-coverage lid, but if you strategically increased the EPS in certain areas, while using some big ole 'super vents' (as Troy calls them), you could be cooler and safer and that was backed up in testing in the lab.

We also thought people were paying a premium price for some of these all mountain lids and not getting any custom paint feel to it, Troy isn't about to let something leave his warehouse that doesn't have a custom shop feel to it.

Proper fit is key to comfort--perhaps even more so when the helmet covers more of your cranial real estate than the average XC lid. The A1 relies on a ratcheting headband to keep things properly snug. Tightening adjustments are accompanied by loud clicks, loosening the band elicits muted clicks. It's not as if snugging up your helmet was ever rocket science, but it's a cool feature all the same. The A1 also features a three-position carrier that lets you adjust the helmet fit, fore and aft. Since this thing sits pretty low on your forehead, this bit of adjustment is key to comfort.

Bike: There will undoubtedly be people out there who shake their heads and say, Why the hell do we need "enduro" helmets in the first place? What can't we just run XC lids or lightweight full-face helmets? How do you respond to that kind of sentiment?

Stik: I think we are all crazy for ever thinking a road helmet, with a visor slapped on it, was good enough for the trails we all ride, and the bikes we do it on. We are all going faster, riding gnarlier terrain because the bikes and components have gotten so good. I am 41 years old, and I think I am riding more technical trails than I did 10 years ago. I want to be safer, I want to protect my head better than I have in the past with all these little helmets.

Brandon Semenuk was just one of many TLD riders present at the A1 launch.

Bike: This probably book-ends onto the last question, but here goes…What are the core features that enduro riders need out of a helmet and how does the A1 meet those specific needs?

Stik: Yeah, I think the above questions sum it up really, if you are Joe Enduro Racer, you want to be in a safer, TRUE mountain bike helmet, but it has to breathe. Some guys are keen on running goggles and we also made the helmet to accommodate goggles very well.

I may not ever 'race' an 'enduro' (am I going to get struck with lightning now, by the gods of enduro?) but I like to ride my mountain bike on my local trails here in SoCal, and even on an easy day, I feel like I am pinned and the terrain isn't all sand, puppies and rainbows–it’s rocks, ruts…jagged sketchy stuff, so even though I am a working-class mountain bike guy, this is the helmet I would buy for my everyday riding.

TLD designer, Jeremy Kneisly, samples the goods.

Bike: TLD seems on a tear lately when it comes to bringing out new—what are you guys drinking lately?

Stik: No one at TLD drinks, no one…ever. [extreme sarcasm alert]. I think the resurgence that we have brewing boils down to one simple thing: we are all really riding bikes a lot, Troy included. Troy is more aligned with our team riders than he ever has been, is picking their brains on what their needs are, we realizing our roots are in bicycles and embracing it.

The press launch ride was led by a Laguna Rad...so naturally, some serious hike-a-bikes were part of the day's plan.

Bike: TLD helmets have long been sought after for their aesthetics–which is a fancy way of saying that the lids are pimp. Do you think that people have a tendency to overlook the technical side of your helmets?

Stik: If you read the internet critics, yeah, I think they overlook it and think we just make 'cool' or 'blinged' out helmets, but at the end of the day, if you took an A1, D3, D2 and even our moto helmets and rattle canned them flat black, you still would have a technologically superior helmet.