By George Gore Browne, Special to the Independent
Due to the efforts of two local mountain bike brands, Crankbrothers and Troy Lee Designs, local riders have been able to enjoy the rare experience of riding with their heroes.
“Being able to ride your favorite local trials alongside world champions, the most elite athletes in the sport, it would be like going to the basketball court down the street from your house and playing a pick up game with Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson,” said mountain biker Maxwell Garces, of Laguna Niguel.
In recent years Crankbrothers, which makes high-end bike components, and Troy Lee Designs, which makes custom helmets and apparel, have both asked the professional athletes they individually sponsor to attend group rides in Laguna Beach as a way to burnish their brand locally and give customers a unique experience.
Crankbrothers, which sells globally and runs a Broadway Street store, has organized group rides for nearly two years. The rides take place every other month and are centered on the attendance of a professional rider.
“We get to make the connection between our brand and the athletes who use our products, and then we also get to invite the local community in to be a part of it,” explains Kellen Trachy, Crankbrothers’ global marketing manager. “They can get closer connected to the brand and also have this sort of one-on-one interaction with somebody who’s their hero,” Trachy said.
Last December, 150 riders from all over Southern California funneled into Laguna Beach to pedal alongside England mountain biker and former-world champion Steve Peat. One of the biggest names in the sport, Peat had recently announced plans to retire from competition.
Other professional riders, Cedric Gracia, local Brian Lopes and Kurtis Keene, have joined previous rides.
Crankbrothers rides set out from their headquarters along Laguna Canyon and into the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, taking a route that can accommodate a range of skill levels. At the conclusion, the store hosts a reception, giving amateur riders the chance to check out the latest products, meet other riders and ask one of their heroes to sign a poster.
Long Beach mountain biker Eric Reece was thrilled to quiz Gracia, a professional mountain biker from France, about who is in contention for this year’s World Cup.
“It’s good to see the faces behind the brand and what they represent,” said Newport Beach mountain biker Brooklyn McClendon.
Troy Lee Designs, which runs a Glenneyre Street store, hosts a similar ride once a month, where a Troy Lee Designs athlete is often in attendance.
After a career as America’s most decorated female downhill racer, Leigh Donovan opened the Laguna store and started the rides soon after. Laguna resident Troy Lee began by making custom helmets, but broadened his company’s product line with protective mountain bike and motocross apparel.
“We wanted to create an environment where people could be exposed to not just the Troy Lee Designs mountain bike gear but to be exposed to what Troy Lee Designs is and it’s story,” said Donovan, who no longer manages the store but twice a year joins the rides.
Both companies were partly drawn to Laguna Beach for its global reputation as a mountain biking haven. They, in turn, continue to cultivate and benefit from the local mountain bike community by offering unusual access to the sport’s stars.
A regular at Crankbrothers and Troy Lee Designs rides, Kris Chamberlin of Laguna Beach, said, “I’ve made lots of good friends from these rides and I even met one of my roommates there.” He usually departs with at least one purchase.
The next Troy Lee Designs ride takes place Saturday, May 7, leaving the store at 8:30 a.m. Crankbrothers hopes to lure current world champion, Loic Bruni, as a guest in the near future.
George Gore Browne is a journalism student and Indy intern.