Do you have a closet or a drawer full of t-shirts from the events you’ve completed, some acceptable for daily wear and others destined to clean grease from your bikes’ chains? What if, along with that future shop rag, you could bring home something durable, useful, stylish, and evocative of the effort you spent finishing the race? While they’re not giving away helmets, Rudy Project North America, the company long synonymous with road cycling and triathlon, is creating and selling co-branded helmets for several events of the new Life Time Grand Prix, an off-road and gravel cycling series that will distribute a quarter of a million dollars in prize money to professional riders. Did you finally clear the lottery for Unbound 200? You’ll be able to wear that pride each time you ride, your helmet a testament to the time you put into your achievement.
“At our recent Unbound 200 gravel camp we had five of the Rudy helmets to give away to our participants,” says Dan Mott, Senior National Account Manager at Life Time Fitness, the title sponsor and owner of the Grand Prix series. “Those helmets were definitely the most sought-after prize at camp.” Ben Pickel, Director, Strategic Partnerships at Life Time, echoes Mott’s sentiment: “If no one were buying the helmets, it would feel like a gimmick,” he says. “But people have been purchasing them. We’re lucky that we run events athletes want to be a part of. Participating in a race such as Unbound or the Lutsen 99er or the Leadville Trail 100 MTB means joining a community, and so far our participants have been excited to take away the helmets from these events.”
Pickel is no stranger to the challenge and pride of the events he helps promote. In 2021 he completed the Unbound 200 in 14:43:46…on a single speed gravel rig. “Like a lot of us in this industry,” he tells me, “I’m just trying to stave off finding a real job for as long as possible.” The same could be said for Life Time Fitness and Rudy Project employees, many of whom participate like Pickel in the events they help create and support. The resulting feeling at each of these races is familial but still world-class, grassroots but convenient, efficient, and well-run. Rudy Project’s co-branded helmets allow athletes to take home a real, useful memento, something their friends and rivals will aspire to after jealously spotting the products on their local group gravel and MTB rides.
The Life Time Grand Prix races, in a similar vein, aim to return luster to the North American off-road cycling scene. In the 1990s professional riders flocked to the NORBA off-road calendar, many making a real living riding for teams such as GT, Mongoose, and Cannondale. With its $250,000 prize purse, split evenly between the men’s and women’s field (a rarity in cycling circles), the Life Time Grand Prix and its sponsors have made a real commitment to revitalizing off-road racing in the United States. When your company name is “Life Time” puns and double entendres are the point, rather than a happy accident. Life Time has now sponsored iconic races such as the Leadville Trail 100 MTB for over a decade, literally putting their money where their mouth is. By putting up such a substantial purse, Life Time is making it possible for the next generation of dirt riders to pursue their dreams and feed their families at the same time. The race series really is the (wait for it) opportunity of a lifetime.
“Rudy Project has the expertise and design heritage to produce gravel and MTB products which enhance an athlete’s experience at these amazing events,” says Brad Shapiro, Principal at Rudy Project North America. “We hope to add value to the Life Time races through our helmet sponsorship of most of the races in the series.” The helmet and sunglass maker also plans to develop improved products from their engagement with Life Time athletes. “I go to all of the races,” says Johnny Vu, Event Sales Director at Rudy Project, “and I come home with so much feedback from athletes about our products. All of that information goes into making better and better products for the off-road community.”
“This is a huge moment in the return of off-road cycling in North America,” gravel great Peter Stetina told VeloNews when the series was announced this past December. “Professional cyclists work so hard, and in the U.S. they have always been underpaid for the effort they’ve put in, so to make it more financially rewarding is a huge thing I want to support.”
With their announcement of sponsoring three more races as the official helmet provider this past winter, Rudy Project has expanded their co-branding project to almost all of the series races: Unbound 200, Lutsen 99er (an off-the-radar 100-mile mountain bike race that quietly draws over 2000 riders to the Minnesota north woods each year), Chequamegon 40 MTB, Big Sugar Gravel, Crusher in the Tushar, and The RAD Dirt Fest, a newer event in Trinidad, Colorado. What does RAD stand for, in this case? Not what you might imagine, at first. RAD stands for “rare, artistic, and diverse,” which might be the same thing you’d say about your favorite helmet, the one you take home from a Grand Prix event, something cherished and unique, something about which you can brag proudly to your cycling friends.