Team: Imaginary Collective
Hometown: Lehi, Utah
Two years ago you were racing with the Hincapie pro road squad, and 2020 was supposed to be the year you began the next phase of your career, gravel racing.
Leaving Hincapie was a necessary decision to progress in my career. Creativity was never encouraged by the team, and the results on the road were only physically fulfilling. I realized that American racing was stuck in an unsuccessful cycle of trying to imitate the European model, which left its athletes in a rigid schedule dependent on team sponsorships rather than individual accomplishments and potential.
This led me to create Imaginary Collective. Imaginary Collective is my effort, along with my teammate Andrew Dahlheim, to create a platform for the future of cycling. We sponsor youth cycling initiatives and support high school mountain biking through coaching and outreach.
How did you stay sponsored during a period with no events? What did you do?
It was a tough time for sure, but the circumstances taught me how to see my value. Leaving Hincapie proved to me I could be valuable outside of my results on the bike. Being valuable throughout a year with no racing meant consistently posting content on social media to present something that people want to spend their time looking at. While pro teams continue to rely on races to be seen, Imaginary Collective uses social media to stay in front of our followers, which many brands found to be more valuable than the older model that wasn’t happening without events. Brands began to reach out to collaborate, and they found we could make their creative ideas come to reality and consistently reach an active group of followers.
Can you explain Imaginary Collective’s mission and goals? How has the project been affected by the events of 2020?
Our 2020 schedule was full of gravel and alternative events, which would have had me traveling for most of the year. But, one positive of the lockdown was the extra time I got to spend with my wife and newly born daughter.
For the rest of the time without events, I collaborated with many of my sponsors to create a custom gear and personalized Imaginary Collective product series that will be released throughout 2021. We’re working with brands like Santa Cruz, Enve and Pirelli to create products highlighting Imaginary Collective’s vibe. I began working with brands to release custom colorways that feature my art. This year Imaginary Collective will have a factory-sponsored team that will participate in the big gravel races and 24-hour events across the world.
The Rapha Collaboration with Palace Skateboards that EF Pro Cycling used at the Giro last year is what I anticipate will grow cycling in America and across the world by reaching and connecting with a new and younger audience.
In 100 years when people look back at the beginning of gravel cycling, we want them to think of Imaginary Collective. Much like how mountain biking is still centered on laid-back vibes, we want gravel cycling to have its own distinct set of values different from road racing. Imaginary Collective is focused on improving the gravel in a way that big organizations like USA Cycling have been unable to do across the sport. We want Imaginary Collective to create a network of passionate cyclists and put them in positions to improve the industry.
How do you see cycling growing in America?
We want to work with other cyclists with similar views like Legion of LA to come together to change the sport. We want to control sponsorships and vibes, and for American cycling to move away from European values. Just look at another American sport like football, tailgating and partying before the game is an aspect that we’d like to popularize in the cycling community. To make events like the USA Crit Series more popular, there needs to be something that attracts a wider audience just to watch. For a sport that is free for spectators, there’s no reason to accept such few fans in attendance year after year. USA Cycling has done a poor job promoting events to fans.
Any plans to host your own events?
Everything is approachable; nothing is out of the question. Right now, it’s about timing. I’ve hosted cycling retreats in Utah. We ride some of the best roads and gravel in the state, like Zion National Park for example. People can get in touch with me over social media if they’re interested in learning more @tjeisenhart.
FOLLOW TJ: @tjeisenhart