Existential Safety: Leatt at 20 – A Conversation with Dain Zaffke


Existential Safety: Leatt at 20 – A Conversation with Dain Zaffke

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Whew! Now that that’s out of the way… Our newly-minted Copy Editor, regular Radavist contributor Nicholas Haig-Arack, recently caught up with Leatt’s Dain Zaffke to learn about the brand’s history and discuss matters of safety, both physical and existential. Let’s begin with an intro to Leatt…



Leatt: A Legacy of Security

Leatt, a brand that’s familiar to riders on the gravity and moto end of the bike spectrum, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. What initially began in Cape Town, South Africa, as a passion project by neurosurgeon Dr. Chris Leatt to prevent neck injuries in motocross racing has grown to be a trusted name for mountain biking helmets and protective gear. Although they’re renowned for their neck braces and full-face helmets for the full-sus crowd, Leatt has recently been taking steps to bring their performance safety products to other areas of cycling, including some new stuff that might appeal to readers of The Radavist.

Dr. Chris Leatt in the labLeatt Neck Brace Patented Prototype

Dr. Chris Leatt, neurosurgeon and inventor of the patented Leatt neck brace (prototype shown)

Making Safe Cool

Let’s face it: helmets aren’t cool. Or at least they’re not perceived as cool, especially within certain casual- or alt-cycling circles, where certain influential people insist that helmets are somehow less safe than no helmet. If their arguments were strictly about aesthetics, I might even agree – even the most well-designed, lightweight helmets still look like dorky mushroom caps on top of our noggins.

But here’s the thing: at some point in life, you realize that living dangerously really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Looking cool” just isn’t worth a traumatic brain injury – believe me, I’ve seen enough friends almost die while riding their bikes. In fact, many of us who’ve been riding for long enough to grow out of our helmetless “cool guy” phase realize that being safe is actually cool. That thought kept occurring to me during my conversation with Dain Zaffke from Leatt.

Dain Zaffke by Josh BeckerDain Zaffke by Josh Becker 8

Dain Zaffke: Seeking Safety

Dain Zaffke is a name that’s been familiar to me for the better part of a decade. During my career as a copywriter working with bike brands, I always kept a mental Rolodex of brand managers and creative directors who were doing inspiring work within the industry.

Dain’s tenure at Giro was legendary; he was instrumental in the creation of Grinduro, which during its first few years was the best bike event on anyone’s calendar, thanks to a decidedly fun and unconventional approach. Some of my best bike friendships were built and fortified at Grinduro Quincy.

As Marketing Director at Giro, Dain had a hand in creating many of my most treasured experiences on two wheels. You can imagine how stoked I felt about getting to catch up with Dain, who now holds a day job as VP of Sales and Marketing at Leatt.

Right off the bat, I noticed that Dain had changed since I’d seen him last. On the Microsoft Teams video call, his face was gaunt, and his usually resonant but now reedy voice sounded hoarse. As he made clear to me within the first few minutes of our conversation, Dain had recently undergone surgery and five rounds of aggressive chemotherapy to treat a Synovial sarcoma in his chest. Dain’s left lung had been removed. And throughout it all, Leatt was there to support him.

Dain Zaffke Color by Satchel Cronk

Dain Zaffke in his happy place (photo by Satchel Cronk)

As Dain puts it, “I started at Leatt in the middle of September, and then I got diagnosed with cancer in October. In the last eight months, I was basically on and off, checked out for weeks on end, getting chemo and all that stuff. Working passionately whenever possible on amping up Leatt as a MTB brand in the US. I started feeling a bit uneasy about my work output, because I wasn’t able to fully deliver on what they hired me to do. But the entire team has been so incredibly supportive. Sean Macdonald, the CEO, is like, ‘Whatever you need – we’re here for you. It’ll take time to build this business in the US; let’s focus long term. Let’s work on it together, step by step. We will bring in a support team to pick up for you during treatment. Your health is a priority right now.’”

“The bike industry is still recovering after a period of real turmoil,” Dain says. “So for them to tell me, ‘We will support you whatever happens,’ I’m just like, huh? Wow.” It’s all testament to how Leatt really values its people.


Dain Zaffke by Josh Becker

Gimme Shelter

The bike industry is in a pretty sad state at the moment, still reeling from the pandemic boom and bust. One of the casualties was Giro, which underwent massive layoffs in April 2023 after corporate consolidation. As Dain Zaffke says, “I was at Giro for 13 years and that was a good job. I learned a lot, I was compensated well, and we had some fun along the way. There were years that Giro was crushing it and everything seemed easy. I was working with my friends and we were proud of the work we did. But then we got bought and sold a couple of times, and the dynamic started to change. All of a sudden, I felt like I worked for a massive corporation that really didn’t give a shit about the Giro people or the Giro product. And they especially didn’t have any respect for the end user. That was tough. For better or worse, I stayed in that environment until the bitter end when they closed the Giro office [in Scotts Valley, near Santa Cruz].”

On a personal level, I can relate to Dain’s experience. I was laid off from my job at Signa Sports United (Vitus/Nukeproof) in October 2023, and I was unemployed for most of 2024. It was an unexpected shock to suddenly find myself in a state of precarity. While talking to Dain, I could empathize with his sense of relief after finding a new position at Leatt.

“The brands you buy, they represent something. Fundamentally, for those of us working for Leatt, we feel like we’re a part of something bigger. We’re not just trying to sell stuff for the sake of selling stuff, we’re in the business of protecting riders. That’s how we’ve attracted some of the coolest people in the industry, because they feel good about who they’re working for. Leatt inspires the next generation to ride safe.”

Dain Zaffke BW by Satchel CronkDain Zaffke Riding by Satchel Cronk

Dain Zaffke (photos by Satchel Cronk)

Life Cycles

As I was preparing this article, I received an email from Dain. His cancer had unexpectedly relapsed. He was returning to chemotherapy and taking a leave of absence from Leatt to focus on his health. He wrote:

“I’m learning that this stuff (with cancer) is never really ‘over.’

And nothing in this world is certain.”


His words hit me like a gut punch. Here’s the truth: Dain Zaffke isn’t safe. In fact, none of us are. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking every advantage to protect ourselves when confronting life’s unexpected challenges. Good luck, Dain. May we all find safety.

All photos by Josh Becker and Satchel Cronk. Heartfelt thanks to Dain for his candor, and to the team at Leatt for supporting this article.