Meet The Riders And Their Rides
Aaron Gwin is by far the most successful racer in the history of American downhill mountain biking. He could well be regarded as the best in world history, too, by the time he’s done racing. He’s won five World Cup series downhill titles so far, eight national downhill titles, and he’s not done yet. At 31, he will likely be racing for another five years or more.
We recently met up with Aaron at the Southridge Winter Series in Fontana, California, to check out his new Intense M29 downhill bike and learn more about his role with the Intense downhill team.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Aaron Gwin grew up in the Morongo Valley of California, near Palm Springs. Thanks to his dad, a physical therapist, Gwin started riding a bike when he was three and took up racing BMX at four. By the age of six he had a sponsor and was soon flying around the country on the national BMX circuit. It was too much, too soon. Aaron got burned out on the demands of racing BMX on the national circuit by the age of nine, so he took up baseball and football instead. He excelled at both. He quarterbacked his football team to an undefeated season and pitched a perfect game in baseball, he told MBA in an interview in 2013.
At age 12, Aaron took up racing motocross, and he was exceptionally good at that, too. Aaron’s parents told him that he had to keep his grades above a C or they wouldn’t let him ride, and he became a straight-A student.
While working his way up through the top amateur ranks of motocross on his way to what looked to be a future pro racing career, Gwin suffered a series of injuries that caused him to give up his dreams of motocross stardom.
GWIN’S FIRST MOUNTAIN BIKE EXPERIENCE
At 19, Gwin’s friend Cody Smart loaned him a mountain bike so the two could ride trails together.
Gwin was so fast that Cody, America’s 2005 Pro Downhill champion, talked Aaron into entering a downhill race in Fontana, California, on November 18, 2007. “What class should I enter?” Gwin asked. “Just race pro,” Cody told him.
It was a good call. Gwin had the bike-handling skills of a BMX pro and the speed of a motocross star. “I got third place,” Aaron recalls. “I was 1/10th of a second behind Waylon Smith and two seconds behind Cody.” It was a great finish for any downhill racer, much less a guy who’d never raced a mountain bike before.
The word spread fast. Yeti signed Gwin to a sponsorship deal in early 2008. That summer, Gwin entered his first World Cup race at Mont-Sainte-Anne and placed tenth. It was the first time an American had placed in the top 10 at a World Cup race since 2004. At the end of the 2008 season, with less than 10 months of downhill racing experience, Gwin took eighth at the World Cup finals.
Over the next two years, Gwin started making the podium on the World Cup downhill circuit. For 2011, Gwin rode for Trek, and he won his first downhill World Cup race that year. He then won four more World Cup races that season to set a record that has yet to be beaten by any male World Cup downhill racer.
Name: Aaron Gwin
Birthdate: December 24, 1987
Birthplace: Palm Springs, California
Current home: Murrieta, California
Height: 5 feet, 10 inches
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoe size: 10.5
Helmet make/size: Bell Full 9/ size large
Waist: 31 inches
House: Yes, just finished building my new home. Stoked!
Started racing: November 18, 2007
Turned pro: November 18, 2007
Racing specialty: Fast tracks with lots of lines
Favorite course (North America): Mammoth, California
Favorite course (Europe): Leogang, Austria
Favorite food: Pancakes, pizza, ice cream
Goals: To enjoy racing, represent my sponsors well and support the people on my race team at a very high level
Favorite recording artist: Too many to list
Favorite movie: Into the Wild, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Talladega Nights
Favorite hobbies: Playing my guitars, motocross, surfing, tennis
Jobs held (other than racer): I worked a few jobs here and there as a teenager, but once I started racing at age 20, I’ve been fully committed to that pursuit
Most embarrassing moment: Goon riding and crashing at Sea Otter practice in 2010. Not many people saw it, but it was funny
Always takes on a trip: My MacBook
What you would be if you were not a racer: I’m not too sure yet; we’ll see!
Gwin has now won five overall World Cup titles and eight American national titles (2009–’10, 2012–’17). The only major title that’s eluded him so far is the UCI World Championship.
THE CHAINLESS DOWNHILL
Gwin also recorded what may have been the most impressive World Cup win in history. Back in 2015, Gwin snapped his chain in the first corner of the finals at the Leogang, Austria, World Cup race. It barely fazed him. He rode the entire rest of the course with no chain and still won anyway.
Gwin won five World Cup downhill titles between 2011 and 2017, only losing the title battles in 2013 and 2014.
A shoulder injury in 2013 benched him for the last two races that year, costing him the title.
In 2014, Gwin suffered a flat tire in round three in Austria. Gwin still blasted down the rest of the course at incredible speed, riding on the bare rear rim with the tire flopping in the dirt behind him. It didn’t slow him down much, but it did slow him down enough that it cost him a highplacing finish and the year-end overall title that would have come if he’d had a fully inflated tire underneath him.
In 2018, Gwin won the first World Cup downhill of the year. Later, he went on to suffer a series of injuries, mostly to his thumb, that kept him from racing a good part of the remaining season.
When Gwin found out a few months ago that he had been dropped from the YT team for 2019, he called up his longtime friend Jeff Steber, the founder and CEO of Intense Cycles. The two struck a deal that put Gwin on the Intense team.
Aaron has been training hard for the last few months on his new Intense bike, showing up at the Fontana course on weekends, mostly to practice but also to enter some races.
We met up with Aaron at Fontana this winter and got the chance to check out his new bike, shoot some photos and find out what’s in store for the year ahead.
Inside The Pros’ Bikes
Aaron showed us his new Intense M29 at the Southridge Winter Series in Fontana.
1. Frame: Intense M29, carbon, 208mm rear travel, size XL
2. Fork: Fox 49, 203mm travel
3. Rear shock: Fox Float X2 (250×70)
4. Rear derailleur: TRP DH 7-speed
5. Shifter: TRP DH 7-speed
6. Cranks: E13 LG1, 30T
7. Bottom bracket: Kogel BSA30
8. Cassette: E13, 7-speed, DH, 9-21t
9. Headset: Works Components, reach adjust, short position (-6mm)
10. Stem: Renthal Integra, 45mm, 0 rise, 31.8mm clamp
11. Handlebars: Renthal Fatbar aluminum, 30mm rise, 790mm width, 31.8mm clamp
12. Brakes: TRP DHR
13. Brake rotors: TRP 223mm
14. Brake pads: TRP Sintered Metallic
15. Brakes (front R or L): Left
16. Grips: ODI AG2
17. Wheels: E13 LG1 DH wheelset, 29″ (front: 20×110/Rear: 12×57)
18. Tires: Kenda HellKat, 29×2.4″
19. Seatpost: SDG Carbon I-Beam, 31.6mm
20. Seat: SDG I-Fly 2.0 I-Beam
21. Pedals: HT X2 Black
22. Chain: 11-speed
23. Chainguide: E-13 LG1 Race Carbon
24. Head angle: 62.69 degrees
25. Bottom bracket height: 353.4mm (13.9″)
MBA: Can you tell us how your new Intense M29 feels different from the other downhill bikes you’ve raced in the past?
Gwin: The main thing I noticed straightaway was just how smooth and settled the bike was through the choppy stuff. You don’t get the harshness through your hands and feet like on some other frames. The bike is also extremely settled in the rear and tracks the ground well. That feeling inspires a lot of confidence under hard braking through rough sections and setting up for corners, etc. I also really like how fast the bike rolls/pedals. That’s a hard one to explain but something I always notice straightaway. Some bikes just pick up speed easier than others, and this one feels fast for sure.
MBA: We hear that you own the Intense downhill team. Can you explain what that means?
Gwin: On my former team, I handled a lot of the responsibilities that are usually covered by the team owner/manager, so taking on the full position of owning a team now hasn’t been too big of an adjustment for me. As the team owner, I basically just manage/oversee everything now. I negotiate all of our team contracts to make sure our budget/needs are covered. I’ve set up the business side now, which includes paying team salaries, expenses, etc. I’ve hired Todd Schumlick to manage the day-to-day logistical responsibilities, so now that things are up and running, I’ll hand a lot of that over to him and just oversee it from the background. There are a lot of details that need to be covered when operating a factory race team, and I’ve worked hard to set up a really strong foundation so that things can run efficiently. I feel that I’ve done that, and I just want to support my guys and give them the best opportunity that I can to be successful and enjoy their jobs.
MBA: How did you swing that deal?
Gwin: Basically, running a team was just something that I was wanting to do and believed I could do really well. When I sat down with Intense initially, I told them what I was thinking and it was exactly what they were looking for. It was good timing for everyone.
MBA: What races do you plan to attend this year?
Gwin: Our main races will be the World Cups and the World Championships. We’ll also have certain riders at the Sea Otter Classic, U.S. Nationals, Australian Nationals, etc.
MBA: How long is your contract with Intense?
Gwin: It’s a three-year deal with options to extend.
MBA: How much longer do you plan to be racing downhill, and what do you think you’ll do afterwards?
Gwin: That’s hard to say right now. I’m enjoying my riding and racing more now than I ever have, and that love seems to grow stronger every year. I’m still learning and improving each year, too, so I can’t really imagine slowing down anytime soon. We’ll see what happens. It’s hard to predict what opportunities will present themselves after racing, but I’m sure I’ll still be involved in the industry pretty heavily.
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