A Conversation With Aaron Gwin - Interview

Nov 29, 2010 at 1:09
Nov 29, 2010
by Mike Levy  
 
You must login to Pinkbike.
Don't have an account? Sign up

Join Pinkbike  Login

No longer the new kid on the block, Aaron Gwin's first two seasons at the top tier of the sport have netted him numerous podium placings and a World Cup ranking of 4th overall - an impressive resume, especially considering his relative lack of experience. Having recently signed to join the Trek World Racing team for next season, Gwin is aiming even higher.

We caught up with Aaron to talk about where he came from, where he's going, the switch from Yeti to Trek World Racing, and changes that he would make to the World Cup tracks and calender. Read the entire interview inside!






It may look like you just showed up on the scene and started taking names, but the truth is that you have a long history of racing on two wheels, don't you?

Yeah, I guess it all started when I was about 3 years old. My parents got me my first BMX bike, and at age 4 we started going to the track. At the time it was just a way to release some energy so I could sleep at night, we never imagined it would turn out to be my career. By the time I was 6 we were racing about 4 days a week and traveling the country racing all the ABA Nationals. When I was eight I got picked up by the Dan's Comp factory team and we raced the ABA and NBL National series in the same year. It was a lot of traveling and work for an eight year old and after it was over I just decided that I wanted to be a normal kid so we stopped racing. After that I played baseball for a couple of years and when I was 12 my Dad finally let me get my first motocross bike, a KX80. I was a full-on beginner, it took me about twenty tries to get the thing to go without stalling the first day, but after that things progressed pretty fast. When I was 14 I got a KX125 and we started taking my racing pretty serious. All my goals and focus went towards making a career out of motocross racing. By the time I was 16 I was right at the point where we were getting ready to make the jump to the pro class and hopefully start getting some solid factory support.


The step up to the Pro Class is a big move. It sounds like you had the speed, but things don't always go quite as planned...

Things were going really good, but then the injuries came. It was crazy how it worked out, but for the next two years I never rode the bike for more than a month without getting hurt again. It was just back to back injuries - broken bones, surgeries, concussions, the whole deal... It was always something. I think it was around March 2005 that I was out riding with my trainer one day at Lake Elsinore and after doing about 5 warm up laps, I came in and told him I was done. It wasn't fun anymore, I felt like all the work I was putting in was going nowhere and I let the pressure of results take away the real reason I started riding in the first place, to have fun. So anyways, long story short, that was the end of motocross for me, but and at the end of 2008 I discovered mountain bikes.


I can see how all that training and hard work, only to see injuries get in the way repeatedly, would put out the fire. But then you discovered mountain bikes?

I met Cody Warren through a mutual friend and that pretty much got the wheels turning. I think Cody was the current DH National Champ at the time, so I definitely thought he was a bad dude. We became pretty good friends over the next year or so and in September 2008 he talked me into racing a local race out at Fontana. He told me to sign up for the pro class, so I did and I ended up getting third. At the time I guess I was hoping to maybe race again because I always thought I'd left motocross too early and wanted another chance to succeed. Even though that thought was in my head, it was hard to believe because I had no support and no idea what I was doing. Luckily though after another few races on Cody's borrowed Haro and my buddy Griz's GT, I caught the eye of Rich Houseman who was riding and working for Yeti at the time. The rest is history!



So you went from working towards a career in motocross as a pro, and now you're a top pro in the downhill world - it's crazy how things can work out like that! How would you compare the two scenes?

Well, I think the DH scene is a little more laid back for sure. There isn't the depth of talent or money involved like there is in moto, so naturally it's gonna be a little more chill. I like it though, it makes for a more normal lifestyle. The guys that race moto are pretty much busy 365 days a year, the racing and testing never ends. For us, we usually have races for about six months and then have the other six months off. Obviously, the months you have off are still spent training, but you're not on the road much and it allows for you to live a more normal life outside of racing, which is very important to me.


There is certainly less money, less traveling, and a lot less T.V. coverage, but do you think DH racing will ever approach moto in that regard?

At the same time though I think DH is growing and the money is coming around too, if you're near the top you can make a very good living. The competition near the top is tight as well and you gotta really dedicate yourself if you want to be the best. To me I guess DH is just the perfect mix of everything that racing is to me and I still have the time to enjoy other areas of life.


Do you find yourself getting out on the moto now that it's more for fun and training for downhill racing?

Not as much as I'd like to lately, that's for sure. I have plans on riding a lot more in the following months though so I'm looking forward to that. I'm actually working on another cool deal there so hopefully that will come around and we can release that info soon too!


A downhill race is a lot shorter than a moto heat, but it looks like this has really suited you...

Yeah, I don't know really. On one hand, I guess it's good because you gotta be dialed to put a race run together. You don't have the time like you do in a moto race to work back into it after a bad start or a crash. I think that makes it a little more difficult because you know that to win you need to be close to perfect, you don't have time to work into a run. At the same time though I like it because your race, except for the rare occasion of a bike problem or bad weather, is completely up to you. You're not gonna get cleaned out going into the first turn or something like you could in moto. Your results in DH completely depend on the rider, there's not a whole lot of luck involved. I like that.


Just you, your bike, and the course. Speaking of courses, you seem to do well on tracks that are especially gnarly. Why do you think that is?

Well, that depends on what you consider gnarly to be! Haha! To me, gnarly is when it won't stop raining and there's roots sticking out all over the place. We don't have mud or roots in So Cal so it's just something you have to try and adapt to as you go. I guess tracks like Ft William or MSA could be considered gnarly though too. To me, that stuff is just more similar to moto and the conditions we have out here. I like fast tracks because it's what I'm used to. Compared to moto, even the fastest DH tracks are still slow, so I guess that helps out a bit. I just enjoy that style of riding and I think it's more fun to watch as well. It sucks watching people struggle to stay on the bike when they're barely moving... Not my style.

Gwin at the Pro GRT race at Port Angeles, Washington. Like a lot of North American racers, he'd like to see more World Cup races held on his home continent.
Gwin at the Pro GRT race at Port Angeles, Washington. Like a lot of North American racers, he'd like to see more World Cup races held on his home continent.


You're only going into your 3rd full length World Cup season, yet you finished last year 3rd overall and the top ranked North American rider. There are great riders who spend years and years racing at this level, never to break into the top twenty. Why do you think you've been able to come into the sport and do so well, so fast?

I think it all has to do with my background. I started racing bicycles at 4. I've been training to make a living at some kind of two wheeled sport for a long time and things are just finally clicking. Racing is racing and at the end of the day, it's all very similar. I also think the work ethic I've developed has helped a lot. I surround myself with good people that have the same goals as I do and just put in the time. If you do the math, I think I probably only spend maybe 30 minutes a year racing bicycles. The other 8,759 hours and 30 minutes are spent preparing, haha. It might sound silly, but it's true and I think that's what separates the best from the rest.


That's an amazing stat and I don't know a lot of racers who look at it that way. You're known for being a smart racer who can focus on the task at hand. How does your typical race morning go down, do you do anything out of the ordinary?

I'm not sure really, I kind of just have my routine and stick to it. I think a big part of going fast on race day involves not doing anything. People always like to "do" something special or different on race days and I think that gets you into trouble. I prepare the best I can and then just ride within my abilities and it usually ends up pretty good. Sometimes I think you just have to kind of get out of your own way and trust the work and time you've put in.


Having had a lot of two wheel experience in multiple different racing formulas, do you have any changes to the format, events, or racing itself that you'd like to see the UCI implement?

Well, we could probably go on with this question forever, so I guess I'll keep it simple. To me, I'd just like to see the tracks go a different direction. They need to be more spectator friendly and built towards what makes it appealing to the fans. Big jumps might seem like whatever, but if you go to any race, doesn't matter what sport, the biggest group of fans are always standing at the biggest jump. This new wave of tight, steep, tech tracks are cool I guess, but they look totally bogus on camera and good luck building a grandstand on one of those hills. You're never gonna be able to tell how gnarly that stuff is unless you're riding it so I think they take it a little too far sometimes. I think tracks should be built more on the ski hills out in the open where people and cameras and whatever can actually see what's going on and there's room to build huge jumps. I think tracks like MSA have it dialed where they have some more tech sections, but the overall speed is way faster than most tracks. They have a rad section under the lift where probably 80% of the camera stuff is filmed and all the spectators hang out. It might sound dumb, the whole huge jump thing, but you can't argue with what the people like to watch and if the sport ever wants to grow, they need to realize that. I'd also like to take one for America here and say we need more World cups in the U.S.. Dry tracks, Heat, So Cal... just saying. But that's a whole other story ha ha...


You came very close to winning the US round of the World Cup last season in Windham, coming in second place at 1.35 seconds down. Like any top athlete, I'm sure that you wanted to win, but were you happy with that result or was it fuel for the fire?

I think any racer will and should say that you're never gonna be stoked with second place. Deep down you're always a little pissed. But, at the same time Windham was a big race for me. My goal this year was to finish top five overall. Greg and Gee needed to hang it all out and I was kind of in a position where I just needed to be consistent. If I had a solid run I would secure 4th pretty easily, but If I did something dumb trying to push it, a crash could put me outside of my goal. That track was short so to win you really had to go for it. I had contracts coming up and at the time it was just more important to me to be on the podium. I wanted to win and came close, but at the end of the day I just didn't feel that that was the right race to put it all out there and go for it. But like I said, second, or in my case fourth place overall, wasn't awesome.

Gwin put together a solid run at World Champs that netted him a fourth place, 4.08 seconds off the winning time of the day, and matched his position at fourth overall in the final World Cup standings. He was heard saying after his run at Mont-Sainte-Anne that he played it conservative. A lot of fans are excited to see what else he has in the tank for the 2011 season, myself included.
Gwin put together a solid run at World Champs that netted him a fourth place, 4.08 seconds off the winning time of the day, and matched his position at fourth overall in the final World Cup standings. He was heard saying after his run at Mont-Sainte-Anne that he played it conservative. A lot of fans are excited to see what else he has in the tank for the 2011 season, myself included.


That is a great example of smart racing. Unfortunately, there are some things that are out of your control, the weather being the biggest factor sometimes. The Swiss World Cup round at Champery is a good example of this, with some atrocious conditions. I heard that there was some confusion during qualifying?

Man, I don't know, it was all pretty dumb really. There's a rule that if you exit the track, you must re-enter it in the same place, which to an extent makes sense. I ended up running off the track and sliding down a huge hill in those last steep turns before the finish line. It was literally impossible to walk back up the hill because of how steep and muddy it was, so I just kept going. I lost a lot of time with that mistake and wouldn't have qualified inside of the points anyways so it didn't matter much. I think the UCI needs to find some clarity in that rule. I can think of at least one other top rider that did that in a finals run this year and wasn't DQ'd. I think if you don't gain any time, they shouldn't trip out on it.


Exactly. It's common in many other sports to not be penalized if you accidentally cut the course, but don't gain time from it. Does being the fastest North American have any appeal to you, or does being number 1 overall mean everything?

To me they are both huge honors and goals that I set out to achieve. If you're number 1 overall though, you'd also be the top American. I reckon that sounds pretty good!


That does sound good! And to get to that number 1 status you have to be damn fit and strong. What sort of training do you do?

I do a bit of everything I guess. You can't skimp on anything if you want to be the best, you gotta eat right, train right, sleep right, the whole deal. I actually just hired a new trainer which I'm super excited about and were already back to work for next year. That's a whole other story though and I think people will be pretty surprised and stoked when that news releases soon.


Speaking of recently released news, you've just signed with Trek. You must be excited for what the future holds?

I'm super excited about the whole Trek World Racing deal and how that all went down. My manager, friend, and mentor, Rich Houseman put it all together for me and I'm so thankful for that. Rich has pretty much been responsible for my whole racing career and I think together we really found a good home at Trek. Trek is one of the top brands in the world and they have a crazy history so to be riding for them is a total honor. Martin does an awesome job with that team and he's been great to work with so far. I was a little skeptical at the beginning that because of the size, it would be hard to kind of be my own person, but they've been nothing but helpful and accommodating. It's definitely a really cool atmosphere over there and I couldn't be happier.


To go from the smaller, but very successful Yeti team, to Trek's TWR program is a big change...

It's funny, I think everyone see's them as this massive corporate company, which they are, but I think the public would be surprised with how everything actually works over there. All the guys from the top down have been awesome and the more I get to know everybody, the more I realize that they're all just bike riders who like to ride. For such a big company they really seem to stay grounded and take pride in the little details. I'm stoked on the deal and I hope it's somewhere I can stay for a long time.

Aaron came into the 2010 National Championships at the Sol Vista Bike Park as the defending champ and he'll be doing the same next year as well, winning on the short and dusty track by a little over three seconds.
Aaron came into the 2010 National Championships at the Sol Vista Bike Park as the defending champ and he'll be doing the same next year as well, winning on the short and dusty track by a little over three seconds.


Yeti has an incredible history in racing and can lay claim to nurturing much of America's top talent in the past. Was it hard to move on to a different program?

Yeah man, I'm gonna miss everyone over there a lot. Yeti to me is just great people, they gave me everything I have with racing. I literally don't have one thing bad to say about the company or the time that I was there. They have a crazy impressive history with bringing talent up and I'm just stoked that I could be a part of it. I know they'll go on to do big things and I'm excited for what the future holds over there. There's no bad vibes at all with the new deal and they're stoked on the opportunities I've been presented. They'll be a group of friends I'll have for ever and I'll always be thankful with the career they gave me.


bigquotesLosing Gwinny was tough for us. He is not only an amazing racer, but he is a great person and fit well into our program. Our investment in racing is based on developing riders. We have a junior, national and World Cup program that allows our riders to progress through our system as their results improve. In order to provide the proper support, we invest in great mechanics, coaches and strength trainers. This gives our racers the tools they need to progress to the next level. Sure, great riders come through sometimes and rise straight to the top, but most require development and guidance to reach the next level. People ask me all the time if we get tired of big teams "stealing" our riders after we put so much into them? I don't begrudge them at all. I want riders to earn as much as they can as professional mountain bikers. As a small company, we simply don't have the resources to match huge offers and we aren't willing to walk away from our development efforts for a single rider. It's always bittersweet to lose a rider like Gwinny, but the Yeti program has a lot of depth and the loss of a single rider won't affect our team long-term. I would like to see more teams invest in gravity development programs. If we do it right, I feel the U.S. could move back into a powerhouse in gravity in 3-5 years. - Chris Conroy, Yeti Cycles


Your move to Trek caused quite a bit of chatter on the forums. Do you ever sit down and read through the threads out there, or do you avoid the gossip?

Ha ha, yeah I'll check the forums once in a while and they're always pretty cool. Everyone has their own opinions, which is how it should be or people wouldn't have anything to talk about. That stuff is good for the sport and it's cool how into it everyone is. This move was a big opportunity for me and a step forward in my career. I have to make the most of it while I can and I think people respect that.


I imagine that you'll be doing the full World Cup calender with the Trek TWR team next season, but do you have plans to hit up any other races?

Yup, I'll be doing the full schedule, along with some Pro GRT races, National Champs, and a few others. Trek was awesome about letting me pick the races I wanted to do and I'm really happy with what's in front of me.


Have you ridden the Session 88 yet?

Well, my contract with Yeti isn't up until the first of January, so I won't be able to spend much time on it until then. But I wouldn't have signed the deal if I didn't think the bike was really good. I like the bike a lot and there are big plans over there with development. People are gonna be blown away with how good that thing is.


bigquotesAaron Gwin was for us a logical choice for the next generation of Trek World Racing. Part of the philosophy I've had with my race program is working with those who have yet to reach their ultimate goals, and with a UCI World Ranking of 3, yet no World Cup race win to date, I saw a perfect opportunity for us to support Aaron as he aimed for not only the goal of winning his first World Cup, but becoming a regular fixture on the World Cup podium. Already, after such a shot period in our sport, he has amassed 7 World Cup podiums in DH, equal to John Tomac, and second only to Myles Rockwell for the number of World Cup podiums by an American male in Downhill. Aaron was with Justin Leov during his first World Cup season with Yeti, and they are great mates. Aaron credits Justin with much of what he learned in his debut season and was quite adamant about having Justin at his side on TWR. With Justin on board, as well as working with his junior compatriot Neko Mulally, and learning a lot from the legend that is Tracy Moseley, I'm sure we're going to see great things from Gwinny in 2011. To be perfectly frank, I am really excited about the four riders we've signed for our gravity component, and can't wait until South Africa, Round 1 - Martin Whiteley, Team Owner


It sounds like there are some exciting things in the works! Trek has a close relationship with Fox, just like your previous team. How important was staying with Fox suspension?

That was a very big deal for me. I've been on Fox Shox since I started and it's a relationship that I'd like to keep until I retire. All the guys over there are awesome and I think they make the best product in the world. It's gonna make the switch to the new bike pretty easy and I'm confident our set up is gonna be the best it's ever been.


That's good to hear, I know the guys at Fox have some impressive racing support. You are known to run fairly aggressively valved suspension - your World Champs setup being especially stiff. Is this something that you've come to after much testing, or does it just work better for you and your style?

It just works better for going fast I think. There's definitely a line where it could be too much, but overall I just like it better. When I ran my set up softer I couldn't smash into stuff without slowing down. You need a stiff setup to do that. My bikes generally feel like crap unless I'm wide open in a race run, but that's when everything counts so I set it up to work well in those conditions. You can always back'er down a few clicks when you're out play riding.


Let's talk goals. World domination in 2011?

Haha, we'll see what happens, but I'm not putting in all this work to get second! I know for sure that I'll be in better shape and more prepared than I've ever been, so the rest will just play out how it's supposed to. I'm stoked to be on the Trek team as well and I'm really looking forward to developing with that program. I think we're going to do great things. And lastly I just want to say thanks to God, all the fans, family, friends, current and past sponsors for all the support. Without you guys who knows what I'd be up to, but for sure not racing mountain bikes for a living. It's been a lot of fun, go ride your bike!


Next season will be Aaron's third, but only his second racing at the sport's top level. That still makes him rookie material compared to some of racing's more decorated riders, but I don't believe he thinks of himself in that regard. With last season's goal of a top five overall placing confirmed I'm betting that we'll see Aaron standing atop a higher step on the podium.



Thanks to Long Nguyen and Ian Hylands for the photos.
Must Read This Week
Video: Biketherapy
49273 views









36 Comments

  • + 36
 Awesome interview, really gives some good insight into Aaron's character as a person and rider, I love stories like this on Pinkbike, keep em coming
  • + 11
 ya and it doesnt matter what bike hes on, go win it for the USA!
  • + 8
 I think the idea of an American rider on an American bike and team is the perfect combination. I'm really hoping to see a Canadian rider on a canadian bike real soon, lets keep our fingers crossed.
  • + 3
 by the time they send out the posters maybe they will send us Aaron Gwin trek posters
  • + 1
 he gave me a free saint bash guard at sea otter it was a 38 t haha
[Reply]
  • + 4
 It will be sad to see Gwin move bike companies, when i think of him i immediatly think of Yeti. Lets hope he kills it on a Session aswell, good luck Gwin tup
[Reply]
  • + 6
 Good luck Gwin, in Yeti you rock, let see en Trek cheers.
[Reply]
  • + 4
 Aaron will be a huge success. Such a humble, God fearing dude a real classy guy. Good Luck Gwin.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I wonder what the other deal regarding motos is gonna be. I'm excited to hear that news once he can announce it. Maybe he got a moto contract with someone as well, that'd be interesting to see where that takes him on account of even a fairly small time moto contract probably dwarfs a factory MTB ride
  • + 1
 that depends, colton faceote (or however you spell it) is the fastest racer in canada, but his team deal only gets him 50 grand a year.
  • + 4
 yeah but thats canada
[Reply]
  • + 2
 If anyone wants to buy the haro frame he got started out on, I have it for sell on my profile
  • + 2
 I want two bucks off that thing if it sells. Wink
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great interview, can't wait to cheer him on next year! Awesome guy, awesome skill on the bike.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Nice to have some USA blood on the come up! Hopefully with the new session, he can achieve that 1st place in the world!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 can't wait to see if trek made a new bike for him !
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Gwin is a straight up Beast!!! Hes gonna rip on Trek no doubt... Great interview PB
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Good interview, it's good to hear a humble yet very talented athlete talk about their career.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 he reminds me of RC. poised and professional. He definitely has moto style when he rides. Go fast Aaron!
[Reply]
  • + 2
 A great interview, great rider. All the best next season Aaron !
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Interview with Stevie Smith and Evil PLEASE!!!
  • + 1
 Rumor has Smith leaving EVIL.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 damn he's so calculated, way to go!!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Great interview, really gives the reader a feel for Aaron. Props!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Gwins the man, ima poach his lines at the U S Open next season
[Reply]
  • + 1
 All I have to say is, "Gwin for the win in 2011!!!!"
[Reply]
  • + 0
 That was EPIC! Great questions and even greater answers! Yeah! Go Gwinny!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 his helmet's dope
[Reply]
  • + 1
 this is fucking epic !
[Reply]
Below threshold threads are hidden

Post a Comment



Copyright © 2000 - 2014. Pinkbike.com. All rights reserved.
dv16 0.035238
Mobile Version of Website