Aaron Gwin didn't line up for his race run at the Mountain Creek Pro GRT this past weekend, due to an injury that was sustained after snapping his crankarm during a hard landing. To get the full story, I checked in with Aaron and his mechanic, John Hall.
Aaron, how is your ankle? Do you have any other injuries than the ankle?Aaron:
It's just the ankle and it's actually doing really good so far with the few days I've had to recover. John and I flew home a day early from the race on Sunday so I could get straight into my doctor’s office Monday morning for x-rays etc. Everything checked out ok and it just looks like a bad sprain.
Are you able to ride at all right now?Aaron:
I haven't ridden my downhill bike yet but I did do some intervals on the spin bike this afternoon (Tuesday) and things were feeling good. I'm still kinda shocked that it's progressing so fast, it was looking and feeling pretty rough a few days ago.
What does your recovery time to be riding and then riding at full strength look like?Aaron:
It's hard to say exactly at this point, I'm just taking it day by day and doing everything I can to get it strong again. I'm hoping to do some very light riding this weekend and will fly to Ft William on Monday. Right now the plan is to race and I really think I'll be able to. If I can't, I want to be there to support my team either way but I think I'll be good to go.
How are you feeling otherwise? Good spirits?Aaron:
Besides the injury I feel great. John and I have put a lot of bike time in since Maribor and we've made some good progress for sure. We've had some solid weeks and I've definitely been excited to get back to the races. This injury was pretty tough mentally at first, not knowing the extent of it. I think as a racer, injuries are always such a bummer when they first happen because there’s nothing you can do about it at that point and you just want to be back on the bike as soon as possible. Once I got home and had it checked out though that definitely lifted my spirits a bit and I've just been focused ahead on getting better.
What exactly happened this past weekend with the bike? What were the factors that led to what happened?John:
We basically just broke a set of cranks. Straight up, those cranks were simply an old version and shouldn’t have been on his bike. Responsibility and fault for that lay entirely on me. That’s the thing with responsibility, its great when things go right but you also have to accept it when things go wrong. We don’t shift blame and we own up to our mistakes on our team. I pride myself on my integrity and ability to face the music good or bad. This is one of those times for me.
E-thirteen had a conversation with me a little over a year ago about not running that version of cranks anymore due to inconsistencies they were seeing and I got rid of them as instructed. For some reason, there was one pair left in my garage that we had kicking around and I used them to build up the first M29 Aaron rode from Intense early on and never thought to put the new style cranks on once we received them. I knew they were an old style crank when I installed them by looking at them but it never crossed my mind that they were the cranks I was supposed to get rid of because it had been some time since that conversation with E-thirteen. It was definitely not my intention to run cranks that we weren’t supposed to, but again, that's on me and I should have been more on top it than I was. It was just a bummer and not a proper representation of the high quality of the current E-thirteen product. The last thing I want is for Aaron or any rider to doubt their equipment and I understand the importance of that first hand across all fronts.Aaron:
I think John pretty much answered everything. It was just a slight mistake that ended up costing us. These things happen in bike racing and life in general. John knows that I’ve made my fair share of mistakes too. I trust him completely, it’s unfortunate but we’re just stoked it didn’t end up worse and we can get back to racing real soon.
It looks like that is a pretty harsh hit on the landing from photos and video we've seen, that has to take a toll on any product, right?John:
It was a pretty big hit and there was a big hole in the landing as well that caught out a few other riders and even claimed a few other competitors' cranks from what I’ve heard. We had data acquisition on the bike for suspension purposes and the numbers seen after that information was downloaded confirmed that the hit produced a number seen very rarely. That kind of hit that you would never tune your suspension for because it's so harsh and rare. I only know of one other time in the testing that they’ve done with other athletes that that number has been achieved. The video I saw doesn’t look as hard as it was.Aaron:
Ya it was a big hit for sure. As soon as I left the take off I thought, “this one's gonna hurt a bit”. Gave it a little too much juice coming in. Haha, I wasn’t the only rider to break cranks off that thing, it was a pretty beastly impact if you went deep.
Gwin and Hall are a formidable duo on the World Cup circuit.
Is it normal to have non-race ready product, or old product still around?John:
I think Aaron and I are often at the forefront of a lot of product development with almost every one of our sponsors. A role that both of us quite enjoy and love the challenge of. So what a lot of people don’t realize when teams and riders do testing and product development is that we and the brands don’t have an unlimited supply of whatever we want, whenever we want it. There are a lot of factors to consider. Like availability of the prototype product, how many are available in the prototype stage, at what stage in development is it in, availability of materials, manufacturing times and windows, running changes being made, when will production parts be available to have enough for the team and spares and many more factors all determine what and when something is on the bike. Sometimes we only have one of something and you're left with taking that one part with you all over the world and installing it on the race bike or practice bike at home trying to keep a level of consistency for your rider.
With that in mind, you try to keep as much stuff around that’s still ridable and safe for a potential test build or if it comes up that we need multiple bikes to do back to back testing. Instead of constantly asking for new parts, being wasteful or over ordering at the beginning of the year in anticipation of projects ahead, we try to use stuff we already have. That way when a new part comes out in production you’re not stuck with a bunch of old product thats still usable, just not the newest of the new. Basically its not always possible to have multiple bikes built up with the newest stuff or have enough prototype parts to be able to have them on all race and practice bikes so sometimes that's why we’ll have a previous version of a part on there to keep us rolling until enough of the production parts are available to install.
rare that any of these parts are defective and if they are we try to do everything we can to make sure they don’t get mixed in. Whether thats sending them back to the manufacture or destroying them. In this situation that didn’t happen and it cost us.
Do you have any concerns with the integrity of any of the products you're using?John:
Absolutely not. We’ve always had trust in our sponsors and the products they provide for us. Aaron:
If I ever had any real concerns, we wouldn’t run the product, it’s just not worth the risk. Bike parts aren’t perfect though so there is always the possibility that something crazy can happen but as a racer or casual rider, you accept that before you get on the bike. We definitely take a lot of pride in the integrity of the products that are produced and I think that’s shown through the warranty programs and customer service that E-thirteen provides as well.
You all probably test quite a lot of different set ups, new parts, prototype parts, etc. Is it ever a concern that things will break and injuries occur because of it while testing? Or are most products that a brand sends out typically good to go? At your level of riding, is there a concern that you are the end point in product development? Being that, if a product is good enough for you then it's good enough for anyone.John:
Sure, that possibility can be present with anything related to testing a new product or some variation of a prototype. It’s not in anyone's best interest to try something that has the potential to break while testing though. When something gets handed over to us it has been machine tested extensively and just needs to run through real world scenarios and small tweaks made before production.
As for it being a concern that we’re the end point in product development? There’s no concern there for me. We’re usually not the only ones testing or running something through its paces. Parts are usually dispersed amongst a number of teams and riders as well as your average level riders to ensure that it has been put through anything and everything possible. That way when it gets to you, the end consumer, you have the best possible version of whatever it is you spend your hard earned dollar on.
Is there anything else you want to add?John:
Like Aaron’s said before, a big part of a relationship like ours involves trust and the ability to own up to your mistakes, not pass the blame, represent the truth and move on. That's exactly what we’re doing. As for E-thirteen, their product has been ridiculously good for us over the years and they continually work on improving it for us and have done nothing but support us above and beyond.
Also, I know some people thought Aaron “threw me under the bus” when discussing this himself earlier in the week. That’s the furthest thing from the truth and people thinking that clearly don’t know the whole scope or reality of the situation. We’re going on our 6th season working together and over that time have built a level of trust and friendship that’s not shaken by things like this. Aaron:
So often people are afraid to just tell the truth but to us, it’s important that people know the truth about these situations and we want to be honest with the public about whatever’s going on. John’s been with me through some of my best and worst times as a racer. He’s also been there for me as a friend through all the difficult circumstances and transitions I’ve made over the last few years. We've got each other’s backs and I'm thankful every day to have his help and friendship. We're all going to make human errors at various points in our lives and that’s just part of the growing process. There’s nobody else I’d rather be working with and I’m just looking forward to chasing these goals that we have together for as long as we can.