I've shot with Aaron Chase more than a few times since our first shoot 11 years ago in California, and I've watched his career progress through those years For all those years Aaron has always had the same bike sponsor, but that is finally about to change. I took some time to talk to him about his 17 year career with Cannondale, and where he's headed now.
- I was just thinking back to the first real photo shoot that we did, back in 2003 I think. It was after the Big Bear NORBA, and we were hanging out at Kirt Voreis' house. I had just starting shooting for Maxxis, and you and Eric Porter were both riding for them. Kirt gave us directions to the Baldy pipe, and we went up there to shoot, with Don Hampton I think?
- Haha, That was when I was all about finding full pipes and different trannies to ride. We went to do a photo shoot and I didn’t even bring my helmet, that's how inexperienced I was. The photos show me in Eric Porter's lid with that big Iron Horse sticker on it.
- After that we went and shot some street stuff around Rancho Cucamonga, and then we shot the ditch by I-15. That was a tough shoot for me, you wanted to get a 360 tire tap over the spine in the ditch, and it took a bunch of tries before you got it. I was shooting my Nikon F5 at 8 frames per second and I think I wasted about 8 rolls (wasted rolls were ones where the rider didn't do the trick, so the whole roll of film just ended up being thrown out without ever being developed). We were running out of film and at the end I started shooting slower, manually taking the shots instead of just holding the shutter down, and then when you made it I hated myself for not having more shots of it. That sequence turned into a Cannondale ad and postcard for your signature hardtail.
- Cannondale and I worked on everything with my signature bike. It was a big deal to get a good Cannondale ad, and we got directions to a move that “Rooftop” did and I fell in love with that spot. I thought I had the 3 tap in the bag but like everything the move got much bigger in person. It definitely took a few tries before the final “make”. We were shooting film and time is money.
- At that point you had already been riding for Cannondale for a while, how did that all start?
- It's funny how it all happened. I was a senior in high school and I had been racing Expert slalom. It was career day at my high school and there was an alumni, Dave Cote, visiting that was a graphic designer for Cannondale. We chatted bikes a bit and went on our way. Well, later that year I forgot to register for the Mount Snow NORBA National and was forced into Pro slalom. I ended up qualifying 10th in Pro. Dave Cote (the graphic designer from career day) was in the crowd and approached me after the race and soon after got me set up with a new slalom bike. Later that year I had my first pro contract in my hand and enough money to call it a killer summer job. I left high school with a job as a professional slalom and downhill racer for Cannondale Bicycles. Timing, skill and a little luck never hurts.
- You started out as a racer, but quickly became a street rider and dirt jumper, how did that switch happen, and did it affect your relationship with Cannondale?
- I've always just loved riding. My mechanics back in the SoBe racing days would get so pissed at me - they'd get my bike race tuned and then I would flat doing something dumb in the pits. I quickly became known more for my "freeride" skills on the race track than my results. My first cover was of me doing a suicide no hander in a 4 cross race after being bumped out. It kind of just happened. Also the Chain Reaction Series with Don Hampton was launching at the same time - so with the popularity of that I became a street rat pretty quick.
- 2005 Red Bull District Ride, you did really well there. And this year I watched you at District Ride on the other side of the camera, working with Red Bull and GoPro to create some great TV content. How has that transition been, and how did it come about?
- Yeah, I suppose I did well. I won both Best Trick and the overall contest. That event has always been one of my favorites, being able to bring mountain biking to a crowd of that size is so rad. 40,000 screaming Germans and working with Tarek (Rasoultion) and the entire Red Bull Germany crew is awesome. It's really pretty cool to design a course now for the new generation. Winning that comp in 2005 was the foundation of my future career and propelled me to Hasselhoffian stardom in Germany!
- In 2007 we were at the Quashqai event in Newcastle, England and you crashed and injured yourself fairly seriously, how did that affect your career?
- That was the single worst day of my life. I fell off of a 12 foot ladder bridge straight to my ass. The force of the fall caused a burst fracture of my L1 and I couldn't feel my legs. Ian - you were the one to actually break the news to my wife, Kara back in the States. I just remember screaming; "I can't feel my f*cking legs." By the time I was in the ambulance I was moving my feet around again. I under went surgery to fuse my T12, L1, L2 with 2 titanium rods and 4 screws holding me back together. That day shifted my career - I decided to concentrate less on competition and focus on filming and content production. Funny thing is I signed with GoPro about a month before the accident…weird how things happen, right?
- Yes! And although you bounced back from that fairly quickly, your back ended up bothering you a fair bit the last few years. I heard you had those screws removed from your back a month or so ago, and now you're feeling better than ever - congratulations! Almost exactly a year after that crash we did a shoot for Fox, and then a few months later a NWD shoot with the Chase SoftTail. Tell me about the SoftTail.
- The SoftTail was a concept that came out of necessity for me. Swapping back and forth between my DJ bike and short travel bike was nearly impossible. The two bikes couldn’t be further from the other. I needed suspension but hated the fact that the bike blew through the travel so quickly and the geo (especially the long chain stays) was holding me back. How do I make my DJ bike full suspension? In order to keep the rear end short we would need to put the shock in front of the seat tube. Better yet, use Cannondale technology and drop a Headshok in there as the top tube. Cannondale listened to me, and they made about 4 or 5 of them. They never made it to production, but still to this day I believe that bike has a place in the market.
- These shots are from a NWD shoot on a course you built at Lenosky's to show off the winch. You were getting towed into this uphill line, and riding it up and down. Where did the idea for the winch come from?
- I got the winch idea while I was busted up with my back. I was watching Fuel TV and saw a winch being used in wakeboarding, and saw the opportunity to bring it into mountain biking. It basically opened up new locations for me to ride where I couldn’t get the speed— and this zone in Lenosky’s back yard was born.
- That same year we shot the dirt pipe as well. It was something that you had showed me before, but at that point it was going to take a bunch of work just to make it rideable. We got it running in time to shoot, but the trannies were pretty soft and slow. You just shot it again this year for Scott Secco's builder movie, tell me about the evolution of that spot.
- It’s an old grain elevator that I discovered years ago. I did the hand work for the NWD shoot, but it still wasn’t what I wanted. We walked away from that zone for years and when I got the call for Builder I saw the opportunity to revive this forgotten spot. Secco was stoked on it and Hauck, me and the local crew went to work. We’ve got well over 100 man hours into that zone. (View that story here
- We've shot a lot of stuff over the years for Maxxis, Fox, and NWD films, and during that time you've had a new bike almost every year. How many Chase hardtails have there been, and how many design changes over the years? How much control did you have over the design and the graphics?
- I had my hand on the wheel. I literally sat next to the engineers in the cubicle as they drew it up, then they’d send the file to the graphic designers and I would walk over there and sit with them. Once that I was done, I’d fly to the factory in Bedford, PA, and walk the bike through production. Made in the USA…hell yeah! We had 6 different models with two design changes. I have every single bike from those years hanging in my attic. We did get a cease and desist from Van Halen's record label for the red, white and black one. If anyone has one of those bikes - they’re limited edition! Whoops! Sorry Eddie!
- It's the end of 2014, and your relationship with Cannondale has finally come to an end. Tell me what happened after so many amazing years, and tell me about the future.
- Cannondale and I have been going in different directions for awhile now, but it’s like a girlfriend you just can’t break up with. You love her, but you know she’s not the one for you anymore. Well, finally back in the late summer we both acknowledged it wasn’t working and agreed to part ways. We are leaving on great terms; I couldn’t ask for a better situation.
The future is solid. I of course am continuing my relationship with GoPro and Red Bull. Those guys are the biggest and most badass media producers in our sport. My goal as a rider is to be progressive in both riding and content, make sick edits that millions want to watch. My series, Through My Eyes with Red Bull will continue and I'm working with GoPro on some insane trips. As for a bike company, well you’re just going to have to wait. Sorry to leave you hanging, but I am happy with my new home. It just feels right. Cannondale gave me my start and stuck with me through the years, broken backs, company transitions, and all my craziness. I owe that company a lot - so thank you guys!
I’m continuing on with One Industries, Hayes Components, SixSixOne, Maxxis, SDG, Lizard Skins as well as bringing a few new players on board. I’m stoked to see what I can make happen in 2015.
I need to thank some of the key people at Cannondale that took a chance on me, shaped my career and pushed me to be a better rider. The list is long, but these guys deserve the recognition. They listened to every crazy idea I had, laughed at some and made some a reality. It’s been a wild ride; thank you everyone!
Matt Jewett, Matt Bottomley, Murray Washburn, Bill Rudell, Adrian Montgomery, Seb Raymond, Joe and Scott Montgomery, Scott Struve, Ron Litke, The Kid, Doug Dalton, Ron Jones, Dale Krantz, Todd Ford, Steve Extance, Dave Cote, Jeff McGuane, Frank Hwang, Peter at the front desk, all the ladies in accounting and last but not least all the factory team in Bedford - it was great working with all of you.
|One of the coolest things about working with athletes over a long period of time is watching the path their careers take them down. With an athlete and friend like Aaron there are so many great memories. His athleticism is blended with a serious artist's eye. The very first time I saw him ride - at Mt Snow- AC was turning the mountain into a personal terrain park between competitive runs. That creativity is something he's built upon. Whether it's a photo shoot, video, or an adventure story, Aaron is always finding fresh ways to view the world on bicycles. If you watch videos of other sports you can see stuff that AC pioneered years ago. Combine this with a most humble personality and wicked sense of humor and you've got a sport icon. |
Careers and adventures go on. I look forward to watching AC continue to progress and shift the way we view what is possible with a bicycle. - Matt Jewett - Cannondale
|I'll never forget the day I met Aaron when after watching him rip a downhill run in Big Bear, I see this guy riding through the pit area on his bicycle backwards, like it was no big deal. Peeling his helmet off with a smile from ear-to-ear is this skinny kid from NH, followed with that unforgettable AC chuckle associated with the best of times on a bicycle. From competing, to doing demonstrations, to his incredible video work, Aaron is a natural. In my 17 years with Cannondale I've had the privilege of working with many top-level athletes, but a 17 year run with one athlete is almost unheard of, and I thank him for his friendship and as a colleague. |
I look forward to the next chapter in his career and wish him all the best. - Bill Rudell - Cannondale
|Damn man, It's been a long run. AC and I started with Cannondale at the same time and now, 17 fun-filled years later, we've been through so much together that he just feels like family. Maybe not a brother exactly, cuz he was always off running around the world doing cool stuff that I was never cool enough or skilled enough to do, but more like that crazy cousin who would show up at family reunions and humbly remind you that, no matter how cool you thought you were, or what how sick a shredder you were, you would just never be as cool or as sick as he is.|
Throughout all those years, I loved watching Aaron progress and mature because it was like a master-class in creating the life you want to lead, follow your passion, be good to your sponsors, be an awesome human being and always share the stoke. That was what really set Aaron apart. Sure, he had this restless creativity and the mutant skills to turn that creativity into constant progression but, at the end of the day, it was how he interacted with everyone around him that made the difference. He was always pushing, always wanting to take things to the next level but in a way that was inclusive, not exclusive. Whether he was making videos, working with engineers to make product better, hanging out talking with star-struck groms at events or teaching the next wave at the Ayr Academy, he always wanted everyone to share in his stoke. And we did...in a big way.
I'm not gonna lie, the last couple of years have been tough. As our bike line evolved away from the gravity / freeride stuff, we really didn't have appropriate bikes for him to ride but we loved the guy. So we just kept going, sending him one-offs and leftover frames from bikes we don't make anymore - what else could you do? The dude was family. I guess the writing was on the wall for a while, but neither of us wanted to read it. So now that the time has finally come to for us part ways, we all just want to say thanks to AC and Kara, for everything they've done for us and with us over the years. We are honored and grateful to have been a part of it all and are so happy he's found a new home. Can't wait to see what kinds of next-level sh*t this next chapter brings... this one's been a hell of a run... - Much love, Murray and the crew at Cannondale
- I lived in a yurt for a week with Jamie Goldman and Cannondale teammate Mark Weir in the backcountry of Idaho, as burly as those 2 are, I took the win in the Man Games - photo Ryan Thibault
- I'd happily be forever lost in Peru, and Iceland equals bucket list!
- Progression is important. Pinkbike Builder Movie - Nose Bonk Bar - Photo: Paris Gore
- Creativity is just as important. Pinkbike Builder Movie - Mountain Creek Bike Park - Photo: Paris Gore