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Aaron Gwin: The Future Of Mountain Biking Is Here Interview

Chris Aung-Thwin / Ask Men

Just about every kid grows up riding a bike. The more adventurous riders tried bunny hops, wheelies and a few jumps off piles of dad’s castaway lumber. The bumps and bruises usually caught up to people, though, and childhood daredevil exploits graduated to slow, early morning commutes along marked bike paths. Red Bull downhill racer Aaron Gwin, 25, also rides along marked paths — but he’s usually blasting down the side of a mountain at 40 mph, battling loose boulders, massive tree roots and tight corners with loose gravel. For a two-time World Cup champion, bumps and bruises — and worse — are just part of his everyday life. We talked to the oft-hailed savior of U.S. mountain biking about the sport, the gear he uses to stay ahead of his competition and the changes he sees coming to downhill racing.

How did you end up partnering with Red Bull?

For me, it’s been a crazy experience. Ever since I was a little kid, when I was racing motocross and stuff, it’s been a dream to ride for Red Bull someday. We started working on the Red Bull thing back in 2009. I was kind of just coming onto the scene and had a couple connections. We were trying to make it happen and at least let them know that I was there so they could keep an eye on me which, thankfully, they already were. Finally, at the beginning of last season, things just worked out and they gave me the call. It was awesome.

What’s the workout routine like for a World Champion?
Usually our structured programs are six days on, one day off, but sometimes we just train all seven. A normal routine would be in the gym three to four times a week and every other day there’s some sort of cardio — whether it’s a longer ride or sprints or anything like that. In the off-season we incorporate a lot of cross-training stuff — going surfing, running, swimming — anything that keeps things fresh.

You ride a Specialized, right?
Yeah, I ride a Demo downhill bike, but I have kind of a little bit of everything. I ride a carbon Demo downhill bike but I also have a carbon Stumpjumper XC bike, an Enduro 29er XC bike and a Venge road bike so I kind of have the full quiver, I guess. I do a lot of road riding and cross-country riding and also BMX track stuff, so I have one of those bikes, too. I kind of have a lot of everything. It’s crazy to walk into a garage full of them now.

Do you see any big changes coming to bikes?
It seems like right now the big thing that everybody’s talking about in the industry is wheel size. A 26-inch wheel has been the standard on mountain bikes since mountain bikes were created. We’ve definitely seen in the last couple of years that 29-inch wheels have made the push into a lot of the cross-country bikes — it’s pretty much taken over the whole cross-country market. I think downhill bikes are all gonna get a 650B (a 27-and-a-half-inch wheel). In the next year or two you’re going to pretty much exclusively see 650B downhill and more aggressive bikes and 29-inch cross-country bikes. Big wheels definitely have some pretty big advantages, so it should be pretty interesting.

What are those advantages?
Well the biggest ones I notice is that it kind of smooths out anything you’re riding, as far as mountain bike terrain goes. If you’re rolling over rocks and stuff and you have a bigger wheel, it’s going  to stay out of the holes — rough sections become smoother. With a larger wheel, you have more contact with the ground, so you have better traction whether you’re braking or cornering or any of that stuff. Also, with bigger wheels, once you get them up to speed, they roll faster.

What goggles and sunglasses do you wear?
I wear Smith goggles and sunglasses. Right now I’m wearing Masterminds. What kind of shoes do you wear while riding? They’re called Giro Chamber shoes. They’re Giro's clip shoe that I actually designed. They just hit the market. Those were about a year in the making. Best shoe that I’ve ever owned.

What brand of pads do you trust?
I wear Troy Lee Designs pads pretty much head to toe. Troy Lee carbon D3 helmet, knee pads — they have a couple different knee pads, but I use pretty much their entire range, just depending on what track and where I’m riding.

Do you think the sport’s changing?

Yeah, I definitely think the sport’s changing. It seems like even since I started in 2008 that it’s grown quite a bit. It was pretty big in the ‘90s, early 2000s; I think it kind of died off a little bit with the economy and especially because mountains like Big Bear shut down and a few places where that was kind of the mecca of downhill biking. But they just opened the park again and mountains like Mammoth Mountain opened up a bike park again, and it seems like it’s starting to gain speed, especially in Europe and New Zealand and Australia. When we go to some of those races, they’re huge and even the World Cup that we have in New York, that’s a big turnout and it seems like everyone’s getting stoked on it. And we have good coverage now with Red Bull stepping up to sponsor the series and putting all the races live on the internet and all that stuff, so it seems like it’s going in the right direction again.

Where are the three best places in the US to ride?
Mammoth Mountain would probably be top of the list. I really love it up there — it’s just a really cool town in the summertime. And then second would probably be Colorado — anywhere in Colorado. I lived there for a couple years when I first started racing and Keystone is definitely fun. You can’t go wrong, whether you’re looking to ride really gnarly downhill stuff or a cross-country trail that’ll go across the entire state, it has a bit of everything. And number three would just be around my house in Southern California. We have a lot of fun trails, and it’s home, you know, so everywhere you ride is your home track. It doesn’t even matter if they’re good or not, since you’re always with your buddies. I think Laguna has some pretty good trails, there are some good ones down in San Diego, too. It’s kind of one of those spots where you have to ask around a little bit. They’re definitely better in the wintertime than the summertime because unlike everywhere else, the more it rains, the better the dirt is; when it rains the dirt’s amazing.
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