Aaron Gwin's Signature Onza Tire Is More Than Just a Look-alike

High in the hills above Laguna, California, Aaron Gwin shows me a downhill tire he's been developing for over a year. He's holding a production sample of his signature Onza Aquila. Running 27.5 x 2.4-inches, Aaron set out to create a high-performance, intermediate-condition downhill tire from scratch. Having ridden the "best of the best" throughout his career, Gwin understood that existing tires and tread patterns had their advantages and disadvantages, with no tire, in his opinion, culminating into the perfect package for course conditions he experiences most often on the World Cup.

I've kind of run the best of the best of what's out there throughout my career, but each tire has one thing that I wish it did better. -Aaron Gwin

The Aquila was born on a plane flight home from Germany in early 2016. Aaron studied existing tires he had competed on in the past and came up with a hand-drawn design that he presented to Onza, resulting in his signature tread. The prototype was debuted at Eurobike in 2016 and the comments referred to its aesthetic as a hybrid of existing tires with nicknames like "Gwutcher" or "Gwinion DHR".

Gwin responds, "It's a tire. What are you going to do to make it look drastically different?"

The prototype Onza Aquila debuted at Eurobike.

As I spoke with Gwin about the details of his design, it was apparent that he was extremely methodical in thinking through every detail of knob spacing, angle, shape of the blocks and even sipe depth in the blocks. Historically, he liked how the Specialized Butcher cornered but not how it performed under braking. The perpendicular channels in the knobs were a positive of the Butcher, but the block shape and sipe depth of the center knobs hindered braking performance. He liked how the Minion DHR II handled braking, but felt the staggered block pattern between the side and center knobs compromised predictability in the corners. The side knobs were also too bulky for his liking, resulting in decreased bite. He was pointing out sipe depth differences of about a millimeter on the braking blocks between his Aquila and a Butcher, explaining that the minuscule amount of remaining rubber in the knob of the Aquila made the difference when braking.

Gwin's mechanic, John Hall, with the new YT all built up for the first 2016 World Cup in Lourdes, France. Onza tires are present here, but we all know Gwin went on to win with sharpied Maxxis tires.

When you consider Aaron has been able to tell his mechanic, John Hall, that his tire felt about .5 PSI too low after a practice run, only to have that hunch confirmed by a digital tire gauge, Gwin is clearly in a position to understand such incremental performance gains.

Taking his racing experience aboard Maxxis, Specialized and Bontrager tires, he's borrowed from existing elements and refined the total package into what he believes is the perfect intermediate DH tire.

Aaron Gwin explains how the Onza Aquila was born.

Aaron plans on racing these tires in the 2017 UCI World Cup downhill events provided conditions allow (i.e. it's not muddy). The tires will be available in a wire bead version around Sea Otter 2017 with a foldable version launching later in 2017. Production weight for the 2.4-inch tire hovers around 1285g with two compound options, the RC2 45a (dual-compound 55a/45a knobs) and the VISCO GRP40. Gwin hints at plans for more tires to come, but getting the 2.4-inch version was his biggest priority for the upcoming 2017 downhill race season.

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30 comments
  • zirk

    2/15/2017 5:49 PM

    These multi-media articles are awesome! Please don't mimic the news outlets that post articles with both a video and written story but the copy in the written story is nearly a word-for-word transcript of the video dialogue.

    In the eyes of a former journalist, this article was a good mix of both, so hats off to you Spomer. Please keep on bringin' the heat.

  • Wagon650B

    8/17/2017 3:01 PM

    Looks like a WTB Convict

  • zirk

    2/15/2017 6:00 PM

    Also, thumbs up for the infographics. Even though they are very simple graphics, they really help make the article easy to understand.

  • NorCalNomad

    2/20/2017 9:51 AM

    +1 The mixture of photos and raw audio that helps tell a story has imo kept VitalMTB the best place for race and news coverage.

    Way better than a edited video 99/100 times

  • phillemaistre

    2/15/2017 12:32 PM

    Tire talk is like rock talk, everyone has an opinion and they're all valid. I love tire talk as much as I love rock talk. Love the new article format, @sspomer

  • TRex

    2/15/2017 9:32 AM

    Look at how much more bolstered those side knobs are as well, I'd run those, especially after trying Michelin's Wild Rock'R II and E-13's tires, I am a huge fan of burlier side knobs.

  • Shawn_Trudell

    2/15/2017 1:09 AM

    Looks like a session.

  • Scrub

    2/15/2017 5:06 PM

    You mean Trek/Bontrager G5

  • CurtisO

    2/14/2017 8:20 PM

    Too bad Colin Bailey doesn't get more credit for his contributions to the original DH tire design. Thanks Colin!

  • Maxipedia

    2/15/2017 4:31 AM

    You mean those tires that were, uhm, ”inspired” by the Michelin C16, C24, C32 and, ultimately, the Transalp from the early 90's? Or what are those ”contributions”, actually?

  • Tehllama

    2/15/2017 6:05 PM

    We've been refining this whole concept of a two-wheeled vehicle powered by pedals for some time now... Innovation/refinement are the same thing, depending on perception of the scope.

  • Maxipedia

    2/16/2017 7:35 AM

    @Tehllama I feel you, but the time distance between the launch of said Michelins and the copycat versions is very short. They were available at the same time on the market, but Michelins were more expensive, because they were made in Europe, as they had no Asian factory back then. I love Maxxis and the fact that they made quality rubber more affordable, but let's not overestimate certain people's ”creative” input. Both Minions and the High Roller are Michelin rip-offs and the Transalp was an awesome tire as early as in 1994. The only innovation/refinement here is marketing and hitting certain price points. A smart feat, but not much actual tread design in there.

    I salute you, buddy!

  • spech

    2/14/2017 4:56 PM

    Interesting that he can feel 0.5 psi out, John must be able to pump nitrogen with the track pump cause air doesn't expand with heat or change with altitude. But that's just my 2cents

  • sspomer

    2/14/2017 6:59 PM

    gwin had done practice runs and went to the pits, he then left the pits w/ an agreed-upon pressure (30 and 29 maybe?). he took another run and went back to the pits saying it felt .5 psi low. i asked how he could feel .5 psi (i was skeptical too). he explained that things he'd hit on the track in previous runs that day felt different (the same rock at the top of the track is at the same altitude, so however that felt wouldn't change unless pressure was different and temp change was insignificant b/c of the timing between runs). they used the digital gauge and the pressure was .5 lower than the agreed-upon pressure. john hall is the one who brought this story up. could it have been luck? sure, but gwin is insanely in-tune with his bike set up and knows how altitude and temperatures affect components and materials.

  • sideshow

    2/14/2017 8:01 PM

    It's like in Alpine ski racing when a skier can feel the difference in 1 or .5 degree change in their edge camber.
    Minnaar is legendarily fastidious with his setups, from tire psi to suspension, just ask Jordi Cortez. Brandon Semenuk too, with bike geo - there's a story about how he said something was 'off' with a brand new build, SRAM tech measured it, and the fork was 5mm too low.
    Tire pressure is no different as Spomer points out, as it will be the same on a relative scale when testing under consistent conditions. Niki Lauda, the great F1 driver was just as meticulous with his cars. When people are the top competitors in their sport, it's because they can not only perform better, but also because they are in tune with themselves and their equipment in ways a lot of us can't/won't understand.

  • Tehllama

    2/15/2017 6:10 PM

    The Niki Lauda comparison immediately came to my mind as well - with an amazing arse dyno, it's easier to stay at the top of a really competitive game that heavily involves equipment development.

  • Salespunk

    2/15/2017 8:57 AM

    Most top athletes in any field are the same. Tiger can differences of a few grams in his clubs and Brady can feel the difference of .5 psi in his game balls...

  • sideshow

    2/14/2017 3:02 PM

    That's pretty wild that Gwin is knowledgeable enough about tires to basically mock this up on a napkin and have it come to life in nearly the original form. I've always thought tire design was a really overlooked aspect of the industry, and the more I learn, the more I marvel at it!

  • Maxipedia

    2/15/2017 4:32 AM

    That's also a pretty neat PR story, don't you think?

  • Allen_Gleckner

    2/14/2017 2:36 PM

    Does everything well. No compromises? Color me skeptical

  • sspomer

    2/14/2017 2:56 PM

    don't forget, he's speaking of performance in "intermediate" DH conditions, not mud, not desert hardpack, not climbing...

  • Allen_Gleckner

    2/14/2017 3:25 PM

    Good point. But I'm still a little skeptical that even that optimizing didn't include some tradeoffs. Especially in the rolling vs braking or other things like that. If he did just make improvements w no tradeoffs that's some pretty impressive innovation.

  • Tehllama

    2/15/2017 6:15 PM

    The biggest knock I've seen is that it looks like a DH F/R minion with Butcher side knobs... Which promises most of the cornering traction of a DHF/Butcher, most of the braking traction of a DHR2, and the rolling resistance average of those three, depending on center tread durometer... If expectations are still for a dry weather tire in 900g weight class that rolls acceptably and keeps up when the going gets gnarly, then I'm not at all skeptical.

  • MacRamsay

    2/14/2017 2:35 PM

    What, no graphene?! Lol, looks sick anyway

  • 'size

    2/14/2017 1:12 PM

    when is the 26" trail weight version coming out?

  • Tehllama

    2/15/2017 6:17 PM

    I want the 29x2.4 myself... But yes. Need all of the wheel diameters, CST should be able to hook it up

  • Scrub

    2/14/2017 12:33 PM

    News flash to ONZA suits: Your business will grow to its highest peak the first quarter these tires are released to the public. I want these yesterday!

  • mp

    2/14/2017 7:20 PM

    I would guess that Onza tire popularity peaked in the Porcupine days: http://wundel.com/pic/jpg_2/kult_onza_1.jpg I don't see it getting bigger than that! Had some decent versions following that as well in the mid 90s.

    These will definitely sell though, and the big numbers are in the trail department.

  • sideshow

    2/14/2017 8:01 PM

    ...that tire looks like it'd be pretty damn awesome.

  • dustboy

    2/20/2017 7:56 PM

    Man, if they brought back the Porcs I'd rock them just for retro cred. I used to love those tires.

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