- Bike Checks
When millimeters and milliseconds mean more than aesthetics.
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?"
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.
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 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.