Aaron Gwin made waves in the mountain bike world when he announced that he would be leaving Trek World Racing to ride for Specialized in 2013 and beyond. Among the press releases, reports and commentary, Aaron stayed relatively quiet outside of a small announcement he made on his personal website. We approached Aaron for an interview and he granted us that opportunity. Enjoy this exclusive discussion with one of downhilling's most promising and talented riders.
The audio interview is transcribed below.
We’re going to get straight into the big questions Gwinny, the stuff everyone wants to know about. Most importantly, do you really like the TV show Storage Wars?
Yeah, I like it. All those shows. Storage Wars, Pawn Stars. Right now I have Shark Tank on…Shark Tank’s in a little higher class level, but all of those, you know? And they like to show them all back to back. You can never watch one, it’s always a marathon and they just suck you in.
Who’s your favorite Storage Wars character?
Man. Hmmm. Probably the old dude, Barry.
Yeah, Barry’s rad. He has some sick cars…the stuff he roles up in?
Yeah and he’s got like tight shoes and a cool get up. For an old dude, he’s alright. And he’s a fan of Supercross. I’ve seen photos of him and Justin Barcia, so that’s a plus.
So Cole Seely and your MX boys, they love shredding the mountain bike apparently, but every time we see them, they’re in head to toe spandex. Do you think it’s funny that the moto dudes are so into spandex?
Yes. I do. And I have a problem with it, often (laughs). I have a lot of my friends that ride, even one of my buddies, Chris Fillmore, he’s probably one of my buddies who I ride with the most. He’s into road racing more than motocross, but I always laugh because those guys show up with their hardtail 29ers all spandex’d up and I’m like, “Dude, you guys are blowing it.” (laughs)
Have you tried to clue them in?
Yeah, I mean at least they’re on a mountain bike. They’re getting there. They’re starting to get bikes with more travel and they get the idea. But I guess you just have to break them in slow. Yeah, they’re dorking out right now. We have to change the game for them, show them what mountain biking is suppose to really be.
Alright, we’re actually going to get more serious now. How has all of the drama and press been? Did you have any idea that you making the move [to Specialized from Trek] would blow up like it has?
Yeah, we knew it cause kind of a stir because it was a big move and a big change with a lot of stuff going on. I guess I didn’t expect everything…the more personal stuff going on to get launched publicly like it did obviously. I guess both sides are kind of looking out for themselves and they have to do whatever they feel is right. It was just unfortunate, kind of how it got displayed right away without all the fact in line for sure. That kind of was a bummer, but in the end I think people understood what was going so it ended up being alright.
What did you think about the @TeamRumours cartoon? Did the reference to the Garden of Eden and all that hit too close to home with your faith?
Yeah, a little bit. People are always going to push buttons and whatever. I’m kind of mixed on the @TeamRumours as a lot of people are. I think it’s interesting and fun, but I also think with the details that get put on there, I think that it’s somebody that’s in the know enough or knows somebody enough that they’re in the position to where they probably shouldn’t be saying anything because they’re saying stuff or putting stuff on there that’s pretty sensitive subject sometimes. I think they need to respect people a little bit more, but at the same time it’s kinda their deal. I mean, what would team rumor be if it was something everyone was already expecting? I guess I see both sides. Sometimes it’s fun, but sometimes it’s like maybe a little bit too much too early. But I guess that’s not my call.
So how did the opportunity to ride for Specialized come along?
Just talking with a few people. There were some things that were not really working out, I guess, on the Trek side with my contract. Things that I wanted and things that I felt I deserved or I needed or whatever. And I just had an opportunity at Specialized, you know, with talking with those guys and some different things where I was able to make those things happen. It wasn’t something where they wanted to stop me from doing stuff, they wanted to support me and just said, ‘What does that take? What is that going to look like,’ and they let me piece together my program from there. I guess that’s kind of an overview, long story short. Basically that’s how the opportunity came about.
I wasn’t really happy with the Trek deal when it showed up and before that and I had an opportunity to go somewhere else that felt was the best move for me and my career and everything moving forward. It was the freedom they were giving me within the program. It was a frame and tire sponsorship and they said, ‘what else can we do to make you go fast, to make you happy, to make you enjoy being at the races,’ and all that other stuff. They let me basically piece together my dream program. For any rider, that’s definitely the thing we all kind of dream about. To be able to race and win races and do all these things is awesome, but to do it in an atmosphere and environment that you’re really happy with…and to be able to control a lot of those details is rare. So when an opportunity presents itself like that, you have to take a really serious look at it, so that’s what I did.
The move wasn’t easy. Everybody at Trek’s been awesome to me the last few years. We’ve had a couple really successful years. Martin [Whiteley] and myself, are even, I would consider, good friends. I know there may not be the best feelings coming out of this, but hopefully we can resume that someday. He’s a great guy and did a lot of good stuff for me, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t go how I was wanting it or how I thought that it should go. I felt that I was able to make a decision and I had the right to do that and so I did it. I’m totally comfortable with it and really excited about it and everything moving forward.
I think the thing that bummed me out was just how it got displayed to the media. There was a lot of stuff that got blasted online really quick that was kind of inaccurate and definitely didn’t have all the facts there and some stuff that was pretty frustrating to read, especially when just had to sit back and bite your tongue. There was a lot you wanted to say, but you just couldn’t because of the situation that it was, I guess. That stuff was a bummer and I guess it’s just about moving forward now. I don’t want to turn it into a personal drama thing. There’s always more to the story than people will every really be able to know in situations like this. But at the end of the day, you have to be happy with your decision and I’m definitely happy with my decision. I feel like it’s the right move in a number of ways. I’m stoked, man. It’s been a crazy process, but I’m really excited about what’s going on moving into the future.
So what about the buzz that you really didn’t give Trek a chance to counter what Specialized offered?
I didn’t want to turn it into a bidding war. At the end of the day I wanted to go with the program that I thought was the best for me overall. I wanted to just make up my mind, where I was from the beginning, where I wanted to go, what program would suit me best and then just 100-percent go that direction. And on top of that, I felt like we had done a lot of negotiating. There had been a lot of opportunities I think to make things right before all this even came up. So at the end, when they came back and kind of said that they were willing to work at that point, I had already made my mind up. To me, in my head, I shouldn’t have to say that I’m leaving the team for them to kind of take a look at some of the things I had wanted finally and change their minds on a lot of things. At this point, that stuff doesn’t really matter, but there’s definitely a reason why behind all that and that’s kind of a brief of why I made the decision to do that. I felt like all that stuff could have been handled a lot earlier and they were very clear in saying no to a lot of that stuff, so when it came down to it, to me the negotiating had already been done. Any second time around, I was full steam going the other way. Nothing personal, nothing crazy, but to me that’s just how it went down and that’s why I made the decision.
Did the Lance [Armstrong] thing have anything to do with your decision?
Have you seen people say that?
(Laughs) Dude. I crack up reading the questions that are online. Like, ‘oh, he’s got a lot of faith and with the Armstrong thing, I think he’s embarrassed.’ It’s like man, it’s a totally separate sport, separate deal. I’m definitely not in the know enough to make or even start to make a judgment either way on who did what or what’s right or wrong or whatever. I’m fully separated from that deal. Obviously it’s not an awesome deal and definitely don’t condone that type of stuff, but I’m not in a place to really even comment on it, so it definitely didn’t have anything to do with my decision.
If these details can’t be made public yet, say the word, but how are you as a Red Bull rider going to be on a team that’s paid by Monster?
Yeah, I think they’re wrapping up a few of those final details so I can’t really comment, but I’ll be on Factory Specialized, that’ll be my team. Troy [Brosnan] will be my teammate, but they’re working out the details now to figure out exactly how everything is going to work, but it looks like everything is going to flow smooth. And that’s something that was crazy to me from the beginning. It was like there were a lot of, I guess, walls up in the way of trying to make this deal happen with them? But they were just super open with wanting to support me as a rider to try to go fast and win races and all these other details will fall into place and we’ll figure it out. It’s never been like that for me, ya know? Usually there’s a lot of red tape and rules you have to play by and somebody else that’s really controlling a lot of the program. And that’s one thing where they’ve definitely gone beyond the norm with my deal and have done things just to make the riders happy and make the team a good team instead of keeping everything so corporate and in order and doing everything by the books, which I really appreciate. But yeah, long story short, the team will be awesome and they’re just finalizing some of the details now.
Can you talk about what you’re going to be riding in terms of drivetrain, suspension and all that?
Probably not really. I think I can, but I don’t know if I have the 100-percent OK to talk about it, so I should skip it for now.
I know it’s early, but how’s the new bike? Are you just running a stock Demo right now? Are you thinking about any changes you’d like to make to the bike at all?
Man, the Demo’s been awesome. You have to have a bike that you’re comfortable with, you feel like can win races before any deal will happen, that’s kind of the bottom line, you know? No money amount or no program or amount of freedom or any of that stuff is going to get past a bike that you feel like is a step backward. For me, I already thought the Trek was an awesome bike, I’d obviously been successful on it and had some good rides on it, but first day on the Demo, I loved it. We built it up identical to my Trek race bike pretty much. First run down the hill, it was like, whoa, this is an awesome bike, it was a lot of fun to ride. For me it suited my style and everything I did just perfect. It was a good bike (laughs)
What kind of differences did you notice?
Just a lot of stuff. For me it felt like you could be more aggressive on the bike and it was a bit safer. I felt like the Trek was a really fast bike and you could make it go really fast, but it was a bit skiddish and a little bit hard to hold on to and you really had to ride the thing aggressive to keep it on the track. So the Specialized, for me, felt like it worked better over bumps, I felt like it cornered really good, it was kind of easier to move around and was a little bit more stable just for my style, you know. I don’t know what other people think, but for me, it just worked out really well. I just rode it that day, but since then everything’s been really crazy going back and forth. I haven’t really ridden it much since then. I’m actually supposed to go ride here in about an hour or so and just start getting back on it now. We’re still pretty early in the season and I want to start riding it. It’s been really fun to ride.
Have you thought about Mitch Ropelato on the team? Are you guys going to have some skatepark battles? He can flair. I’ve seen you in the skatepark, you’re pretty nasty, but he’s got some skills. What are you guys going to do?
Dude, I don’t know about the skatepark, man. It’s funny because I was just watching some videos the other day and it’s obviously a sport that I still enjoy, the park side of BMX and dirt jumping and all that stuff. But man, it’s one of those sports where you have to do it more often that once every six months to keep your skills up (laughs). I kind of suck now compared to what I used to be able to do. I don’t know, Mitch will probably blow me away in the skatepark. I’m going full old boring mode now, where you’re like you don’t want to get hurt so you can’t race and so you just turn all lame, you know (laughs). I have to go on an XC ride instead of go to the skatepark.
I think it’ll be fun. Mitch and Troy, I think they’re the two most talented up-and-coming kids there are right now on the circuit. Their skills, whether it’s pumptrack or slalom or downhill or whatever, those guys kill it. And they’re both really cool kids and we all get along really well. I think it’ll be a lot of fun. Sea Otter Slalom and some of those races should be going off this year (laughs).
So are you going to be the old man on the team?
I guess so! I just turned 25 a couple of weeks ago and I’m like the veteran on the team. Dang, what happened? I felt like a couple years ago I was like the full rookie guy.
Yeah, your career has come up pretty quickly. You went from no one knowing you to doing well at your first World Cups when you were on Yeti. Has your career just been a blur? It’s been what? Four years, maybe five years that you’ve been on a downhill bike?
Yeah, it has been crazy. It’s funny because I was talking to Rich [Houseman] the other day about that and he said it’s crazy looking back. Especially this contract stuff. You know every time you sign a new contract, you take a step back and look back at where you’ve been and where you’ve come and the amount of time that it’s taken us. I think I started riding downhill when I was 20 and I just turned 25, so we’ve been doing it for about five years now I think. It’s crazy how fast it’s all moved along. But it’s definitely right on pace to where we thought we could be and what we hoped and trained and wanted to be. It’s just a blessing that it’s worked out, but it’s been a crazy ride.
Do you have a duration on this contract?
Yeah, I signed a three-year deal, so a little bit more long term which I’m excited for. I don’t like to jump around brands, even though it’s not going to look like the case lately (laughs). I really believe in the people I’m surrounding myself with now, you know. Everyone’s a California-based company now, between Specialized and Troy Lee and a lot of these other sponsors I have but yeah, it’s cool I have everybody so close and everybody working towards the same goal and everybody so accessible. I think we can do some unique things that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before.
Are you ever going to drink a beer?
(Laughs) I’ve drank a few in the past and by a few, I mean only a few, but it’s just not my thing. Yeah, I think I’m officially retired from my couple of beers (laughs).
How long do you think you’re going to stick with the sport? Have you thought about that?
I’ve always thought about it? I’ve always thought 30 is a nice round number. I think 30 is the mark where you usually have to start considering it, but if you’re still really competitive, I don’t know why you wouldn’t keep racing. But at the same time, you never know, if you have a family or what’s going on in that front. Right now everything is wide open and if it stays like it is right now with that situation and if I’m still competitive, I think I’ll definitely keep racing. You never know. The family thing is important to me, so if that happens, especially with kids and stuff, I don’t think that’s happening within the next five years. Just talking about it freaks me out (laughs). Definitely on down the road, if anything is going to make me take a step back from racing that would be it because I definitely want to be home with them. For now though, it’s wide open. I’m down to race as long as I’m competitive.
What’s it like training with a heathen like Ryno [Ryan Hughes]?
Yeah, it’s pretty good. We actually haven’t been in the gym together much lately, but…
Whatever, I just saw that photo of you doing that switch handed dead lift thing.
Well, yeah, I was in there kind of training by myself and he just walked in there for 10 minutes to grab something and took a photo and left (laughs). But we’re supposed to get back in there, coming up now. This is kind of coming into our season where we’re really busy training, so I’ll start getting together with those guys a lot more.
He’s trying to talk me into this new birkum yoga, I guess it’s like sauna yoga.
Yeah, it’s supposed to be just epic (laughs) and he was telling me about it the other day. We might try to go tonight or tomorrow, so that should be interesting. He said it was an hour and half so I don’t know if I’m going to survive it! I grew up in the desert, so I’m more used to the heat than most, so I should be all right.
Any Anaheim SX 2 predictions?
Oh, dang. I’m gonna go Eli [Tomac] in the Lites and Treynard [Trey Canard] in the 450’s. Trey’s been killing lately. He’s been struggling in those last laps, but I think he’s got the confidence now. He’s gonna pull through.
That’s pretty much it. Are you going to Australia to race at all or are you going to stay local?
I’ll just be staying local, as far as I know. There’s plenty of racing here between the Fontana Winter Series and Sea Otter and the U.S. Nationals and a few other things, so I think I’ll just be in the states, training for the most part.
Well thank you very much, I appreciate the fact that you took the time to do this and that you’re willing to talk about stuff.
Yeah man, and thank you guys. Thanks to everybody that’s stood behind me in all this madness and drama and all that stuff. I’m excited to move forward and get going with the next year. I think it’s going to be a good one.