by Zach Faulkner

I know he didn’t mean to, but I think Aaron Gwin accidentally ruined DH racing.  It was a slow build up, but it happened.  He showed up one day to a World Cup aboard a Yeti 303 and bar humped his way into our hearts - we were fans immediately.  But then something weird happened: he won in South Africa, and he didn’t stop winning for the next two years. Sure he didn't have perfect seasons, but how many of you can name the other winners? (Hint: Minnaar, McDonald, and Smith). It was a transformation that would have made Megatron nod in approval.

After embarrassing the entire Pro Men’s field for back-to-back summers, there has been a noticeable shift in the world of racing, a new standard has arisen. This was the third era of perfection unseen since Vouilloz crushed the competition a decade ago, and then when Hill decided that his riding, “goes to 11.” “Gwinning” became a commonly used word, hashtaging it was funny, and just like that, ‘Merica was thumping its red, white, and blue chest at the international competition.

There's still a bounty to get a photo Gwin fully squished. Val di Sole, photo by Turman

Let’s be honest, we needed it. American racing has been in some serious need of help since the now-defunct NORBA National series was clearly surpassed by the World Cup scene as the real stage of high caliber racing.  Gwin has been the man to resurrect the passion from the masses, and the irony in that phrasing is that he is a very devout man in his own right. But that has little bearing on what I’m getting at here.  The bigger change that occurred was much less subtle, and much more startling; racing got serious.

Gone are the interviews of goofy smiles and coy hints about how the track is riding from Hill. Even Bryceland’s Manchester mumblings are more relevant to how his day is going.  Have we, dare I say, “gone moto?”
I like downhilling because it has characters with character.  Mountain biking does not need a bunch of men and women standing around discussing how well their [tire band] knobs are “hooking up mint in the corners.” If the Parkins are catching them on camera making it around the corner, that is plain for me to see.  What separates “us” from “them” is when guys like Fairclough come hauling into a section in practice, point to Sven, and then giggle with stoke about how rad the course is running.

There is also trickle-down from the World Cup guys into the local scene (duh, that’s how this all works), but in this case, it isn’t a positive thing. Groms should not have Pro swagger.  I do not think it’s funny or cool when a Cat 2 rider talks about their semi-slow run, which involved tagging two different trees, as if the sound bite would accompany a photo of them next to their shop-priced mid-range bike. As a struggling Pro racer myself, I just shake my head, thinking back to the days of Jr.X when riding was loose, semi-serious, and all about just hanging it out for the pair of Avid Codes the winner was going to be awarded for being the fastest kid down.

So, how is this all Gwin’s fault?  Well, this change has been in effect, frankly always, but Gwin brought the hammer and bedded the nails in, once and for all.  He is obviously one of, if not THE fastest guy out there, and because of that, the paradigm shift occurred. Podium competitors are forced to buckle down, get serious with training and diet. They must try to fill in the massive rift that Gwin single-handedly created by JUST HAVING FUN. Don’t kid yourself, he’s human and has had an “off season” this year, but listen to the guy talk in his interviews. He is loving every minute out there, laughing about his issues, while the competition is beating the course to death trying to find those precious tenths that they can’t find.

Aaron Gwin, by having fun, took all the fun out of the sport.  It’s too serious now. I’m probably going to have to quit or drop down to Cat 1 just because I can’t handle the pressure of knowing that Aaron Gwin is the 11-seconds-faster-National-Champion. He has set a bar so high in the minds of us all that we are now forever-doomed to the mantra of “checkers or wreckers” in a pathetic effort to achieve stardom in our own hearts and minds.

My helmet off to you Gwinny. You showed us how insanely talented you are, and your inspiring riding and attitude has ruined the entire sport I love.

About the author
[sound of can opening] You may know me as my online alias of “sideshow” - a well-worn nickname from my days as a teen with a huge head of hair.  I’ve been racing downhill since I was 14, after I realized I was too slow up the hills in XC.  I jumped straight in the Jr.X category and then right on into the Pro ranks once I’d weathered some wild years racing Neko before he could drive. I’m 23 now, so no one likes me, and I live post-grad in the most temperamental region in nature, a.k.a. Vermont.  The winters are cold and the summers are unpredictable, but we still have fun here. I decided to name the column "Blue Ribbon Banter" based on the best post-ride beer (science says so, no arguing), and the resulting conversations in the pits and parking lots that are fueled by the beverage.  I’ll try to keep things relevant and interesting for your entertainment.  Just remember: when people yell, “NO BRAKES” as you race by, you have to do it.
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  • bikes_bikes

    9/20/2013 1:29 AM

    yess! finally, tabloid British journalism has reached mtb. Next up,.... Sam Hill has ruined flat pedals!!!, why sam hill is to blame for the clips revolution!!!

  • erik2k10

    9/19/2013 10:16 AM

    I agree what Gwin said on twitter:
    "Funny read posted up at @VitalMTB. You guys must be bored. Online drama is whats making the sport less fun. Try wearing out your bikes as much as you do that keyboard #word"

  • kidwoo

    9/19/2013 4:15 PM

    Says a guy with a twitter account? That's awesome.

  • CombatMutt

    9/19/2013 6:41 PM

    No. Says, Aaron Gwin, with a Twitter account.

  • kidwoo

    9/19/2013 7:08 PM

    I hear that guy killed somebody. Don't trust'em.

  • gojammedia

    9/19/2013 9:31 AM

    I think "changed" is the better word here, though to some change = ruined and to others change = improved

  • robmanzanares

    9/19/2013 3:53 AM

    Listen Holmes! If you are ready, kill it in Leogang! We are cheering for you stateside! Long Live El Jefe!

  • Oz_Taylor

    9/19/2013 2:26 AM

    I feel like this article is written from a very American stand point. Maybe his success has had a bigger influence on the US riders - as an inspiration, and that is what you are seeing. The groms want to win like Gwin, so they act like Gwin. If Gwin acted like Shaun Palmer, maybe you guys would have to wait another 15 years before a top rider comes out of the USA. Right now, I'm sure Gwin's success will result in many more top 20 WC level riders coming out of the US over the next 5-10 years. Looking at the bigger picture, the rest of the world just respect Gwin's talent and realise they have to up their game to beat him. Yes Gwin's dominance has moved the sport on, but WC racing has always been serious at the top level. Just take a look at videos from the 90's when the top guys were being paid 6 figure salaries. The interviews are along the lines of "my GT bike and Rockshox suspension worked awesome and my Michelin tyres hooked up good, etc ". Seriously embarrassing to look back on but those were the corporate days of the sport, not now. I think if Gwin had dominated for 5+ years, like Sebastien Loeb has in world rally, then it can have a negative impact on the popularity of the sport. Close competition is always more exciting than pure dominance by a single person.

  • TommyG77

    9/19/2013 12:22 AM

    This article was pointless. A complete waste of words.

  • onenerdykid*

    9/18/2013 11:45 PM

    Awesome job Zach, it looks like you Killed Vital as well haha

  • kidwoo

    9/18/2013 10:13 PM

    Whoa. Spomer used to have some seriously chisled sideburns. We gotta get back to THOSE days. Fast motivated bike riders winning races and then sometimes not winning races got nothin on those sideburns.

  • Mastersonrj

    9/18/2013 8:15 PM

    I'd rather sit in a dark room by myself and listen to Adele with the lights turned off than read this. I like that its nit the usual product pushing and it's an attempt to an hippiness inside perspective but did you have to be so depressing about it. Give the guy a break he's a professional. And he'll bounce back. Get off his d$c* and stop being so emotional.

  • general lee

    9/18/2013 10:54 PM

    Says the guy talking about Adele and getting worked up because Gwin not Gwinning is depressing?

  • MattPatt

    9/18/2013 7:17 PM

    Great opinion piece Vital. It's good to see you guys still have a little editorial edge in the age of junkets, and press-release regurgitation. And, from the look of all the comments, it's working to engage your audience! Good work.

  • michael.barrett.988

    9/18/2013 6:48 PM

    yeah ummmmm..... no.

  • bpatterson6

    9/18/2013 6:39 PM

    Maybe it's the "Curse of the Specialized..." LOL

  • SpokeApparel

    9/18/2013 6:17 PM

    Go Gwin. Go USA. Get back up to speed and stomp that field so more people can piss and moan about it.

  • slayersxc

    9/18/2013 4:13 PM

    Gwin did not ruin DH. He came along and set the bar even higher. that's right buckle down and get competitive work harder to get better. That doesn't mean you cant have fun doing it. If you are not having fun racing then don't race. I for one just love to ride. I can only handle so many races cause they are so serious. Even at the races Im in a lightened up mood and just want to ride over all.

  • E.T.

    9/18/2013 3:03 PM

    I feel like it's the other way around...yes DH at the elite level is serious, it's always been, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun! Enduro has become too serious in my books. Riders showing up weeks in advance to practice, people cutting courses anywhere and everywhere they can, people training like elite XC racers, crazy tactics etc...Not really my cup o' tea like I thought it would be...Long live DH!

  • jbath

    9/18/2013 2:52 PM

    If Gwin killed it, Stevie Smith's mustache has brought it back.

  • adavis

    9/18/2013 2:20 PM

    This is confusing me. So downhill racing was never serious when sam hill was a the top of his game? Or Gee Atherton now?

  • SaddleRags

    9/18/2013 1:00 PM

    If this is a joke I think it would have been funnier a year ago. I'm not hating on the article itself, just the timing seems a little "off" for a joke based on his dominance of the sport


    9/18/2013 12:54 PM

    I think what we're all trying to say is long live the NaPalm.

  • g1701gst

    9/18/2013 12:46 PM

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading this. Great pictures. I hope Gwin's recovery is going well and would love to watch him race at Leogang. Can we please get some more bar humps?

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