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

    9/18/2013 12:45 PM

    I agree completely DH racing is too serious these days. You see some many racers swapping over to enduro and 650b to get that same fun atmosphere again. Gwin has tipped the scale further away from fun, and in turn forcing people to enduro and to buy 650b....shame on you Gwin, shame on you!

  • wkd-rdr

    9/18/2013 11:55 AM

    usa! usa! usa! usa! usa!

  • Andre Lamanna

    9/18/2013 11:39 AM

    Guys, it's a joke but also a Reminder that gwin's back! (that's what I got). Well, can I be honest? all people over the world talk about why and what happened, not being mean, but it's clearly (ONE MORE TIME) that SPZ is over with this demo geometry. See Samhill killed himself onboard a demo ( almost 5 year and not getting any expressive results) look @ this video and gwin shereding with trek 9.9 this was insane. I know that gwin is still a fast and good rider, BUT, SPZ has a lot work to do... create a new bike and geometry would be first thing. (in the other hand, gwin changes were the smartest thing to make... I think it's just a matter of time, but SPZ will need to step up game, otherwise this brand will still being a joke on internet).

  • onenerdykid*

    9/19/2013 9:24 AM

    I couldn't disagree more with your comment. Sam took a World Champ title and a World Cup Overall on a Demo, he just hurt himself in the process. He was 5th overall last year on a Demo as well, and is currently 6th right now. Sam is also currently tweaking his Nukeproof to be more like a Demo (shorter chainstays and longer reach). It just sucks that Gwin is having an off year (which was a continuation from his poor second half of last year on Trek) and happens to be during his move to Specialized.

  • faster_than_u

    9/18/2013 11:28 AM

    Oh, its a joke, I get its a joke??? I dont know if i should get it or not??? I'm confused

  • Scott_Townes

    9/18/2013 11:28 AM

    haha, I don't know what's more funny, this article or the people responding to it. Well done, sir.

  • peewho

    9/18/2013 11:18 AM

    tongue in cheek guys.. lighten up.


  • haddad

    9/18/2013 11:13 AM

    wait, I am confused. I somewhere in the mix, i lost exactly what the issue is, and also am not sure if this is offensive or justified. April 1st is still 6 and 1/2 months away, so it is not a joke, but is gwin respected or spited here? maybe I don't see the same effect on the local scene. I personally have been devoted to training and diet for the 5 seasons prior to this one. This year I did no training/lifting, no dieting, just plain old fashioned fun, and have had my best season to date. I feel what ever may be observed on the local cat 2 scene is not a direct correlation to gwins last 2 seasons. Or it has been going on all along and as we get older and mature we notice more. I am just slightly confused.

  • faster_than_u

    9/18/2013 11:13 AM


  • snoozzzer

    9/18/2013 11:03 AM

    The same happened back when Hill was on top - he was far more quick than the competition for several years, and then everyone caught up. Riding is fun, and should always be fun, but one cannot forget that these are professionals we are talking about. Racing is their job, and as with any job, if you aren't putting in the effort and getting results, you're going to be replaced.

  • gojammedia

    9/19/2013 5:14 AM

    spot on snoozzzer

  • Reality Check

    9/18/2013 10:54 AM

    Is this what passes for internet journalism these days? Shouldn't you guys be covering Interbike?

  • Big Bird

    9/18/2013 4:20 PM

    Not all of us can be at Interbike. And anyway, Zach isn't a staff member. He's a regular reader just like you and I. He was asked, like I have been, by the powers that be, to help supply some content to the site so that said powers can get to Interbike and give you the stories that you apparently want to read. Comments like yours don't help anything. Howza bout you add something constructive to the conversation.

  • Jack_Stocker

    9/18/2013 10:42 AM

    this is the worst article i have ever read, , r every sports now days has naturally processed what about semenuk and soderstrom procressing slope style? kelly slater processing surfing, he you could say is the reason for downhill mountain biking to be in the next Olympics?!, because it has got to that level, look at surfing snow boarding, sprinting, kayaking. they have all processed to top level can't stop someone from working their hardest training day in and day out, all their hard work?!

  • erikthefatty

    9/18/2013 1:21 PM

    process 1 |ˈpräˌses, ˈpräsəs, ˈprō-|
    verb [ with obj. ]
    perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on (something) in order to change or preserve it: the various stages in processing the wool.
    • operate on (computer data) by means of a program.
    • deal with (someone) using an official and established procedure: the immigration authorities who processed him.

    Did you mean progress?

  • bstens

    9/18/2013 10:33 AM

    Eddie Masters is winning our hearts. He is a true mountain biker. Long live #nofucks

  • Albe23

    9/18/2013 10:31 AM

    So...WC DH became more professional and that is a bad thing? I mean I'm not on the WC circuit but it still seems like those guys are still the raucous fun loving group of dudes as they've always been. Just healthier and more focused. Has that filtered down the line as you say, yeah. I will agree that people being too serious at the amateur level is disappointing, reminds me of cycling. I wouldn't quit racing because of it, especially in a TT based sport. Just run your own race they way you want to and don't let that 11 seconds creep in. Gwin's level isn't out of the realm of possibility. If I've learned anything racing it's that someone, somewhere, will be faster than you. And that faster person could be you.

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