Aaron Gwin is arguably the best downhill mountain biker currently racing. At only 6 years old he had already received his first national level sponsorship after BMX biking for 2 years. He was rated top 5 in the world for his age. Twenty-five years later, Gwin is the highest paid downhill mountain biker, being the first to make a total of a million dollars. He has had many achievements, with one of his best being the UCI World Cup win at Val di Sole in 2012. Gwin “absolutely pinned it” causing him to win the race by a mind blowing 7 seconds, beating out world class riders like Greg Minnaar and Gee Atherton. He is making news not only for the amount of wins he’s getting but also for his lucrative sponsorship deal. He just signed with Intense Factory Team for what has to be a deal upwards of $250,000 USD.
Aaron has gone through five different racing team sponsors starting with Yeti in 2008 and recently signing to the Intense Factory Team in late 2018. This came as a surprise to the downhill mountain biking community as Intense was a relatively small company compared to sponsors like Specialized and YT, who have both worked with Gwin before.
Intense is viewed as an underdog in the mountain biking community. Founded in 1993, the company’s bikes weren’t popular as they were very heavy, and didn’t perform well. But Intense innovated, even using a suspension design taken from cars–the MacPherson Strut. Their sales really started taking off around 2012, which happens to be around the first time they produced a carbon-fiber trail bike. They kept refining their bikes and growing their company which brought them to where they are today. Their bikes are appearing more and more on professional race courses. They were still viewed as an underdog however and were only able to sponsor mediocre riders and rarely got podium finishes. This all changed when they signed Gwin as their first world class rider around November of 2018.
Now with Gwin, Intense is lined up to be one of the best teams out there.
Gwin has plenty of other sponsors as well. Currently he is sponsored by Fox, Kenda, Alpine Stars, Redbull, HT components, GoPro, ODI, Giro, Smith, Renthal, and Flat Tire Defender. This keeps him covered for everything from suspension, to special athletes healthcare, even coming with surgeons that work only with Redbull athletes. Most of these companies are known for sponsoring the world’s best athletes and nothing less than that.
Recently, Gwin just won his first race for Intense: Round 4 of the Southridge Winter Race series at Fontana. It was Gwin first win on the M29–Intense’s top-of-the-line, carbon fiber 29” downhill bike. The race is a rocky, technical, and steep course that severely tests both rider and bike. It shocked everyone when he won the race by 4 seconds–an impressive lead for a 2-minute race. In comparison, when he was with YT in 2016, he won the same race by 0.15 seconds. This could result from Gwin improving over the years, but Intense enthusiasts claim it’s the bike. The difference between the two bikes is minimal, but very noticable for the riders. The YT he rode in 2016 had 3 more mm of travel at 203mm on the front fork and 8 more mm of travel at 208mm in the rear. The Intense bike was even at 200m front and rear. These numbers represent how much the suspension moves and how long it is. This could mean the bike is more nimble but the travel difference is so minimal it wouldn’t change much. The real difference is in the geometry. This can change among bikes and does not necessarily make the bike better or worse than others, it just makes it more suited towards certain riders. The weight of his bikes are unknown, as they are fully custom, decked out with parts from Aaron’s sponsors.
All this raises the questions: What plans does Intense have for their race team? Are they planning on just increasing their downhill team–they have already signed downhill rider Neko Mullaly, who was previously on Gwin’s team–or will they expand to other disciplines of mountain biking, like enduro or cross country? Personally, I think Intense will be doubling down on downhill racing as they have been building their team since the mid 90’s and have perfected their downhill bike among the years as well.
Signing Aaron Gwin is the start of a new phase for the Intense Factory Team, and has brought them more into the downhill racing scene and will provide them will the publicity necessary to grow as a company and a team.
Image credit: Hookit/ Aaron Gwin