From Notepad to Podium

Words by Drew Rohde // Photos by Jarad Kleinberg

In the last couple of years Aaron Gwin has launched reputable but unproven products from obscurity to the top of podiums around the World. From brakes to frames and now tires, it seems everything Aaron touches turns to gold. Even if you believe he could win on a Huffy, Mr. Gwin is a finely tuned athlete with a hyper-aware sense of what works and what doesn’t. In interviews Aaron often talks about his pride in choosing brands to work with, and his passion for developing products he truly believes in. That’s why he chose Onza to produce his signature tire, the Aquila. Based on Gwin’s season, we’d say they got it right.

Onza, along with their U.S. distributor, Bike Fettish, invited us out to a mellow post-Interbike media camp. The goal was to sample some of the new goods and enjoy the fall foliage in East Burke, Vermont. The Kingdom Trails proved to be ideal testing grounds and the remoteness of this small Northeastern haven served as the perfect cleanse after a few days in Vegas.

Onza Camp

It wasn’t until our second day in Vermont that we sat down for Onza’s product presentation. By that time we’d already logged quite a few miles on the new tires and had been enjoying all of Gwin’s custom design features. Onza made no apologies regarding their strategy with Gwin, telling us that this partnership was a long-term strategy, not an instant marketing goal. “Aaron is particular about who he works with, and he wants to work with brands that are willing and able to produce things he believes in. Onza was ready to listen and create just want he needed to win races. People made comments in videos when they saw Maxxis tires in the team trailer or on Gwin’s bike, but that was fine. We knew what we had coming soon and we were looking at the long strategy, not just having our logo on his jersey,” said Urs Odermatt (aka. Odi). “Aaron knows what he wants and how to make it work, so when we saw his drawing and he showed us tires that he liked, we took it and moved ahead,” Odi continued. It seems Onza’s trust and focus paid off as Aaron rode the brand new tire to medals at both World Cup and World Championship races.

Key aspects of Gwin’s Aquila tire (Latin for eagle) include several key features. An uninterrupted vertical channel on either side works with refined edge knobs for a penetrating bite. Also important to Gwin were aggressive braking edges with shallow sipes for improved feel and traction. Obviously speed makes Aaron tick, so having a fast rolling tire was imperative. He also chose to have the center and side knobs aligned for predictability when transitioning from center to side knobs while cornering.

Compounds and Casing
Onza has a broad range of tires with countless casing and compound options to suit riding disciplines and local terrain. At the moment however, the Aquila is only available in a 27.5 x 2.4” size with Onza’s DHC (downhill) casing. The 27.5 tire will be available in either Onza’s 45A dual compound RC2, or their Visco GRP40 compound for those seeking maximum traction.

Onza Aquila


We had a blast riding some of Onza’s other tires on the Kingdom Trails, a short pedal from our lodging area. We’ve spent a fair amount of time on the Citius and Ibex on the West Coast and they performed just as well back East. What we were really excited for was our day in Burke Mountain Resort’s bike park with some fresh Aquilas.

On Day 2 we awoke to the sound of mechanics swapping tires and dialing in bikes for a full day of riding in the park. Pressures were checked and we loaded into the back of a Uhaul truck and made our way up the road for some laps. The lifts were closed since it was a weekday on the shoulder season, so each lap consisted of a bumpy Uhaul ride followed by a short pedal up a service road. Dry fall conditions proved no match for the deep penetration of the Aquila’s talons.

Once we dropped our posts and dropped in, the tires really began to impress. In fact, the more we rode them the more we liked them. I drew the short straw and was riding a 130mm Ibis Mojo, which I thought (and rode like it) was a 150mm Mojo HD up until lunch. Despite the lack of travel and geometry handicap, I believe the tires were a major contributor in allowing me to push this XC-ish trail bike into situations it really didn’t want to be in. I never felt that traction or confidence in my ability to hold a line were holding me back.

Conditions at Burke were pretty dry and marbly down low with some decent leaf cover for that added slipperiness. We happened to find some other fun trails a bit higher up the mountain that were steep, loamy and raw. The tires went from good to great. Braking traction was impressive while the predictability and control exceeded my expectations – although I’m not sure why since Aaron Gwin did design the tire himself.

Riding a sketchy 130mm bike in a bike park isn’t my normal protocol for downhill tire testing, however I did learn a few things I probably wouldn’t have on a longer travel rig. Sidewall stiffness and flat protection are impressive, yet the tires don’t feel harsh. Rolling speed for such a grippy DH tire is impressive and overall, I think they performed quite well given the conditions and terrain. We look forward to getting some tires to put on a proper sled so we can ride ‘em ‘til they’re dead. If our teaser ride was any indication, we may have some new favorite tires.


Onza Aquila Action

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