Aaron Gwin wins — chainless!

By now most of the internet knows Aaron Gwin won last week’s World Cup downhill in Leogang without a chain. He broke it out of the gate, shrugged it off then railed and pumped his way to a win — over the best riders in the world — the rest of whom pedaled!

Totally rad. Go Aaron. Go America. Go God.

Update July 3, 2015: Added link and summary of Dirt article “Aaron Gwin – Chainless – How did he do it?”

Announcer: “Are we going to see a Neko Mulally style run?”

No. Neko’s chainless 4th at DH Worlds was impressive. This is a #1. The big W.

Something happens, even at this level, when you know you can’t pedal. You look farther ahead, work more of the shapes, lay off the brakes and carry more speed.

But: You can see Aaron braking hard for some turns. He enters at a speed he can handle, then he drives through the exit. Way better than rushing in, blowing the turn then sprinting out. A lesson for everyone — even us mortals with chains.

I’ve always been a fan of Aaron’s riding style: a perfect melding of moto amplitude with bike mechanics. He’s low, he makes big angles. His body (the sacred cargo) just floats while his Demo, hands and feet make beautiful violence.

Mechanically, the difference between a good rider and a great rider can be very subtle (basically invisible and “magic” to the civilian eye). This run is full of gems:

0:38 – He pushes his bike across the bump, rather than waiting for the backside and pushing down. Sine Wave of Love, baby. Look at how low he is!

1:00 – Aaron pre-hops then smashes the very beginning of the big, wooden berm. By applying pressure to the beginning of the turn rather than the end, he’s driving his bike down the track, rather than bleeding speed into the bank.

1:15 – He slows way down! A normal person might be tempted to rush things, but Aaron’s being patient. He knows how fast he can handle this nasty turn, and he knows he’ll regain speed on the steep exit.

1:20 – A subtle and perfect application of lateral pump. See Pumping flat ground in the real world. This skill can be mastered in your neighborhood.

1:28 – More hard braking, then a heavy turn initiation, a light exit then a crush of a backside. Bam. Back up to speed.

And so on down the course. If you look carefully, you’ll see that Aaron’s executing the same core movements over and over again — with perfect timing and great power.

In LLB in-person and remote skills classes, we teach these “meta skills” to ordinary riders (and pros too). You can master them in your neighborhood and local trails. Once they’re integrated, you can shred pretty much anywhere. With or without a chain.

LLB skills clinics >>>

Update July 3, 2015

Check out this Dirt article and video: Aaron Gwin – Chainless – How did he do it?

Main points:

They say the Demo rides better without a chain. A bit surprising to me considering how little FSR suspension affects chain growth.

Riders who can pedal might waste energy trying to pedal in places that aren’t so helpful.

Without a chain, you have to be more focused on line choice, braking and pump.

Without pedaling, you have more energy for everything else.

But, as they said, a World Cup racer would be crazy to line up without a chain. No margin for error.

Know more. Have more fun!

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11 replies
  1. Max says:

    The thing that amazes me about watching Gwin is how stable and centered he remains on the bike. His legs and hips seem almost to work as a perfect unit, applying uniform pressure, driving the bike. So controlled amid the chaos.

  2. Jakub says:

    While I see how loosing a chain can generaly help you ride faster (nothing too lose approach, less fatique and thus less mistakes), I am amazed that this is still the case at a professional level… Damn, I thought that guys like Gwin already are riding at their psychical limit and have all the strategies considered!

  3. Wacek says:

    I must say that this was what struck me the most, how hard he was braking before entering sections. I already messaged Jason Chamberlain to work on Hotwalk FSR as an ultimate tool for skills training 😀

    So Lee, was this Kung Fu level 4?


  4. Kurt says:

    As a “Two Wheel Enthusiast” with some experience…..and as Austrian…..I enjoyed Gwins run in Leogang. The analysis of this run from Lee is brilliant. Two things that I have experienced on “two wheels” may be also important for this big “surprises” of this chainless runs from Gwin and also Mulally last year.

    1. How to handle entry speed of a corner…..there is a good article from Keith Code about this topic for motorcycle racers “Fine Art of Braking”


    ….part of this is in also valid for DH MTB – I like the no braking drill!! Gwin was somtimes slower at the corner entry but had time to do the right thing to get the maximum corner exit speed.

    2. For Speeds over 30mph the aerodynamic position is more important as to pedal. When you pedal you influence the aerodynamics in a bad way…..! There is a Hompage for recumbents, and on this Page you can calculate how to be as fast as possible on different “two wheels”. This site is from Germany – Kreutzotter.de (but available in English!)

    I think the aerodynamic rider position is very important for all DH Events (Skiing etc…..) and also for MTB DH!!

    Greatings from Austria, Kurt

  5. Madlomacy says:

    One other thing to mention is that without a chain there will be no chain growth as the rear tyre moves. This means that the rear suspension will work more smoothly and not be inhibited by a friction damper.

  6. Kurt says:

    Hello Lee! The Dirt articel is good, I like there studies. But I think the pumping instead of pedaling (anti squat) and the reduction of multitasking during riding (hard braking and brake squat) has a greater influence on the results, then the missing chain.

    For example…..Main Point 2:…..riders wast energy….according to Antonios blog


    the anti squat % of the Demo (and most DH Bikes) is very high at 30% of travel. Most of the energy during pedaling goes into the suspension (=wasted energy) and reduces the performance of the rear suspension….gets stiffer. Pumping is more efficient.

    Main point 3: when you pedal “more” you have to brake harder, get more brake squat from the bike and the suspension under braking is negative influenced. Additionally you get problems with the weight distribution and center of gravity…..you change the geometry of the long travel bike at this point and need special skills to handle this hard braking situation. (=Multitasking….not efficient…feels fast, is slow)


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