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First Ride: Onza Aquila

Aggressive Tires for Aggressive Riders

Since 2007, Onza Tires, based in Switzerland with five employees has focused solely on tires, tubes and sealant. They have since brought skinwalls back into fashion, produced tires that have won some of the hardest races in the world, and have signed on some of the best athletes in the world, including Aaron Gwin and Neko Mulally. And yet for some reason it is rare to see Onza tires on bikes in the U.S. After riding the new Aquila tire for an admittedly short period of time, I suspect Onza’s market share is about to go up.

The most notable tire in the Onza lineup right now is its new Aquila, a.k.a Aaron Gwin’s tire. First pitched by Gwin in a coffee shop with a hand-drawn mockup, Onza liked what they saw and decided to run with it. From coffee shop drawing to production tire, it took Onza a year to develop the new Aquila, a surprisingly fast timeline to go from concept to market. The folks at Onza attribute this to Gwin knowing exactly what he wanted.

The GRP40 compound sell for $85 while the RC245a retails for $80. Available now.

Throughout the whole process of creating the tire, Onza stayed true to the drawing Gwin had presented with almost no changes. It seems Gwin knew what he was talking about, taking the UCI Overall Downhill World Cup title with the Aquila underneath him.

The tire is available with your choice of two different technologies. The “Visco GRP40”  uses a soft uniform rubber across the entire tread and is designed for riders who value grip over speed. Or you can opt for the time-tested “RC²45a,” which combines two different rubber compounds into a more durable tire that’s still geared towards racers.  The rectangular center knobs, made with a harder rubber for faster rolling and longer life, are separated by uninterrupted channels from the side knobs. They use a softer rubber for extra grip through corners, and line up on the same plane as the center lugs. The clear channels, both vertically and horizontally separating groups of lugs, are designed to increase cornering ability while also offering substantial bite when braking. In addition, the mid-spaced center knobs make for a platform that will perform in almost any condition. The Aquila is available now in a 1325-gram 27.5- by 2.4-inch downhill casing and steel wire bead. An enduro casing with a foldable bead will be available spring 2018, and 29er options will be coming summer 2018 with weights yet to be announced. All tires are tubeless ready.

So how does it ride? Well I only got one day on the Aquila, shuttling the Burke Mountain Bike Park, but it was enough to know I wanted more. In the midst of a hot and dry steak, the bike park trails were dusty and hard, with the less ridden trails holding onto some loam. In both conditions the tires performed predictably and held in corners, except when I didn’t want them to, in which case they would skid and catch on a dime. Once caught, the tire wasn’t moving off my line without extra input. For the groomed and bermed bike park trails, this constant traction was a confidence boost for just about every feature, but where I was most impressed was the un-groomed trails. After riding across a steep face of notoriously smooth Vermont rock at the start of one of Burke’s chunkier trails – and not budging a centimeter – I stared pushing the tire harder on terrain I would normally expect to be sliding around on. Through roots, rocks and drops the Aquila held with a similar amount of grip I had found on the machine built trails lower down the mountain.

YT’s Neko Mulally joined us in testing his teammate’s Aquila tire.

Under braking the tires had a substantial initial bite that had me sending things blind, believing I could always stop in time if there happened to be a tree or rock in my run-out. And my beliefs were quickly proven true after casing a step-down and bouncing towards a tree, where I was able to regain control of my bike before the oncoming turn.

When compared to something like the Griffin or Minion SS from Maxxis, the Aquila is by no means a fast tire, but put it next to a DHR II or DHF and it will hold it’s own. And it happens to look pretty similar as well. But the minuscule changes Gwin and Onza have made, borrowing from other designs he has ridden in the past, have made what seems to be a “best of” tire that I would happily ride on any bike park, and when the enduro casing is available it will be going onto my daily driver as well.

With only one day on the tires, I can’t speak to the tires’ performance in different conditions, but I will be getting a pair into the office, so keep an eye out for a long-term review in the future.