With the 2018 Sea Otter Classic just around the corner and mountain bikes on our mind, we decided to sit down with 6D Helmets sponsored athlete Kevin Aiello to talk bikes, racing, and the things that makes him tick.
Aiello isn’t what you’d call a conventional racer. A native of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, Aiello entered his first mountain bike race without even really knowing what a mountain-bike race was. Hugely successful thanks to his endurance and quick sprints, Aiello went on to earn factory rides with a number of teams and win the USA Cycling Pro GRT Championship in 2014 (his first year with 6D Helmets). Still easy going and in it for the fun, he derives just as much satisfaction from play riding as he does competing.
Name: Kevin Aiello
Date of Birth: April 12, 1991
Sport: Downhill Mountain Biking
Tell us about your background.
I grew up doing a little bit of everything. I never raced motocross or BMX, but always rode dirt bikes with my family. It’s kind of funny because, whatever I was doing, I always needed handlebars; I wasn’t any good at board sports, but put me on a scooter or BMX bike and I could go bigger than any of my friends. One day, I remember seeing one of these old-school legendary mountain bike guys ride down Shell Reef in Ocotillo Wells. I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, so I started looking at bikes on eBay. I had no idea what I was looking at—I just wanted to try and hit big jumps and get sponsors. After a little while there was this local, super grass-roots team that told me to come out to an event. I didn’t know what I was showing up to, but it was a local race series in Fontana. And that’s what got me racing for the first time.
How did you finish?
At the time, my pain tolerance was through the roof from high school football and hell week, which paid off because there was this long sprint at the end of the track. It almost didn’t matter how my run was, because I could just go all out at the bottom and make it work. So, I actually did pretty well. As the series went on, I was winning everything because I could sprint down that long run.
When did you really notice your career taking that turn?
I started winning races pretty regularly and moved up to Sport and Expert, then eventually got on a satellite team for Yeti, alongside Aaron Gwin. That year, I got my driver’s license, took my mom’s car, and slept in the back of it, just to hit all the races. It was the first year that I traveled, and I ended up winning almost everything. The following year, when I was 16 turning 17, I got picked up by GT Bicycle’s factory World Cup team. It was crazy for me because in high school I’d daydream of hitting this turn on a GT downhill bike in the full GT kit, and then it all came together and they were offering me a full-salary contract on the World Cup team.
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned from mountain biking?
Mental strength, mental health, and mental clarity: All of these things are way more important than any of the physical aspects. I never realized that as a kid. It’s also about treating your body with respect. Like most any 16-year-old, I wasn’t eating right and just causing harm to my body. That would’ve been my lifestyle if I hadn’t found mountain biking, but I’ve learned to love training. It took me a few years and I had to disappoint a lot of people before I learned to love it, but now it’s my favorite thing. It’s taught me about health and balance.
What advice would you give to aspiring racers?
A big thing with kids these days is that they’re more worried about getting sponsors and deals on stuff rather than just going out and ripping their bike or digging jumps. To them I would say ride—or race—because you love it. Don’t worry about sponsors or any of that stuff, because that will come if you’re passionate and doing it for the right reasons.
How would you like to be remembered when your career is over?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who can go fast and take the racing serious, then when the weekend is over go hit big jumps and be able to hang with the crew, just having fun.
Why would you recommend 6D?
Early in my career, I had an incredible amount of head injuries. Some of them were really serious and resulted in side effects that lasted a long time and just weren’t good for relationships. There were meltdowns, freak-outs, things like that. From that I realized how bad these impacts are, and I had seen how easy it was to get concussed in some helmets. In the 6D, the first time I really hit my head, I got up, checked all my fingers, things like that, and then realized, “Whoa, I’m not dizzy! The colors aren’t off.” I had experienced the technology working. I’m confident in saying I’ve never really been concussed in the four years I’ve been with 6D. Even if 6D stopped supporting me, I’d be buying the helmets. It makes that big of a difference. Now all my friends are like, “Yeah, that money is worth it,” because they’re seeing the CTE studies and all that.