Cam McCaul discovers how fun it is being Cam McCaul
Cam McCaul is good many things both on and off a mountain bike. He has taken on all competitive challenges, and inspired countless riders through shows like Nitro Circus. More recently, he’s been a prominent voice in the sport, commentating for Red Bull events.
His combination of wizardry as a rider and affable charm should have made the idea of a YouTube vlog a no-brainer. It’s easy math: Cam + bike + camera = real good content. But McCaul admits he needed a lot of convincing to start producing his own channel.
“My idea of [a vlog] was, ‘Oh, that’s just somebody with a selfie stick and they just talk to the camera the whole time,'” he says. “Well that’s not going to do it.”
McCaul has since learned he can do A LOT with the format — from how-tos, to story times, to group sessions, to bike builds. He’s been maintaining his channel at a rate of approximately one video per week for nearly a year and a half, and still has no shortage of ideas or energy. More importantly, he’s found the process to be surprisingly easy, often discovering that the best videos come when he simply turns on the camera and plays around.
Turns out, Cam McCaul is above all really good at being Cam McCaul.
Below, McCaul talks about his journey as a YouTube content creator. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about how you came up with the idea for the vlog? What inspired you to do the first one?
McCaul: I was traveling a ton [in the summer of 2019], and every sponsor had all these video ideas and they were constantly creating content. And then as things kind of changed and there was so much content, it seemed like companies were less driven to really make these big edits. So those video shows weren’t happening any more, and I was like, “Well I can’t sit still.”
I was calling up friends who are filmers and throwing ideas at them, and they were like, “Yeah, cool, get one of your sponsors to come up with some budget to film that.” And I wasn’t able to get anybody to really bite because the web was getting flooded with so much content. There was less and less budget for individual projects.
So one filmer friend who I had been friends with, he goes, “You know what you really need to do, man, you need to make a vlog.” And I’m like, “Well, what is that even?” [Laughs] I wasn’t even sure what that was. My idea of that was, “Oh, that’s just somebody with a selfie stick and they just talk to the camera the whole time.” Well that’s not going to do it.
And he’s like, “No man, literally it can be anything you want. You don’t even realize it, but we’ve been shooting vlogs our whole life.” It’s just the stuff that when you’re having fun, you film.
And now it’s turned into this thing that’s really, really fun to do. And that’s what he tried to explain to me, “It’s fun, it’s not like all these shoots you’ve been doing for the last 15 years, where you’ve got to go build something that’s never been built before, you’ve got to try some trick you’ve never tried before, and there’s got to be a $30,000 budget for this one three-minute segment,” you know? You just literally go have fun.
So the more I did it, the more I realized, “Wow, this is really the thing I should be doing right now.” And slowly it became a little bit easier to do.
What were some of your rejected ideas before you sort of stumbled on doing the vlog?
McCaul: All my concepts were way too outlandish. I don’t even want to say the ideas because they’re just serious, nothing like what it ended up being. And all the segments that I used to do for the feature bike films and all that, I kinda just had fun with that anyways. And I guess, without realizing it, my niche was having segments that are a little bit less serious than others.
When you’re just yourself, it’s tough to see yourself from that outside perspective. Now I look back and I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is what I’ve always been doing anyways,” taking it a little bit lighter than the rest and not trying to be overly dramatic. If I take myself out of the situation, it looks like the most obvious thing ever for me to do. And when I look at it like that, I’m like, “Oh I should have started this sooner.” But I’m glad that I started it, period. Now I kind of feel like I have my thing again, now that there aren’t so many feature films going on.
It’s fun to each week have something to do rather than stress out about there’s no trips coming up. Especially this year. The fact that we started doing these videos last year before Covid was super convenient because now — in a year when there is no traveling, and all the events that I commentate are canceled — it’s like having something to do anywhere you are. No matter what bike I have or where I am, I can probably come up with a fun way to make a vlog. And in 2020 with Covid restrictions, it’s nice to have that, rather than going, “Ah, I wish I was doing something.”
You mentioned you’ve doing this for about a year and a half. How have you evolved as a YouTube vlogger?
McCaul: Because my background was just as much with riding segments as it was with hosting roles, I think I’ve realized it’s so much easier to do these than it is to host things. Because with hosting, you have a limited amount of time to say each thing you have to say, and it all has to be said in a professional way.
And with these, instead of going into Host Guy Mode when the camera turns on and I see the red light, I think what I’ve learned after a little over a year of doing it is to just let it happen and not make it contrived — and once the camera starts rolling, planning less.
Because I constantly daydream about everything, I’m like, “This video’s going to go like this, this, this and this.” That’s what I would have done a year ago, and now I think the only thing is to hit record, and whatever happens after that is the video.
You do a number of different types of videos — you’ve got how-tos that you’ve just started, you do bike builds, and you do just you going on an adventure — what’s your favorite type of video to do, and what’s your favorite one to shoot?
McCaul: It’s funny. If I did one yesterday I wouldn’t want to do that same exact thing the next day. So that constantly changes, and I think that’s one thing that’s advantageous about this format is that you don’t have to stick to one thing.
I think the ones where we have a location and we have a group — and that’s it, that’s the extent of the planning — I think those are the most fun. The bike builds are super fun because I’m excited to have the new bike, and that makes it exciting just with that fact alone. The how-tos are super new, and I enjoy that because it seems like something I would want to watch if I was learning.
When I was a kid trying to learn these tricks, there wasn’t the internet, and I was hanging on every word of an interview or slowing down the VHS of a trick happening on a segment. And so I remember all of the little tidbits that helped me learn those tricks. So I try to articulate those in the video and people are really cool about commenting back that they’re excited to try it or that they have tried it.
But to go back to answering your first question, my favorites are the session videos and we’ve got a group and we know where we’re going to be riding and what bikes we’ve brought with us, and then we just let it unfold. Those are the most fun.
What would you put on the list of greatest hits that you’ve done?
McCaul: It was the third one we did, and kind of plays into the thing we’ve been talking about that the less bang, the better. I just showed up at a spot, and there was a bunch of kids there, and we did a train and one of them crashed, and it was the perfect example of just having no plan and filming what’s going on.
I think at that point in time it was really fun, too, because I had done so much content that they never would have seen because they’re too young. Their parents, if they ride, might have watched my old segments, but they’re like, “What is this dude doing at the jumps? Why does he have a camera?”
And now that I’ve done a bunch of videos since then, if I go to the jumps, the kids are all like, “Oh yeah! I can’t wait to watch your next video!”
But my favorite video by far is the Slope Duro-Cross Challenge we did in my backyard last October. We had a ton of pro riders in town for a couple events that were happening, and I got them over for a barbecue, but nobody really knew what else we were going to do. They were expecting to just eat burgers and drink beer. But I made this whole race where we raced around this loop I have outside my backyard with a trick jump, came up with this format. We fully gave away first, second and third, but it was also not that serious of a contest.
It was kind of like a cyclocross race, but with full suspension bikes and tricks. And that was my favorite one hands down.
It’s also cool because my really cool friend Jordie Lunn, he passed away like a month after we shot that video, and he’s in that video a lot. So that one we can always go back to and have good memories of Jordie.
What’s the best best fan or viewer interaction you’ve had, and have you gotten to know anyone over the intertubes?
McCaul: My favorite part of the whole fan interaction process has been doing these live premieres when the video is ready to come out. It gives a little two-minute counter and gives everybody a little notification that they can go on and watch, and I just sit there the whole video and write back and forth to them. And it’s cool because the same people show up every time, and every time I do it there’s a little bit more people watching, but still those familiar handles are out there asking questions.
It really seems they get excited to ride after it, which is really the goal: sharing this activity that we all love and being able to kind of relate over these experiences. And a lot of people are asking me tons of questions about the bikes — because I’ve got way too many bikes. So many bikes. So a different bike pops up in each video, and the last premiere was more about “Which bike should I get?” than anything else, because people are on the fence if they should get the Slash or Fuel EX or Remedy.
So trying to help people decide which bike to get is kind of fun because I would imagine if you’re about ready to drop in and pick one of those, and you see all the different ways they can be ridden, but you’ve got to pick the one that’s going to suit your riding, you want to ask somebody who has them all.
What are some of the ambitious ideas you have going forward? Is there anything you’re excited to premiere coming up?
McCaul: I have one that I really want to do, but if I say it somebody else is going to go do it. [Laughs] But traveling, doing that, but close. I’ve got two kids so I don’t necessarily want to be going to different countries one trip a month. That’s kind of what my 20s were for. But these videos give me an opportunity to make a piece of content out of anything, and it doesn’t require riding something that’s never been ridden before.
But I just want to go to some spots in Washington, so close. There’s some spots that I could just bring one bike, bring a trail bike that will handle dirt jumps and sample some of the Pacific Northwest’s loamy trails, but then just visit some really good dirt jump spots that they have that a trail bike will be able to handle as well.
So just do some quicker road trips, pick a friend, or two friends, and a filmer and go and explore some locations. Because we’re just squeezing Bend, Oregon, for everything we can wring out of it right now.
Who is helping you in a lot these videos? Who’s doing the filming, who are your partners on this?
McCaul: Taylor Sage is my friend who talked me into doing a vlog in the first place, so he gets all the credit for twisting my arms and saying, “OK, what you think a vlog is, is not what you think it is, it can be whatever you want it to be.”
He edits a lot of them, and he’s the one who told me which camera to get. And then John Reynolds, he’s a professional videographer who lives here, he does a ton of super high level stuff. But when I hire him to shoot, I just let him use my camera, so it’s vlog style. And he watches a lot of vlogs on his own time and gets that whole process. So sometimes he edits them as well. Sometimes I edit them. And then other times I’ll Dropbox all the footage to Taylor and he’ll edit them.
The three of us now, we kind of have a good little program. But now they’re getting busy again, which is tough. They’re off on their bigger jobs, and I’m like, “Ah man.” So I’m going to stat getting some riding friends here to hold the camera and feed them the footage to edit.