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The Athlete Edits

Cam McCaul: Biking is a Family Affair

Story by Katie Lozancich

Riding partners are a bit like family. They push you, are down for the best adventures, and always there for you when you need an emergency lift to the hospital. For some of us, like Cam McCaul, that perfect riding bud is literally kin. As a kid, the freeride mountain biker grew up mountain biking alongside his younger brother Tyler, pushing themselves on a backyard pool jump and the local trails in Santa Cruz. This competitive brotherly rivalry not only progressed their riding, but laid the groundwork for incredible careers on two wheels. Now the McCauls brothers are legends in their own right. Despite living miles apart, the two brothers still appreciate any opportunity to ride, mostly because nothing beats biking with your siblings. 

Photos by Katie Lozancich

There’s an unspoken understanding between Sierra Nevada athlete Cam McCaul and his brother Tyler: Cam guinea pigs the jumps whereas Tyler handles blind drops. With that being said, it’s Tyler’s turn to handle the next part of the line they are working, a 60-foot blind drop. It would be the pinnacle feature of any Red Bull Rampage line, but today Cam and Tyler will be sessioning it for their segment in Accomplice. Mind you, they’re doing this after riding two top-to-bottom rebuilt Rampage lines.

Tyler takes a few minutes to check his speed, and then he’s off. He soars over the jagged rock and lands perfectly. With a hoot and holler he hurriedly hikes his bike up the crumbling trail so he can give his older brother a few pointers. This has been their process ever since they both got full-suspension bikes from Toys-R-Us as groms. After breaking one cheap bike after another, the McCauls started selling mistletoe at Christmas and collecting lost golf balls for spare change. Eventually, their hard work amounted to proper mountain bikes, opening the door to endless possibilities for adventure.

Years later, the only things that have changed are that their hair is less blonde, voices don’t crack anymore, and the jumps and drops have gotten much bigger and way gnarlier.

When Tyler reaches the top, he starts breaking down what Cam needs to know: when to brake, the overall speed, and what to expect. Despite being a little nervous, Cam’s trust in Tyler outweighs the apprehension. They hike up to the starting point together and after a couple of deep breaths wait for the count down. 3. 2. 1. Dropping. Tires are rolling and Tyler leads Cam to the lip of the jump. The film crew holds their breath watching and the silence is broken as tires reconnect with dirt. The McCauls are elated and laughing as they exchange high fives. There’s not even time to stop recording when Cam shouts, “let’s go do it again.” Without even checking with director Jeremy Grant, they grab their bikes and sprint back up the cliffside. It’s like the camera crew doesn’t even exist.

But for them, this is basically a normal day of riding. If the cameras weren’t here, they’d still be pushing themselves just as hard. It’s no different from their early days spent riding at the famed Post Office Jumps in Aptos.

"Nothing compares to riding with your brother, and since we don’t get to do it every day we really appreciate it."

We caught up with the elder McCaul to learn more about his time in Utah with his brother and what to expect from his segment in Accomplice.

Let’s start by going way back. What’s your first bike-related memory?

Cameron McCaul: My first bike-related memory was learning in the backyard by the pool at my parent’s house. Everyone has that same memory where whoever is teaching them how to ride is holding their seat and secretly lets go. There’s that moment of surprise when you realize that you’re riding on your own. Since I was doing laps around the pool I remember making it around the corner and looking back and my dad was at the other side of the pool. I had this freakout moment of “I’m doing this by myself!”

Do you remember when you first started doing tricks?

CM: Yeah. It was when we first started catching air at the Post Office Jumps. We started doing it after watching the 1999 X-games in San Francisco. Our minds were blown by the freestyle motocross. They were doing supermans and whatnot, so that inspired us to take our feet off the pedals. I specifically remember staring down at my pedals while being in the air and seeing no feet on them. I was both dumbfounded and proud of myself at the same time.

Then my dad got upset at us and told us that the guys we saw at the FMX event were getting paid to do those crazy things. He didn’t want us taking our limbs off our bikes because he thought it was dangerous. Obviously we didn’t heed his advice. Eventually, he condoned the reckless behavior.

Well, now you get paid to do it!

CM: Yeah, I remember telling him that those pros had to start somewhere!

So what about mountain biking hooked you?

CM: Prior to mountain biking I had experience with the BMX bike and a mini motorcycle, and the mountain bike seemed like something that gave you the maneuverability of a BMX bike but combined with the adventure capabilities of a motorcycle. It was just more freedom for a kid to ride a mountain bike than a dirt bike. For us, we needed to be driven by our parents to the moto trails. So a mountain bike had suspension and gears like a dirt bike but you could take it out of your garage like a BMX bike and not be limited to the dirt jumps. The fact that it was a hybrid between the two things we had been exposed to but had this underlying element of freedom to it, seemed like a ticket to go be yourself.

Did you quickly progress into racing and competitions?

CM: Yeah. We were really interested in jumping right away because of what we saw at the X-games. But the only way to compete with mountain bikes was to race them. There was a pretty cool scene bubbling up in our town of Aptos, California where our local bike shop had a race team. They would go to downhill and dual slalom races. So we first started competing with that team and went up to Lake Tahoe for a race at the Donner Ski Ranch. From there it just grew, especially meeting people and becoming part of the racing community. Through the races, the jump thing started to happen.

The Sea Otter Classic had a dirt jump contest. At the time that dirt jump event was as prestigious as something like Crankworx or Rampage—because it was the only dirt jump contest we knew! It was after the pro-slalom, and all the eyes were on you. At the time it was everybody’s goal to get into that contest, and it was my first jumping event—which was 2002. It just went from there. They later hosted the Red Bull Freezeride in Montana, which was the first mountain bike slopestyle contest and it was done on snow. Then Red Bull Rampage was getting going, but I thought it was out of my league.

At that time, there weren’t really any jump contests until slopestyle became a thing.

It’s wild to think about because Slopestyle/freeride has become such an established discipline within biking.

CM: It’s crazy now to think about, but at that point in time if you wanted to compete your only option was racing. Slopestyle mountain biking is still a very young sport. When Whistler decided to do slopestyle on dirt in 2003 it was just an experiment. They had the idea to take the same competition format as snowsports and applied it to mountain biking. It’s wild to think that it was only 17 years ago and that little “experiment” is now a full-on established sport with world champions and athletes from all over the world. It’s crazy.

Looking back at your own career, did you always find yourself pushing towards freeride?

CM: Absolutely. I always knew that racing was something I liked to do for fun and tried to do well at it. But my brain isn’t a racing brain. I don’t have the attention span to focus on speed for four minutes—I was always looking for fun lines. And of course, the fun lines aren’t the fast lines. I wasn’t cut out for racing. I was always more attracted to riding different terrain and seeing what kind of tricks I could add into the mix.

But in many ways, the sport needed guys like yourself to push for creativity. It’s not just about speed.

CM: Now there’s something for everybody in mountain biking. There’s a competitive outlet for anything you find yourself gravitating towards. With content being such a big component now, it enables all riders to showcase their strengths and create things that fill in all the spaces that mountain biking can cover. It’s so much more than a sport. It’s a culture with different alleyways you can go down.

There’s a home for everybody.

What I find unique about your story is that you share this sport and lifestyle with your brother—Tyler—who also happens to be a world-class mountain biker. Did he just naturally pick up the sport?

CM: My younger brother and I are three and a half years apart and a lot of people assume that he’s following in my footsteps. That’s not true. I gained a presence on the scene before him simply because I was older. We really got into the sport at the same time. We got our first full-suspension bikes from Toys-R-Us at the same time. Our biking careers have always been parallel.

I know he always tried to not get labeled as “Cam’s little brother,” so that manifested early on for him as becoming a downhill racer because I was gaining traction in the slopestyle scene. Whatever I was doing he wanted to do the exact opposite. But he ended up making a name for himself in slopestyle later on because he realized he was really good at it. I don’t think a lot of people realize he was the first person to do a triple tailwhip on a mountain bike. He’s capable of doing all these super technical gymnastics-style tricks. When you look at his career, he’s spanned a very wide spectrum of disciplines and done well at all of them. He was a downhill racer, slope kid, and now he’s one of the top guys at Rampage. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.

How did you guys push each other on the bike?

CM: Early on, it was the brotherly rivalry. We pushed each other, and it wasn’t always the most friendly way. Now when we ride together and film together it’s become a really respectful process. We both have unique strengths we bring to the table. At our shoot in Utah for Accomplice, we worked together really well. We were able to focus in and piece together a full Rampage line because Tyler and I just played ping pong with the guinea pigging process. I just happen to be comfortable with guinea pigging longer jumps, whereas he’s comfy with steep blind drops. Since we have very similar backgrounds and ridden together our entire life we can get from top to bottom on a line quickly.

Riding with him is like having a slightly different clone of myself, that helps fill in my inadequacies.

Now that you’re based in Oregon and Tyler is in Utah, do you guys get to ride together much?

CM: No we don’t. Lucky where he lives in Hurricane, Utah is a place I always want to go to. I strive to make it down there a few times a year. The only time we get to ride together is if I’m there or if he comes up to Bend for Black Sage or Proving Grounds.

It’s almost better that we don’t get to ride together all the time. Nothing compares to riding with your brother, and since we don’t get to do it every day we really appreciate it.

Was the fact you two filmed together pretty special?

CM: It was! We’re always scheming for excuses to film together. So this opportunity with Accomplice was sweet. For one the director is Jeremy Grant, who edited all my New World Disorder segments. When I found he was directing this and wanted us to ride together I was amped.

His film concept is so unique and great because each segment is its own story. There’s plenty of siblings that love to ride out there, so we’re grateful to have the opportunity to tell that story.

Now that you have your own kids, what’s it like sharing the sport with your two daughters?

CM: It’s been the best thing ever. Hands down. With kids my goal was to not be the pushy dad. I’ll do what I’ll do and surround them with the things I do but not necessarily make them do it. They’ve just grown up in an environment where bikes are always around. Never any pressure to take part in it. Then, they started wanting to ride.

Now my oldest daughter Chloe wants to go riding on these jumps I built behind my neighborhood. Just yesterday she told me she was heading to the jumps, and I usually go with her. I told her I couldn’t join her and she said she was going to go ride by herself because “it’s the best place on earth.” Meanwhile, I’m sitting there blown away because she thinks these little jumps I built are the best place on earth. Now, little sis wants to do everything that Chloe does. They’re doing laps by themselves, and have organically taken it on by their own doing.

If things carry on like this we’ll be out on trails together, and if you can build a skillset at a young age they’ll have that forever.

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