Interview: Tyler McCaul on Building, Self-Producing 'Handbuilt', Moving to Utah & More

May 21, 2019
by Sarah Moore  

Tyler McCaul just released his first self-produced video, 'Handbuilt', so we sent him a couple questions about the inspiration behind the video, how he was able to pull it together before moving from California to Utah, and why he prefers building by hand.

When did you come up with the concept for HANDBUILT?

It started off as a one-off project, but then I realized I want to start a series. The name kind of popped up while we were shooting actually. I kept seeing edit after edit of stuff being built with tractors and I started to wonder if the art of building something by hand is dying. So HANDBUILT seemed like the perfect name and the perfect concept for a series.

Did you build the features and trails in the video on your own or with other people?

The majority of the digging I did out there was all solo. I’d say about 95% of the time I was in there by myself. There were times when a couple of homies would come out to help for an hour or two here and there, and that was always a huge moral lifter. It takes a lot of integrity to make yourself go dig all day when your friends are hitting you up to go ride instead. It’s really boring digging by yourself and it’s really easy to lose motivation. The first day or two are nice… you’re in the woods, building what you want, and you’re really stoked. After about the fourth or fifth day, it starts to get pretty monotonous. Especially when you’re digging in cougar country and don’t even wanna have music blasting because you're scared of getting jumped on by a mountain lion. Every sound you hear freaks you out when you’re by yourself.

Anytime a homie was down to not go ride or come out on their weekend off from work to help me build, I was so stoked. Alex Reveles frequented this spot the most and would come out whenever he could. He digs for me at Rampage every year and we work really well together.

The guys involved with this video definitely put their fair share of work in during our shoot week though. I had the place 100% dialed and ready to shoot, and then the day Calvin Huth flew in it rained about 2.5 inches in a short amount of time, and it ruined everything. The first 2 full days we were supposed to be shooting were spent digging, draining puddles, rebuilding things that had eroded, and building bridges over creeks and springs that were shooting out from the ground. Calvin, Bruno Long, and Isaac Wallen all knew how hard I had worked to get it looking the way it did before the rain hit, and they did not hesitate to jump on the tools and help me get it back into shape.

How many hours of building do you think went into the trails that are featured in the video?

Oh man, the impossible question. I actually really wish I tracked my hours out there, but I have no idea. There were a few times I’d do 8-10 hour days in there solo. So much of the time was spent rebuilding things that had once been completed too. I basically finished the spot a few different winters in a row, but then I’d either get injured and be unable to ride and film it, or we’d have too heavy of a winter and it would flood the place out. It would dry out too much in the summer and just wouldn’t be the same as if it were shot in the winter.

In Cali, we don’t usually get a drop of rain from April until about October or November, so if you don’t get stuff done in that window you’re forced to wait until the next winter. The forest reclaims itself so quickly that after a year it’s hard to tell what even used to be there, and everything needs full rebuilds if it sits for too long. Trees fall, weeds grow, dirt erodes… it’s non-stop, but that’s what’s so rad about the forest. It’s alive and it’s cool to be able to see how quickly things can change.

What was the hardest part of filming Handbuilt?

The light. If you’ve ever tried shooting in the woods, you’d know that you can’t shoot on a sunny day. When this place got flooded out the day we were supposed to start shooting, the trail in became a creek, and the forecast was nothing but sunny skies for the next week. We had to hike in through a creek for about 30 minutes pre-sunrise every morning, shoot for the first 40 minutes of morning light before the sun would come through the trees and blow everything out, and then we’d wait for hours on end just hoping a cloud would roll through so we could shoot. Then we’d shoot 40 minutes of evening light before hiking out in the dark.

I think we only had one day of a couple patchy clouds rolling through. They were moving fast too, so we’d all get into position and if a small cloud rolled through we had maybe two minutes of good light before it would go away. One day we had a bit of rain randomly come through, which normally we’d be bummed on but rain means clouds, and clouds mean good light. We shot one of the biggest jumps in the pouring rain and it ended up being one of my favorite shots because you could see the raindrops falling through the trees.

What is your favourite part about building?

I just really like being able to envision something and build it exactly the way I have it in my head. It’s a form of art to me, and it’s rideable. Growing up in Santa Cruz, I always found the surf culture to be pretty funny. People would get into fistfights over other people surfing “their” waves. They didn’t build those waves, and I think that’s why I never got into surfing. I could go into the woods instead and build my own waves to ride.

Why don’t you like to use machines for building?

They’re expensive! Most the zones I usually dig in are pretty off the beaten path too, so getting a machine in there isn’t doable. Also, I’ve just always grown up using hand tools so it’s all I really know. I’d love to be good at running a machine, but it’s a whole different skill set to learn. It takes a lot of hours to get good in one and tractor rentals can add up pretty quick. A full set of hand-tools will cost you less than $100 and you can take them wherever you want.

It’s something I think everyone who rides a bike should know how to do, or at least try. I feel like kids watch a lot of the videos out there and it seems so unattainable to them to be able to build things on their own. But with the right set of tools you can build whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be big, just build whatever is fun to you. It can be frustrating learning how to dig, but the first time you drop into a trail that you built by yourself, exactly the way you wanted… it’s the best feeling ever.

Do you ever get frustrated at the time requirement of building by hand?

Majorly. Building landings by hand is the absolute worst.

Where do you get your inspiration for your features and trails?

I just try to read the terrain and work with it. Sometimes there are things that you see that you just have to build because you picture what it would look like and how it would ride after some shovel work.

What do you think about when you’re building?

How I can’t wait to be done so that I can ride it before it gets torn down and turned into a Starbucks!

Why did you move to Utah from California?

There are actually so many reasons, and I could go on and on about this but I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, I don’t feel like I belong in California anymore. I grew up at an amazing time where we had riding spots all across town. There was a lot more freedom back then and you could pretty much build in most places without getting hassled. It’s since become majorly overpopulated and overdeveloped, and every empty lot is getting turned into apartment buildings and Starbucks’. It’s crazy. Traffic’s outta hand and housing prices are through the roof. My lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable there anymore. Utah is like the Wild West. There’s a lot more room to roam and every time I came out for Rampage or for a shoot, I just felt like it’s where I belong.

Is it difficult to leave this zone now that you’ve finally finished it?

For sure… but I can’t explain how satisfying it was to finish and get this shoot done on it. Once I realized that my dream of moving to Utah was actually going to come true this Spring, I told myself I should probably just enjoy my last winter in California and not spend the whole time digging by myself in the woods. I went out in November after the ground was finally saturated enough to dig, and spent 4 hours rebuilding one berm in a set of ten that I had rebuilt so many times before and I almost gave up right then, but I didn’t want to let all that work I had put in years prior go to waste. It would bug me every year that winter would end and I hadn’t completed it yet. I’ll go back there someday though for sure. There were a few things I had spent a ton of time digging on that I didn’t even get to ride because we just ran out of time.

Are you worried it will fall to disrepair now that you’ve moved to Utah?

Yeah, it will get reclaimed by the forest again for sure. But it’s all good, now I don’t feel like all the work was for nothing.

Do you have a zone you’ve started working on in Utah already?

I’ve been digging a bit since I got here, but mainly just to have a few more things to ride. None of it will necessarily be for another shoot or anything. I’m going to spend this summer scoping and finding lines I want to ride and work on this winter though for sure.

How is the building different in Utah compared to California? Which do you prefer?

They both have their ups and downs, but I prefer Utah for sure. The beauty of it as that the hills are already there. If you want to build a double or something, you just hunt around the desert until you find two hills that are already there and lined up just the way you want, and then you shape them up. In the woods, you’re pretty much starting from scratch. The hills are a lot more mellow so it’s a lot of work to get things tall and steep.

Finding a big drop or stepdown in the forest was like spotting a unicorn. It was next to impossible. Every time I’d find one that lined up, there would be a huge redwood grove or something in the runout. In Utah, there are big drops everywhere, so I’m kind of in heaven right now. The dirt in Santa Cruz when it’s wet though is pretty unbeatable, and that’s something I’m definitely going to miss. It takes a lot of water to build stuff in Utah unless the dirt’s already wet.

What was the experience like of self-producing this video?

It was awesome. We didn’t have anyone telling us what to do, what look the footage and photos needed to have, or what shots we needed to get. It was up to us to get it exactly how we wanted, and I think we all had really similar ideas in our heads of how we wanted it to turn out. I think we all wish we had more time to get a little more footage, but in the end, I’m happy with what we got in the time we had.

What can people who subscribe to your YouTube channel expect to see in the coming months and years?

Hard to say really. I’m still figuring out what route I want to take with it. One thing I can guarantee though is that I’m not a vlogger. The thought of holding a camera to my own face and telling you what I had for breakfast and what I’m about to do for the rest of the day is a nightmare to me. Nothing against it, it’s just not me. I’m not comfortable doing that. People love watching that kind of stuff for some reason, but I’m not going to do something just because that’s what other people are having success with.

I just want to have creative control over projects and be able to bring ideas I have to life. I’m looking for quality over quantity, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the mindset of most YouTubers, but that’s the way I want do it. I have other series ideas that I’ve been going back and forth with that I’d like to bring to life one day. I hope to eventually add another series or two on top of the HANDBUILT series.

What do you have planned for episode 2 and when can we expect to see that?

Chapter II will basically be about the next chapter of my life, which is my move to Utah. The potential is endless out here and I’m excited about the thought of what this next Chapter could become. I’m hoping to get it filmed this winter after Rampage. I have the next three chapters storyboarded out already and I’m excited about all of them. It’s stuff I’ve always wanted to do, and they will all be different and unique in their own ways. Chapter IV is what I’m looking the most forward to, but that’s still a long ways out. I need to do Chapter II and III first to be able to scope for things in the desert and prepare to be able to do IV the way I really want.

Photos by Long Nguyen, Calvin Huth & Isaac Wallen


  • 36 2
 T-Mac, just quietly being a biking God in the background.
Also, how uplifting is trail building (pun not intended)? If you can find your own spot to shape, untroubled by your fellow man, there's nothing like it.
  • 13 0
 It's hella difficult too. Past few years I've spent too many days at our family's summer cottage, building the worlds smallest bikepark (descents around 15-30sec). Got around five tracks more or less built there and they're all pretty sketchy and awkward. Corners always end up too tight, landings from drops are always too short and roots pop up everywhere you don't want them to. I thought it'd be easier to ride tracks you've built yourself, but it seems the opposite. I guess I just kinda suck at trail building, haha.

But yeah, it's so much fun anyways. Would be nice to hear other stories/experiences on the subject.

(great video/interview too)
  • 9 0
 @Rusettipasta: It's not that you suck at trailbuilding, you're just starting to realize how difficult it is. Corners and landings are the two elements that nearly always get underestimated when digging by hand. Features that seem huge when you are digging them by hand always shrink when you go to ride them. It's taken me years of digging to realize how much bigger features need to be in order to be pleasant to ride; and how to adequately guesstimate how much labor it will require.
  • 4 0
 Trail building is so uplifting! It's amazing how much I hate yard work around the house but give me a berm or the lip of a jump to stack dirt on and I'm all over it! Creating a final product the way you want it and riding it is crazy satisfying. Insane how sometimes digging can get me just as excited as riding can!
  • 2 0
 @lineskier1925: damn right, felt that buzz last night. Raining, soft dirt, kicking a little catch berm into shape with just boots, checking which rocks were ok and which ones ruined the flow, scoping different lines down little chutes and drops. Felt 35 years younger...
@Rusettipasta: there's a lot of luck in it I think. Take any given wood on a hillside and the way the trees, rock and topography are arranged will either make it perfectly viable for wicked trails or hard to pick a nice line through. Not done anything on this (still modest) scale before, but I'm pretty sure it takes both good fortune and a lot of fine tuning to put something nice and cohesive together. Could be that it's not always possible. The section of woods just above mine is not conducive to building at all, for example.
  • 5 0
 "It can be frustrating learning how to dig, but the first time you drop into a trail that you built by yourself, exactly the way you wanted… it’s the best feeling ever."

this +1000

inspiring stuff Mr. McCaul, thank you \,,/
  • 8 2
 Welcome to Utah. Pretty much everything you said about California is happening here with regards to population growth, development, cost of living, etc..
  • 1 0
 Hopefully not as bad as Santa Cruz. My 6 mile commute takes an hour and average home price is over $900,000. I understand why he left SC, I’m getting over it too. I hear Utah is awesome
  • 1 0
 @Beanburnham: No joke man. Can take me 1:15 to drive 21 miles and an hour of that is the middle 6. I had to move pretty far out to afford to live. If I could have I would have bought in Aptos but the prices there are a solid $400k over what I paid for an equivalent property. If not more.
  • 1 0
 Sounds like he’s in Southern Utah so there’s still plenty of room to grow despite the boom.
  • 8 1
 Been in cougar country, its not a bad place to be
  • 2 0
 Was wondering why you were moving to Utah... All makes sense now. Shame that such a beauty like California is rolling that way... Seems like many of the pristine spots are heading that direction (duh! because they are pristine).
Great shoot and I look forward to witnessing the next chapters. Keep it up bro!
  • 4 0
 Great work and great interview T-Mac. I look forward to what you have coming next.....keep it up!
  • 1 0
 Yeah here in SoCal building on public land you have to look for hidden spots and not tell anyone about it. Luckily i've got about 20 acres and a little change to build on. And whenever we do have a tractor to build with I do definitely use it but still always do all of my shaping by hand.
  • 3 0
 Welcome to Utah! There's been a good buzz for new trails here for years, kind of a golden age. Hope it keeps up.
  • 3 1
 Does anyone know where in Utah he moved to? Virgin isnt really anything other than some houses and an RV park.
  • 2 0
 There are legit towns right by there, but I have no idea where he's at.
  • 2 0
 @underhawk: I go there twice a year for RZRs and bikes. Hurricane, but more than likely St George, where Ethan Nell is from.
  • 1 0
 @owlie: Hell yeah
  • 3 0
 By his instagram, looks like he's in Toquerville or LaVerkin, just down the hill from Virgin. He also posted about the local Hurricane bike shop, which tells me he's not in St George.
  • 2 0
 @jemtrail: over the edge? LaVerkin and Toquerville aren much bigger. Really LaVerkin is Hurricane, just separated by the river.
  • 1 0
 @owlie: yeah, over the edge. It's small town living for sure, but some people prefer that, me included.
  • 1 0
 @jemtrail: Now that Im brewing my own beer Smile , I could live in Hurricane. Cant convince my wife though. We spend a week there every year for spring break, and go back for Rampage.
  • 7 8
 "It’s since become majorly overpopulated and overdeveloped, and every empty lot is getting turned into apartment buildings and Starbucks’. It’s crazy. Traffic’s outta hand and housing prices are through the roof. My lifestyle just wasn’t sustainable there anymore".

The land of honey and gold no more. Kommiefornia is an epic loss. Another FR shredder who has seen the same is Heading your way Cam!
  • 4 2
 if you knew what communism was you'd know it has nothing to do with california. Cost of living is high and it's a problem...but that is not communism. Riding is still better than most of the country.
  • 4 5
 @IsaacO: The pun was in the wording for the economically busted state with diminishing freedoms and big govt manipulated oversight, regulations. You take care of your self and young man, you youngsters are a hoot!
  • 7 1
 @dirtchurner: "The economy of California is the largest in the United States, boasting a $3.0 trillion gross state product as of 2018. As a sovereign nation (2017), California would rank as the world's fifth largest economy, ahead of the United Kingdom but behind Germany."

busted indeed
  • 3 0
 Feel like he has something against Starbucks
  • 1 0
 Think it has more to do with the grocery store and condos they dropped on top of the PO Jumps.... and yeah there's a Starbucks there too.
  • 1 0
 Rad video and concept. But I don't think the art of hand building is dying... just ask Jordie Lunn... it's alive and well in BC at least.
  • 3 0
 awesome !
  • 1 0
 California will miss U, T-Mac, but I’m not far behind in getting the hell out of here, either.
  • 1 0
 Quality, like a sweet handmade lugged frame
  • 7 10
 Are these open to the public?
  • 13 0
  • 15 2
 Doubt that you've got the minerals to ride them even if they are
  • 3 2
 @iggzdaloc: hahaha iggz tell y'all to poach. I've seen it all
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