Vert's New Breed: Steve McCann

Casual practice whip, X Games 14. Eric Lars Bakke/ESPN Images

Melbourne, Australia to Woodward, PA transplant Steve McCann doesn't consider himself a vert rider, but the rest of the pro vert class seems to have a different opinion. The 26-year-old has competed professionally for years on both dirt and park, but it wasn't until 2007 when McCann decided to give the vert ramp a competitive go. And give it a go he did. Now entering his third year in the competitive vert ranks, it's safe to say that Steve looks at home among the vert vets he rides with on a daily basis.

But Steve's riding isn't just limited to the vert ramp. He can ride everything and ride it well; a skill that has allowed for Steve's riding to gracefully transcend into vert. He's got the height, a huge bag of impossible tricks and an impressive vert pump. And not only that, he's psyched on riding vert, going so far as to say that vert has rekindled his love for riding.

Fresh off of ankle surgery, still unsure whether or not he'll be able to ride in X Games 15, I decided to catch up with Steve to discuss his somewhat recent entry into the vert ranks. This is vert according to Steve McCann. Welcome to the new breed.

How did you get into riding vert?
I was a dirt rider when I came over from Australia, and I became a little more rounded when I moved out to Woodward. I rode dirt jumps, park. Then just over the years, hanging out with Jamie Bestwick, Chad Kagy, Kevin Robinson and all those guys, I just figured out that I enjoyed riding everything. I like blasting quarters, whether it's a 7-foot or a 10-foot; it seemed to fit. Those guys egged me on for years to ride vert, and I just started having fun with it. It felt like I was doing enough. The one year, all those guys convinced me to ride, and the deal was, if I made the finals, I'd ride it, and if not, I'd let it be. Here we are now.

Is vert your main focus now?
No, that's the misconception with me. Some people now consider me a vert rider. But I don't consider myself that. I ride park, and I love dirt. I still feel as though I work twice as hard on park as a I do on vert. I like riding different obstacles. The fact that it's so out of control; it just blows my mind. And I like challenging myself to see if I can keep up with everybody.

Do you think you've gotten more injuries as a result of riding vert?
Definitely. I've been fairly injury free through most of my career, but starting to ride vert, it's changed. They say it separates the men from the boys, and I think that's for a reason. When you go down, you go down pretty damn hard. I remember last year, I just snapped my chain riding along the deck, and fell to the flat bottom from 13-feet. That sucked. And just numerous injuries. Slipping a pedal, slamming yourself into the floor. Even just riding the resi on the vert ramp, you mess up and you're coming down from 9-feet above the ramp and you're still slamming yourself into the ground. There's no real way around it. It's an interesting learning curve, but I love the feeling of going high. And now that I'm starting to ride all three disciplines competitively, it makes me realize how much I love all the aspects of BMX. A lot of people want to put me in the vert rider category, but I still consider myself more of a park and dirt rider.

Do you ride vert with the Woodward vert crew?
Most days, I'll ride with the guys on park. And Jamie [Bestwick] will show up, and he'll either drop in on the last part of our street session, or we'll move up and ride the new vert ramp, or ride the new dirt jumps. You get different sessions every day. Some days, we won't even go near the vert ramp or the street course, and we'll just end up riding dirt or road bikes.

What's your process for learning tricks on vert?
When I started riding vert, I tried to bring a lot of my park tricks to the vert ramp, and some of them came easily, like no-hander to barspin, double barspins, stuff like that. I was a barspin guy for a long time. Then I started to learn the process of flairs. I really didn't learn them too much into the foam. I worked it out doing it on the resi. For the most part, it prolongs your career if you're riding the resi. I've definitely had a lot of crashes on resi that would've ended me on the ramp. That whole process; it's usually a foam pit to resi to ramp kinda thing. Thought a lot of the bigger stuff, it's still a roll of the dice on the ramp. I watched Chad Kagy do double flairs every day for three weeks straight leading into Chicago, pulling them every go perfectly on the resi. Then we went to Chicago and he did himself in on the ramp. He's strong as hell though. It just proves that you can have something so dialed and it doesn't even matter on vert. That ramp will show you who's the boss every time.

That ramp will show you who's the boss every time.

--Steve McCann

Does the rest of the Woodward vert crew harass you as the young guy up there?
Yeah, I get a lot of slack, but I look up to all those guys. I've never been a huge tech guy. I've always liked going fast and high and doing big tricks, and that fits in well on the vert ramp. Jamie's flow and style, Kevin's big flairs and Chad's balls to the wall style all influence me in one way or another. I've watched these guys for years, and they truly are gladiators. When you watch those guys pick themselves up off the floor week after week, you realize that it's pretty rad to be a part of that crew.

Was working up to your height an issue?
I always felt like I went high on park, but I didn't realize that there's a difference between going high and going really high. You reach a certain step, where for me, it was 8-foot, and then 9 felt huge, and then I reached the 10-foot mark where I could kinda keep it consistent, and every now and then, I can go above it. It takes time though. A lot of people don't realize that. It takes huge finesse, and you've just gotta have everything going right. It's not something that can happen everyday. That's what I love about vert, well about bike riding in general; it's always a crazy new challenge. I won't lie. It scares the shit out of me every time I ride that vert ramp, but I also love it to hell. It's rekindled my love of BMX in a way too. Vert was like starting to ride all over again.

Where do you see the future of vert going?
I'd like to see the concept that Nate Wessel had for X Games, a real super park with big stuff in it. I think that would add a whole new element to vert. I think you could add certain things to a vert ramp, like big hips leading into the ramp, which would give vert a fresh look without changing it too much. There's more guys getting involved in vert, but as far as the future, I think it's too hard to look at. The new guys have the passion to ride vert, so I think the future will stay bright. You have to have faith in the new guys, that they truly wanna be there, and when they do fall, that they wanna get up and keep doing it. You know?

Thanks for the interview Steve! I should also reiterate that Steve isn't just a vert rider. Just last month, Steve placed a respectable fourth place at the Chicago Dew Tour Open in park, nailing no-handed to turndown 720s and more. So yeah, Steve's running at all cylinders right now, and it's safe to say that we're going to see some more podium finishes in the near future. And I didn't even mention his Big Air finishes. Let's hope that ankle can heal up in time for X Games 15.

Read more about Steve's meteoric rise through the vert ranks in the Countdown to X blog.