YouTuber Si is much more than just the Recon Guy, and here’s why. An interview with Si Bradeley.
Get to know a bit about Si. You will be glad you did. Here goes!
I appreciate the opportunity. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do? What do you like to do for fun? Family life, that sort of stuff.
Well, I am a 40-year-old dad of five. That probably tells you enough already to know why esports and indoor training are so dominant in the recent years of my exercise and sporting life.
I’m lucky that the whole family is active, and we love nothing more than to get outside to walk, ride, explore and eat out. We live right on the edge of the Peak District in Staffordshire, UK. For those that don’t know, the peak district is 500 square miles of a national park which you can explore on foot or bike, so it’s an amazing area to train and live.
I am a trained sports scientist and have been working in this field for over 18 years. For the last ten years, I have been the UK commercial manager for Tanita, the pioneers and leaders of measuring body composition with athletes. We also do a lot in general populations. So again, I am fortunate to combine my passion for sports and health with my professional life.
What is your cycling story? When did you start competing, and what is your racing history? What is your most significant accomplishment racing on the road?
Well, I am from a family of athletes who competed in triathlon & track running, so I have been riding bikes and competing ever since I can remember. We were also not a very affluent family, so we never had a car until I was around 16, so our commuting was by bike.
I can distinctly remember some horrible rides and training sessions when I was 10-12 years of age, and being that exhausted, I remember once riding into the back of a parked car because I was that delirious. We also owned a health club in Staffordshire, so when spinning first gained popularity, I was around 15 years of age and became the youngest spinning instructor in the UK.
In the evening after school, I taught spinning classes to the mums of my school friends. Doing this developed my confidence in public speaking and performing at that age. It was also funny when school friends would tell me their mum had a good class last night!
Alongside indoor cycling, I was racing for my local and regional cycling club most weekends. Staffordshire was a real hotbed for professional cyclists, and I would often be riding with ex Professionals such as Les West, Steve Joughin, Mark Lovatt. Sometimes Matt Stephens would also get on the local Tuesday night chain gang.
I guess the real significant achievement came in 1999. I was 18 and riding full-time between studies and teaching spin classes. I broke the Guinness World Record for indoor stationary cycling. The original record was 32 hours of non-stop riding on an indoor bike. In 1999 I broke the record and rode for 38 hours.
Someone broke the record around 18 months later, so in 2001 I advanced the record to 58 hours. It was gratifying but extremely tough, and I still suffer from some of the consequences of that now in terms of long-term injury.
Again in 2004, I was asked to attempt another indoor record for a well-known UK charity (Caudwell Charitable Trust). This time the record was for the most distance in 24 hours, I managed 725km in 24 hours, but it was not recognized as a record at the time by Guinness.
Outside of the indoor cycling, my outdoor riding was going well, and I was selected to ride a single event with the British Under 23 team (Ribble Valley 2 day event). I was 22, and it was my last chance to get a result and maybe progress.
The other lads on the team were younger and still had a few years left under 23. Honestly, the race didn’t go well, and I missed the significant moves in both stages, and that was pretty much the end of any national hopes.
I, of course, continued to race regionally and picked up some good results, maintaining a 2nd category license for many years. I did beat Geraint Thomas once in a regional Road Race, but you have to remember I was 22 and Geraint was still a junior at 17, but I still hold onto it 😉
You can check out Si’s Strava profile here.
When and how did you get involved in virtual cycling and esports? What are your eracing history, the team you race for, and most significant win?
There are many reasons why esports and eracing are so important to me now. Firstly, having five kids, you have to find new ways to balance the selfish demands of being a road cyclist and the training required to race still and spend quality time with my family. Second, a deep need for competition and not just against other athletes but also with myself. I enjoy the feeling following a tough training session or race.
My team is ProVision, which is also my IRL team. I have been with them for seven years. I set up the Pro Vision E-Race team with Steve Joughin, an ex-professional bike racer and 3 x UK National Road Race champion. Steve is a legend of UK cycling and the original Pocket Rocket (just google him).
I’m lucky that I have known Steve since I was a kid, and he has always supported me over my younger years with kit and mentoring. We are good friends, and you will also see Steve popping up around Watopia during the winter.
To get back to your questions, though! I first got on Zwift in 2017, but I didn’t race. I used the platform as an additional tool alongside my more traditional roller or turbo sessions. I guess it was 2019 when I first jumped into the racing side, and it honestly went poorly.
I just could not figure out how some of my friends were dropping me in Zwift when I knew I was stronger on the bike IRL. I was not going to let this happen. I immediately started to research the dynamics of E-Racing.
I watched hours and hours of twitch and youtube videos and streams of great racers such as Nathan Guarra and Cam Jeffers( I know it’s a controversial name, but Cam is such a knowledgeable racer on Zwift and an absolute joy to watch). It took a few weeks, but I mastered the draft and became more aware of each course’s courses and particular pinch points.
The thing with my racing is I am not the kind of racer who can just sit in the draft and wait for the sprint finish even though I can sprint. I have some good power, but most importantly, 90% of the time, I am tactically aware enough to position well.
The reason I don’t just sit in the draft is the fact that I enjoy racing. I want to attack. I want to take every chance to reduce the peloton size, and I want to get to the end of a race feeling spent, feeling like I gave it everything and not just for the final few hundred meters.
I have won a few ZRL stages individually, which was great, but in all honestly, ZRL is about the team, and the team at ProVision Racing and we are focused on winning this season’s league and making playoffs. I am surrounded by quality riders, so we have a great chance to race in the EMEA W B1.
We were fortunate to have Liz Van Houweling on our team for the last few seasons, and one of the greatest pleasures was watching her development. Now, of course, she is riding for Saris NoPinz and has a place in the USA squad for the world champs.
You will find Si’s ZwiftPower profile here.
When did you begin producing video content, and what was your motivation and goal at the time?
I only started producing video content in 2020, but I didn’t post on youtube until early 2021, so I guess around 12 months ago. I started doing Eracing content based on what I wanted from the content. I like short videos (10 minutes) with critical information, course basics, strategic points, and race times.
It is the basis of my race decision-making. I was essentially doing this for my team anyway, so I just decided to formalize the process and see if it would get any interest on youtube.
How long have you been at it, and how many views has your channel received?
So the channel has been live for 12 months, and we have over 92K views so far, which honestly, I have no idea if that’s good or bad. I just enjoy making them, and the feedback has been amazing.
The Si Bradeley YouTube channel is here!
Do you have a background in video or broadcasting, or did you teach yourself?
I have a history of presenting live events and video content for other companies. I was a presenter for one of the largest Bike Store chains in the UK (Halfords). I presented over 50 videos on different bikes that the large retail would sell, and these videos were on their website and youtube channel for 2-3 years.
It was a great experience. The tricky part was editing and producing content. I have never had to write scripts, plan a shoot, or edit a video before, so this has been very much learning on the job, and I have a long way to go on this site to get to the level I would like to.
What was the first video you produced for Youtube, and what do you think about it now? How many views did it receive? What was the response? (include a link to video)
Not sure I want to share these links 😉 but I guess you can see my first three videos, which I did quickly over on my youtube channel. I did a video of the Famous UK Road Race at the Lincoln GP when I was DS for Team ProVision team IRL and driving the team car. That was a pretty awful video.
I then did two review videos, one of which was for a coffee machine we had just purchased, and the other was for a new Smart Turbo trainer from Zycle, which had been gifted to me by the UK distributor. I still have the turbo as a backup if my Kickr ever fails. I just wanted to practice and produce some content to get the channel going.
How has that vision and your goals evolved since that time?
So when I first started producing esports content, it was simply to fulfill a gap and deliver the kind of content that I wanted to use before races. I also wanted to feel the build-up and excitement around an esports race that I used to get from IRL racing.
I also wanted to add an element of the gaming world into the esports Zwift content. I still see this as the way forward. I realized early on that you have to accept that eracing is not the same as IRL racing, and neither should it be, in my opinion.
If we want to attract young people to our virtual racing world, we need more excitement and fun and borrow some of the vibes from the gaming streamers and content creators who work with other games such as Call of Duty and Apex Legends, etc.
The Zwift race recon space is a crowded one. When did you begin producing recon videos, and why did you choose to throw your hat into the ring? How do your videos differ from the rest? (link to first recon video, your favorite, and most recent)
A lot of the content I saw was too long and did not build the excitement. In some cases, the recon videos were as long as the races. So I wanted to shorten the format and add more energy and “gamer” vibes.
I also wanted to know the critical areas for each event or course. Still, I didn’t want it to be so formulaic that it was just about going through the motions and following strict DS notes.
I wanted to have the reactive, spur-of-the-moment decision-making that you get IRL racing. The strict DS super detailed notes are great for time trialing and TTT, but for points races, etc. I still want the spontaneous feel, and anything could happen.
I have to say, with the new PD 3.0, we have seen this happen, and I recently produced a video about the BL13 team and the fantastic team move they made in the Legions of LA series.
How long does it take to conceptualize, record, edit, and promote a race recon video? How many do you release a month?
In terms of the production of the recon videos, I have the method and system pretty much nailed down, but all in all, to produce a single 10-15 minute recon video takes approximately 3-4 hours. First, I need to ensure I have race footage from the route. If not, I then have to find a race and ride it.
I then rewatch the footage making notes of the critical areas and distances from the course. I then spend some time researching other races on the course and watching any additional race footage from either twitch or youtube and then pull together a very rough script (basically a few words scribbled down).
I’m not good with scripts. I tend to ignore them and just say what I feel at the time. I then spend around 1 hour recording the face to camera content. For me, the longest part of the production is the edit and final cut, which can take me about 2 hours.
I then upload version 1 to YouTube privately, review myself, and ask a friend to check. I then make the final edit and hopefully upload the recon seven days before the event.
The critical aspect for me is the face to camera. I always wanted to avoid a simple voice-over style recon. I want people to feel and see the energy and excitement I feel towards racing by watching my expressions and energy. Hopefully, this comes across.
What equipment do you use, and what is the approximate investment required to produce high-quality videos like yours?
It was another area I had to do some learning to educate myself. I asked a friend of mine who owns AWD-it to build me a gaming PC for my Zwift setup. He is also a Zwifter and knows the requirements. I initially used this PC to do the editing. However, I got tired of moving my trainer to get to the PC.
So I built another high-end PC to edit the videos and then installed high-speed internet, which was not too cheap. I have a mid-range Canon DSLR with a few lenses I use to shoot most of the content, multiple light setups, and now have a new wireless mic system that I can also use out when riding outside. Oh, and I recently treated myself to a GOPRO system for some on-bike footage.
I will now assume my wife will not read this post and realize what I spent! All in all, it is not cheap to get set up, and it’s very much like cycling gear. I’m not sure when I will stop upgrading or purchasing additional equipment.
What is your most popular video, and why do you think it received so many views?
Well, the coffee machine review has currently around 9.5k views, but it has been up a while, and it’s also a little clickbait-style with the title 😉
In terms of eracing, the Countryside Tour recon was very popular, I guess, because of the complicated nature and tactical discussion regarding bike changes that people had to make.
Youtube provides excellent video insights, so it’s super easy to see which videos are performing well. Fortunately, every time I put a video out, it appears to be growing exponentially with my viewers. But hopefully, viewers feel the content is also improving each week.
What Youtube video do you like the most that you didn’t produce, and why do you enjoy it? (include link)
I watch a lot of Youtube and also listen to podcasts all the time. My taste is pretty broad. I still find myself watching streams from Zwifters or Apex legends and find them very engaging. Right now, I am binge-watching the Matt Stephens Cafe ride videos on Youtube.
I have been around the sport of cycling a long time and have been fortunate to meet so many local cycling legends, but this series with Matt has some excellent insights and interviews with past and present cycling legends. I love the history of our sport.
I also find Matt a natural and charismatic presenter balancing his expert knowledge with humor, so I enjoy watching him present. Maybe I’m hoping this rubs off on me too.
Can a YouTuber like you make a buck? Does that influence your motivation for all of the hard work?
I wish this were the case, and maybe it is at some point, but I am a long way off that point. The return vs. investment is so far off I dare not write it down. However, I can say that a single recon video with 5000 views will likely return £15-18. So I guess £4 per hour.
So no profit here, but it’s also not the reason to do it. I do it because I enjoy the process and engaging with the eracing community. It’s great that I have had so many positive discussions and friendships from being part of this vibrant community.
Have any major virtual cycling platforms approached you regarding content creation? If yes, do you mind describing the general terms? If not, would you entertain an offer?
I have had some discussion in late 2021 about doing some work with other YouTubers and cycling platforms but let’s see if we can make this happen in 2022. I am absolutely interested in working with platforms, producers, and other creators. So take this as my advert to say “come and get me “ 😉
I will say that Nathan Guerra is a bit of an icon in the esports world. For me, if you look at the work Nathan put into the esports streaming setup and the work he continues to do week in week out with ZCL, it’s fantastic what he has brought to our community. Nathan and I have discussed what we can do together in the future, so hopefully, we can make something happen.
What is your view on the other content creators, video and print, who have financial agreements with major virtual cycling platforms? Can they remain objective and unbiased in their reporting?
I have the utmost respect for anyone who puts themselves out there and creates content. It’s not easy to get it right, and you are also opening yourself up for criticism to a vocal community. I am sure some of the more prominent creators have agreements in place with platforms and brands, which likely helps them maintain their creator business.
It’s a balance because I would also love a lifestyle that allows me to create content full-time in the industry that I love. However, I would also hope to maintain the ability to provide an objective view across multiple platforms or technologies.
I can say I rarely watch some of the real big platform’s shows that relate to products or brands. I use their platform to watch race content, but I usually stick to DC or the Lama if I’m after product info or testing.
For a content creator like you, social media is a necessary evil. How do you navigate the often treacherous landscape that seems to be getting worse rather than better? Are you affected by negative comments, and what do you do to deal with criticism and personal attacks?
That is a really good question, and honestly, it was the toughest thing to get used to when I started to create this content. I was shocked how quickly my videos gained traction in the Zwift community primarily, but equally how quickly community members reached out to engage with me.
Mostly the interactions are amazing, positive, and very welcome. As I said, some of the virtual friends I have made via our community and not just via my team have changed my life for sure. Anyone who wants to reach out is welcome anytime via Facebook, YouTube, or email. I want to talk to fellow cyclists and Zwifters. It’s very important to me.
However, for every 50 positive messages, you have to be prepared for the negative and sometimes abusive. I’m only a small youtube channel, so I fear what it’s like for more prominent creators. The most common communication is from Zwifters who want to accuse other racers of cheating.
Honestly, the amount of messages I receive about riders I have featured or briefly mentioned or happened to appear on one of my videos is unbelievable. The first few times I received these messages, I had trouble sleeping, and it would play on my mind all night.
It’s not like I know the featured rider or, indeed, the person making the comments. Honestly, I’m at the point where I don’t take too much notice of what other riders are doing or the messages.
I get on with training hard, racing hard, and enjoying the positives that come with our sport and community. Thankfully the positive feedback far outweighs the negative.
Do you ever question whether it’s worth it? What do you tell yourself when you do that keeps you going?
It’s easy to decide if it’s worth it when the so many positive friendships and conversations with our community far outweigh the few negative messages.
I only have to consider how much time I spend creating when it could interrupt family time.
What do you find the most rewarding about the videos you produce?
It comes down to the friendships and feedback I get either directly or in the comments section on the videos. I always try to respond when people leave positive comments and feedback.
I am addicted to cycling, and I love the Zwift platform, so it is a great reward if I can spend my leisure time talking about it with my youtube community.
What advice would you give to someone interested in creating video content? Would you encourage them to do so?
I would absolutely encourage them to do it if they want to, but I would just ask them to consider the cost implications, it’s not cheap to produce videos, and I imagine it takes a long time until creators can make a living doing it.
However, suppose you like creating and are passionate about what you do. In that case, the rewards are tremendous. I get a lot of satisfaction when I produce a video, and I enjoy the process itself. Positive feedback and friendships are another bonus.
What is your vision and goals for the future of the Si Bradeley YouTube Channel?
I want to continue producing eracing content. I will start adding some new regular features such as quarterly event update features and tactical videos such as the BL13 video I put out recently.
The other aspects I would like to start with are meeting some of our community, riding IRL, and making videos around our fantastic community. For example, the ZOM did a feature on Richie Sheerin recently.
Richie Is a good friend and one of the first community members to reach out to me directly. I have been saying to Richie that people should know his story and the positive messages it inspires for as long as I knew his story. So I was thrilled to see Chris get the story and feature.
Finally, I am trying to add in some content around my outdoor riding, racing, and regaining competitive fitness after 40 and managing work, family, etc. I have done some outdoor content, but it’s so different than the face to indoor camera content, so I am still learning, and these videos are still very rough 😉
As a result of my background and racing, a coaching friend approached me. We are looking to set up an esports coaching business together for individuals and teams, so maybe some upcoming content around this as we get things going.
Virtual cycling and eSports have come a long way in a short time. What do you envision eSports will be like in five years? What is your vision for the future of eSports, and where would you like to be positioned?
Outside of cycling esports, the genre of esports is already huge. The communities and competition is immense and has some significant financial backing. In terms of cycling and other sports such as running, rowing, etc., we still have a long way to go, but we now have some fantastic platforms and possibilities.
Two things need to happen, in my opinion. Cyclists need to realize and accept that ecycling is not the same as road riding, cyclocross, or track racing. Eracing is its discipline and has its unique place alongside these more traditional disciplines.
I love the history of cycling, and I am a little old school in some of the road etiquette myself (for example, I would never wear a cycling cap when not on a road bike) ;-). However, I love esports and eracing equally and love the unique nuances of eracing.
I like the gamification of the platforms and the fact that you can do things that you wouldn’t do on the road, such as swapping bikes mid-race when switching to gravel to give a tactical advantage.
I like the team aspect of ZRL. Racing on your own just isn’t the same as racing with a team. So more team-based events are very much welcome.
On a slight side note, I recently finished the latest Flamme Rouge Racing Stage race, six stages over five days. It was one of the best events I have done in 5 years on Zwift. Challenging, engaging, a great new challenge, and likely the closest I will get to stage racing.
Secondly, I would like to see improved events and functionality to engage with our younger generation. Maybe this is increased gamification in some way. The next generation is the future for any business, but I believe we will need platforms like these to keep our children fit and healthy and engaged in physical activity.
I think Zwift and other platforms need to find a way to bring more children onto the platform or build a separate parallel world with kids only. If I were working within Zwift, I would love to be involved in engaging and keeping children engaged in activity via the platform.
I feel it’s an ethical and a future issue we need to consider and adapt quickly.
Thank you, Si! You are a fine ambassador for the virtual cycling community. Keep up the great work!
Any Kind (or not so kind) Comments for Si?
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site. In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, http://www.TheDIRTDadFund.com. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.