Cam Sinclair Is the Comeback King | Featured Rider
You can count on one hand the number of FMX athletes who have officially landed a double backflip — it’s exactly five. And you could lose a couple fingers and still count on one hand the number of riders who have landed the double consistently throughout their career. FMX legend Cam Sinclair is in that smaller group, and getting there was every bit as hard as it sounds — in fact, it almost cost him everything. But despite that, or maybe because of it, Cam continues to be one of the most exciting riders in the Nitro Crew.
I caught up with Cam at his home in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. He talks about his FMX accomplishments very nonchalantly for how huge they really are, particularly the double backflip. Let’s put it this way: More people have walked on the moon than have landed a double backflip on a motorcycle. “When Travis did it, we thought it would never happen again,” Cam says. At the time, he was touring with Crusty Demons, and Scott Murray, who back then wasn’t as experienced in FMX, figured out how to do a double backflip for the Crusty tour. Murray didn’t have a high success rate with landing it, but the fact that he could gave Cam the confidence to try it himself. “I thought, if he can ride away from a double backflip but can’t even jump 75 feet on a dirtbike, maybe it’s possible.” Jackson Strong had a foam pit, so Cam went to his place to work on the double. He was able to get it around after three tries into foam, he says, and he let the Crusty producers know he wanted to try it in a show.
The first opportunity he had to give it a go for real, at an exhibition in Spain, he landed it on his first attempt. “The double backflip is so scary, but when you land it, it’s such an amazing feeling,” he says. He took it on tour with Crusty, landing his first 10 with only one minor crash, and his confidence for the trick grew quickly. I asked him to walk us through the double backflip from his perspective — he makes it sound easy, but it’s obviously far from it:
“Leading up to it is the hardest part, you know — the night before the show and five minutes prior to it — but once you’ve got your helmet on and you’ve got your mind set and there’s a stadium with a sold-out crowd there to see one thing, there’s no backing out of it. So it pushes you to switch your mind off the negative parts of it and just pretend it’s the foam pit at home,” he says. “As you approach that ramp and get in the right gear, the sound of my motorbike is at the right revs, and then it sort of all comes back to me. Once you approach that ramp it sort of becomes easy, then. It’s just the build-up that is the hard part.” For him, the correct speed is one of the biggest factors. “As long as you can get the revs right and make sure you’re going the right speed … then it all comes naturally, sort of. Right when you leave the ramp, you’ve just got to crouch down — it’s completely different from doing a single backflip — to do a double backflip you just sort of crouch into a little ball once you leave the ramp and tuck in and get it around. As soon as you leave the ramp you know if it’s going to be right or wrong. Just get the revs off the ramp the right way, then you know you’re in for a good ride, but sometimes when you pull wrong and it doesn’t spin right off the lip, you just have to hold on for a scary ride.”
He landed the double backflip over a dozen more times without crashing, he says. So with only one stack in about two dozen attempts, he was feeling good. Unfortunately, his streak wouldn’t last. In 2009 in Spain, where his double backflip run started, he was competing at X-Fighters, and while attempting a double backflip he suffered the type of crash every FMX rider — and every FMX rider’s family and friends — fears. “I guess I was getting overconfident with it,” he says. He had already landed two in qualifying but didn’t quite hit this one right. “I guess I wasn’t switched on enough, and it just caught me off guard. I landed on my head, pretty much, and I had a bit of a snooze for eight days.” It was a terrible eight days for those who are close to him, as the doctors weren’t confident he would ever wake up.
“It was a scary moment for my family, but for me, I just didn’t really know what was going on, so my side of it seemed like it was the easy side of it.” His family and friends, he says, had the worst of it. His injury list was extensive: He “broke a lot of bones” and had a lacerated liver and internal bleeding, in addition to being in a coma for eight days. When he did finally regain consciousness, the prognosis still wasn’t good. The doctors told him his career was over. “They said that straight away: ‘You’ll never be able to ride a bike again.’ But when doctors tell you that — I’ve been told that a lot of times in my career from having a lot of crashes and a few head injuries, so when the doctors tell you that, it motivates you to push harder and try to prove them wrong.”
And did he ever. He went into rehab with the intention of getting back on his bike as soon as possible. It took six months of intense work, which sounds like a long time, but remember: They said he would never ride again, and he first had to learn to walk and talk and function in a basic way. Six months is nothing compared to what he was told to expect. His recovery was so complete that not only did he ride again, he’s landed more double backflips since that crash than he did before it — he estimates about 34 since he got back on the bike. Including this World First side-by-side double backflip with Travis Pastrana:
Cam was born in Melbourne and has been riding motorbikes since he was 5 years old. He grew up in a motorbike family — his dad, grandfather, and brother all rode. He started racing straight away. At around age 12, he met Nitro’s Blake “Bilko” Williams on the racing circuit, and the two became close friends, eventually encouraging each other to start trying tricks on their dirtbikes. “Me and Bilko started doing freestyle together just for fun, just at home,” Cam says. “He had a supercross track at his house, and we built a ramp and just sort of had a bit of fun with it. We had no intentions to set our careers up with freestyle.” But the races they were competing in started asking for freestyle demos for halftime entertainment. “They had us bring a ramp and do some shows at halftime, and that’s where it sort of kicked off,” Cam says. “We just had the one bike — we used to race on that same bike and do tricks on the same bike.”
Eventually, he and Bilko both were drawn fully to the freestyle side. “Racing got hard, so I switched over from racing to freestyle,” Cam says. “I was making more money doing freestyle than I was winning races, so it made more sense to switch over to freestyle full-time.” With freestyle he got more attention, which in turn made his sponsors happy. He found freestyle much easier and more rewarding, he says. His career took off in that direction. He was picked up on the Crusty Demons tour, which is what eventually led him to Nitro Circus.
“The double backflip is so scary, but when you land it, it’s such an amazing feeling.”
Bilko gives Cam credit for the idea to build ramps, but they both decided to try a backflip at around the same time. Cam says: “His dad was against it, I think. … He had to keep it quiet from his dad that he was going to do a backflip. He couldn’t even use his own bike; he had to borrow my bike to do a backflip because he was too scared he was going to wreck his bike.” He says he and Bilko were among the first five Australian riders to land a backflip — which when they were first getting into freestyle was still a new aspect of the sport. The backflip back then was a dangerous and sketchy trick.
Cam was the first of the two to attempt a backflip. He tried it five times before he got hurt and had to give up for the session. A few months later, he and Bilko were back at it. “He crashed three times and landed his fourth, I think it was — that was on my bike — and then straight after that I jumped on it and pulled one around clean first go, and then we packed it up and went to a party,” he says.
Again, he makes it sound easy, and maybe it was for him. “Once I sort of got my mind onto it, where I wanted to do it and knew I could, that’s when I believed in myself and hucked it. Back in those days I was young and used to bounce and not break as much as I do now. I was a lot more confident back then. But it was amazing. It was an amazing feeling to get it around, especially when there’s no foam pits. You just had to huck it and hope for the best back in those days.” Oh yeah, he and Bilko attempted their first backflips to dirt, but don’t worry — they added some protection to the lander: “We broke up a couple hay bales to make it a bit soft for us.”
From those early days, the two have essentially worked together ever since, and their career paths are virtually identical. They now ride together for Nitro. “He’s a smooth, consistent rider,” Bilko says. “He’s definitely killing it still, and he’s a lot of fun to travel with. We love him. He’s a sweet guy.”
Cam no longer does double backflips in shows, but he does practice them into the foam pit and isn’t opposed to attempting them again if he’s called on to do it. He’s one of the only athletes in the world who even can, which is a position he doesn’t take lightly. But he’s happy to let Josh Sheehan have the job for Nitro Circus shows, now that Cam has a bigger family to think about. “I try not to let that change too much with my riding, but it does, no matter what. It’s always in the back of your mind. It makes it a bit harder, but it’s just part of growing up and getting older.” The hidden bonus to passing the double backflip torch, he says, is that he has a lot more fun during shows than he used to. “Back in the day when I was doing the double backflip and three-person backflip in the same show, it was very stressful. It was hard to enjoy myself and enjoy the show, where night in and night out I’d have to be so worried about hurting myself.”
The three-person backflip has now evolved into the four-person backflip, which is a career highlight for Cam, who is the first and only rider to ever land it. For those who don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like: four riders (Cam plus three brave volunteers) on one motorbike doing a backflip off a big ramp. This is a regular part of the Nitro show that was a huge World First when Cam landed it back in summer of 2014. As Travis says, it’s one of the worst ideas Nitro has ever had. But Cam enjoys the camaraderie and it doesn’t make him as anxious as the double used to. “It’s a lot of fun because it’s not just me I can celebrate with; I’ve got three other people on my bike to celebrate with.”
He walks us through the particulars, and it becomes clear what it has in common with the double backflip. “Once I figured it out, it was good, but I still have a few crashes here and there,” he says. “There’s so much weight on that bike, and hitting a super kicker, which is really steep, it’s just like hitting a wall.” Like with the double backflip, it’s all about getting the right speed to ensure enough power for the amount of rotation you need. “Once you get the speed right you just pull back, and the guy on the back, I tell him to pull back with me. And as long as we can all do the right thing, then we can pull it around.” Now that the four-person flip has become reasonably consistent (he estimates he’s landed the last nine attempts), you can bet he’s got his eye on the next step. What that will be, exactly, you’ll have to wait to find out.
Cam Sinclair can look at the two parts of his career — before The Wreck and after — and be proud of all of it. But what he’s been able to accomplish since having to teach himself to walk again is really incredible. The way he talks about it, what he did was the only way forward, but other athletes would have at the very least quit doing double backflips immediately. Cam continued to do them as well as other huge tricks with a high degree of difficulty. Along the way, he’s had a good time and been able to work with his best friends and his idols. “Travis has always been an inspiration to me. I’ve always looked up to him, even throughout his whole racing career. He’s a father and he’s still riding really well. Me and Travis are only a few months apart in age and so he’s a guy I look up to,” he says. “Pretty much everyone on our tours, I look up to. That’s why we have an amazing show, because everyone’s crazy and they do their own thing — from all the BMX riders to the motocross guys, they’re all inspiring to be around.” It takes one to know one, Cam.
Come see Cam Sinclair and the rest of the Nitro Circus Crew live! We’re headed to Australia and North America, and then back to Europe this summer — and don’t forget the inaugural Nitro World Games in Salt Lake City this July. Hit those links for more details, and come see this insanity live!