Meet Seth Alvo, founder of one of the most popular mountain bike channels in the world
If you’ve ever searched for mountain biking videos on YouTube, you’ve seen the work of Seth Alvo. Today, the creator of Seth’s Bike Hacks has a following of more than 1.1 million subscribers, making his channel the second biggest devoted to mountain biking and the biggest one-man show by far. Like most YouTube success stories, he didn’t plan for it to turn out that way.
Alvo’s introduction to mountain biking occurred in Long Island with his dad. There were no mountains, but they had a few hills and a small bike trail a few miles from the house. At the time, he had no idea how serious some people were about the sport, but he was certain of one thing: “Road biking was for losers, so of course we were mountain biking.” Chuckling, he admits that “now my views are a little more nuanced.”
The more time he spent on two wheels, the more types of riding crept into his life. If you’ve watched his videos, you won’t be surprised to learn that he discovered street and BMX riding in middle school and it was his main focus through his high school years. It’s clear from his crisp style and tolerance for risk — both things that would come in handy for starting his channel.
Of all places, Seth’s Bike Hacks emerged from the flatlands of Florida. Alvo had started doing web development on the side, but by his mid-20’s he was doing it full-time and he had started his own company. Business was good, so he moved to Florida, where he figured he could afford a house. It turns out it’s only cheap relative to New York, but the weather was always great. He was working in coffee shops as a web developer and riding his bike in his free time. Everything was great living in the Miami metro area, until it wasn’t enough.
“I just really caught the mountain biking bug again, hard, and I was itching for more variety. I stayed in Florida as long as I did thanks to the incredible trail work done by builders in the area.” Trail systems like Santos and Markham featured not only great jump lines but extensive North Shore-style elements to get riders around or over the sand and mud pits that are part of the Florida landscape. In fact, when Alvo first rode at Vancouver’s Mount Fromme, he felt right at home. “I had already ridden stuff like that before. There’s just a lot more gravity involved up there.”
Still, Florida was no Fromme, and Alvo started his YouTube channel because he was bored. In the early days, it was mostly repair tips, tutorials, product reviews, and backyard shenanigans. It wasn’t long until he had built up a small but passionate following and he felt obligated to continue.
Fans of Seth’s Bike Hacks recognized they had found something special, and they regularly told him he should have a lot more subscribers. His response? “What’s a subscriber?” While he had no clue what he was doing on YouTube, he would wake up every morning to an inbox full of video requests, which validated the time and effort that he put into each edit. “I really enjoy editing and putting stuff together. I like being creative, and of course, I love mountain biking.”
It took Alvo a long time to consider the possibility of making a living with his videos. He got to 10,000 subscribers and hadn’t even turned YouTube’s monetization feature on. “I kind of felt bad about it, but I turned it on just to see what would happen.” He was expecting a payout of pennies on the dollar, but the first month he earned $350. With the channel experiencing steady growth, it wasn’t hard to extrapolate what might happen if he kept the pedal to the floor.
Before he knew it, he was spending less and less energy on web development. He was turning down new clients and firing difficult ones to free up more time for editing. “A lot of the people around me thought I was crazy spending so much time making YouTube videos. I had my own business, and plenty of people warned me not to screw up a good thing.” It was too late. After a taste of something he loved, his heart was no longer in web development. “Any time my phone would buzz in my pocket, I had that sinking feeling — what crashed, what got compromised, what fire do I have to put out today?”
Alvo had just gotten married in 2016 and he and his wife were itching for a move. They honeymooned in Alaska. It was the first time she had seen mountains, and she didn’t want to leave. With her job in the medical world and his burgeoning YouTube channel, the pair realized they could live anywhere they wanted.
After some deliberation and a quick visit, Asheville, N.C. seemed like a perfect fit. It was halfway between their families in New York and Florida, it offered year-round riding opportunities, and it was cheaper than options like Colorado and California. What followed was a huge leap of faith, but Alvo had to trust his projections. The pair sold their Florida house in just a week and moved to Asheville that April. “Now that I’ve discovered how good the riding really is here, I’m just so glad.” When he’s not enjoying the huge variety of trails that Brevard has to offer, Alvo loves going to Tennessee to ride Windrock Bike Park, which he calls “Pisgah on bath salts. It’s so raw, and you’re free to shred harder because they’re dedicated bike trails.”
These days, there are quite a few mountain bikers with YouTube channels, but no individual has achieved anywhere close to the following of Seth’s Bike Hacks. Not surprisingly, people have lots of different notions about the life of a professional YouTuber and what it takes to be successful. “When people watch my YouTube videos, they don’t see everything going on behind the scenes. Naturally, they assume that my job is really easy and that it was all luck that got me here. All YouTubers experience it. As a viewer, it’s hard not to see a self-important asshole with a vlogging camera pointed at themselves just hitting record and walking around all day.” The reality is far different.
Alvo has worked quite a few different jobs, and while he wouldn’t trade his current profession for any of them, he’s not just raking Benjamins into a plastic bag four times a month. “It’s actually working like crazy to come up with ideas, get people together, organize things, make things happen.”
While he regularly collaborates with other mountain bike channels, Seth’s Bike Hacks is a one man show with a demanding production schedule. Monday and Tuesday are shooting days, and he spends Tuesday night organizing footage meticulously. Wednesday involves writing the video script, recording a voiceover, and editing it into a polished form. It’s frequently a 16-hour day, but it’s a detail that differentiates his videos and gives them a professional touch. Thursday is an editing day that begins at 6am, and he does his best to finish by 2pm because he’s just worked a marathon. Friday is an administrative day, reserved for emails, calls, meetings, and contracts.
“I run it like a business. If you want it to be a living and you want it to be long term, you have to take it seriously. It’s work, and the hardest part is that most people don’t think of it that way.” How can he be so sure? All it takes is a glimpse into his inbox to see that viewers think he has unlimited time. He gets bombarded with questions about which bike someone should get based on their specific criteria, or people wanting him to help them learn a new skill. There’s also a healthy dose of advice, including an alarming number of people with the brilliant idea that he should make a video every day instead of once a week.
Despite his obvious talent, Alvo is quick to point out that his channel is capitalizing on current entertainment trends that are driving the popularity of YouTube as a platform. Entertainment used to be produced by large broadcasting companies whose executives decided what people wanted to see. Just look at TV shows or news anchors — the people you see on broadcast television are as close to flawless as possible. Until recently, viewers didn’t have any other options.
YouTube is powerful because it puts the choice of what to watch directly in the hands of the audience. The results are profound. “The thing is, when you just put a bunch of stuff out there and you let the audience choose for themselves, it turns out that they like people that are genuine. They can see themselves doing what I’m doing. I’m a short Jewish dude from New York with gray beard hair — I don’t look like an athlete. It’s more inspiring when they see me do it than when they see a god do it. I think that’s the case with every category on YouTube. There’s somebody who fills that niche.”
He’s clearly being modest, and he’s a far better rider than most of us will ever be. Many of his videos include screaming fast downhills or huge jumps, and there’s even one where he learns to backflip. While the average rider may never have a backflip in their bag of tricks, Alvo makes an important point. His videos are entertaining and easy to relate to because he isn’t putting on any airs. He caters to riders of all skill levels, and he keeps it real by frequently showing his failures right next to his successes.
Alvo has come a long way since starting his channel, and his following continues to grow. The next generation of riders is emerging, and they’re getting their information on trails, bikes, and tricks from YouTube. Alvo might never compete in Red Bull Rampage and glamorous edits of those top-tier riders will always have their place, but the comments on his videos prove that he inspires people to get out and ride a bike. Without a doubt, Alvo and Seth’s Bike Hacks are going to continue to make waves in the mountain biking world.