How a cycling/fitness channel reached 55K subscribers & 17.7M views

Feb 21 2024
Case Studies

Channel Overview (at time of writing)

Name - Leonard Lee
Niche - Cycling/Fitness
Subscribers - 55K
Watch time - 17.7M views (lifetime), 180K views (monthly)
Videos published - 795
Date of first video - 10 November 2006
Employees - 0 (solo)

Why did you start this YouTube channel?

Back in 2005-2006, my friend had the idea to put videos up on YouTube to promote his cycling shop and travel business. He reached out to me as I’d been working as a freelance videographer since the late 90s. 

At the time, there weren’t too many other social media platforms; there might’ve been MySpace but YouTube was the only genuine platform to upload videos to.

Honestly, I couldn’t really see the point of it at the time. I didn’t really think YouTube videos were going to amount to anything.

But my friend was really excited about it. We were talking about showcasing cycling to a broader audience (with an emphasis on promoting Tony’s business). So, in November 2006, roughly a year after YouTube launched, we posted our first video.

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How did you get started?

My friend and I uploaded 12-13 videos initially and completely forgot about them for a while afterward. I just used my professional camera and since I’d already been working as a freelance videographer, there wasn’t much new I had to learn. 

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But I really didn’t want to be in front of the camera. It made me nervous. I was trying to partner with bike shops, not film myself in my videos.

Before filming, I did some research to identify a couple of areas where people were having problems. I also was (and am) a keen cyclist; I used my knowledge of cycling culture to decide what videos to make.

I then wrote simple bullet point scripts as guides on what to talk about and elaborated on those while filming.

How & when did you get to 10, 100, 1000 subscribers (etc) and to where you are currently?  

After uploading those first 12-13 videos, Tony and I largely forgot about the channel until 2013/14 (7 years later). By that point, the channel had 3-4K subscribers without me doing anything other than uploading those videos.

I remember chatting with a videographer friend of mine at the time about how you can monetise YouTube. So I did and I started earning £100 per month straight away. 

The growth and the money were all because the initial 12-13 videos we posted were some of the first bike maintenance videos ever posted on YouTube. Collectively, they’d received millions of views.

Sometime in 2017, the channel started generating an income every month beyond the minimum threshold that YouTube had set.

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By August 2018, I had 6K subscribers. At that point, I posted a video called “Too Fat To Cycle?” and doubled my subscriber count over the course of a single weekend. That video created a lot of momentum that set the tone for a lot of the videos I produced later.

Before that point, I sporadically posted generic videos I thought people wanted to watch; like maintenance videos, vlogs, etc. 

I was guilty of thinking that posting anything cycling-related would get views cause “this is YouTube; people will watch anything”

That video gave me a big signal on what my niche was and I leaned into it. It made me think of what my audience was actually looking for. I also started posting more regularly (i.e. every Friday morning).

I really enjoyed filming and I was starting to build a community. I felt like I owed the viewers something because they were invested in the videos and me.

By December 2019, I’d hit 20K subscribers. My strategy was largely the same but I did start posting 2 videos a week. The extra video a week was a series I was doing called “The Bicycle Diaries”. It was a weekly recap of the rides I was doing that week, the things I was thinking, and my rationale behind fitness... That sort of thing.

The next milestone was before/during the COVID lockdowns. It seemed like everyone wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle. In the UK you were allowed out for a walk/to ride a bicycle during lockdown so presumably people watched more content on riding bikes.

A video I posted 2 years prior started getting a lot more traction; it was called “Too Old To Cycle?”. And I also got featured as part of YouTube’s “Creator on the Rise” program early in 2020.

Videos like “Too Fat To Cycle?” and “Too Old To Cycle?” did well because they resonated with my audience of older, less fit people. They made cycling accessible to everyone.

During lockdown, a lot of middle-aged people were thinking about what they could do to get fit. So they Google “cycling over 50” and “cycling overweight” and my videos show up.

Ever since COVID, the channel has been steadily growing.

But I think the number of subscribers a channel has is a bit of a vanity metric. It’s nice to have subscribers but views are what I’m more interested in.

What does your content creation process look like?

It can take me up to 4 days to produce a video:

  • Researching and scripting (one day)
  • Filming (one day)
  • Editing and publishing (two days)

Researching and scripting

To research, I go on YouTube and try and find a popular topic. All cycling channels have perennial topics (like maintenance, nutrition, bikes, etc.) but some topics can be more trending than others.

I then come up with a title to make the topic sound more interesting and highlight what aspect of the topic I’m going to focus on.

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I’ll then write a full script word for word or cover it with bullet points. I never actually read my scripts; I just try and evolve it in my head as I deliver it to the camera candidly.

Editing

My editing process depends on the type of video I create. If I’m just sitting and talking, the challenge is incorporating B-roll footage into the video. But typically, one of those videos only takes a day to script and film and another day to edit.

I have terabytes and terabytes of cycling footage to go through to find the most appropriate clip to add in my videos.

If it’s something like a ride video where I’m just riding with my cycle camera, I can film and edit within a day because it’s so unstructured. It’s nice to just get out on the bike and talk.

Thumbnails

When creating thumbnails, I try and focus on how to build intrigue and think about the emotion I’m trying to convey in the video. But honestly, it’s one aspect of the creation process I struggle with. 

I use Final Cut Pro (which I also use to edit my videos) to create my thumbnails (by creating a mask). 

Promoting

I don't do anything to promote my videos outside of YouTube. The most I do is take note of when the best time to post is (via YouTube Analytics) and watch how the video performs in the first hour.

For me, getting 1K views in the first hour after publishing is ideal. I also try and answer all the comments in the first 3 hours after publishing.

How does your channel make money?

The channel earns money through:

  • AdSense (90%)
  • Patreon
  • Brand ambassadorship
  • Partnering with travel companies
  • Sponsorships

AdSense is my bread-and-butter income; it pays my mortgage and bills but isn’t enough to do anything nice. It’s also not the most consistent; it’s very up and down depending on views. I work as a freelance videographer separate from YouTube.

I don’t promote my Patreon much but I’ve got about 20-30 Patrons on there.

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I was a brand ambassador for a cycling clothing company that paid me a fee per month. I stopped that but will be resuming that shortly when the contract is finalised.

In the past, I’ve had travel partners who would sponsor cycling holidays (like trips to Italy and France) where I’d cycle with subscribers. My expenses would be paid and I’d receive a commission.

I do also get the odd sponsorship; I get sent products and charge fees occasionally if someone wants me to feature a product/do a review on the channel.

What are the key lessons you’ve learned from your journey?

😊 Be yourself. For a long time, I was posting videos about generic cycling-related stuff. I wanted to look like a typical cyclist. But then I posted the “Too Fat To Cycle?” video and it made me realise there’s an audience for me and my type of cycling content

Make the videos you enjoy making. Don’t try and make formulaic videos just to get views. Enjoy the process.

ğŸŽ¥ Production value is important, but not the most important thing. I worked as a videographer for a long time before starting YouTube. So naturally I hate things like wobbly cameras and jump cuts. But the quality of your content/message is more important.

What camera or background you have doesn’t matter. Just get out and make the videos as best you can in the way you want to make them.

⛔ Be prepared for negativity. YouTube is a public platform and there are going to be people that post negative comments for no other reason than to be nasty. It’s very easy for that to get in your head so learn how to deal with it. I recommend ignoring the negativity.

Where can we find out more about you? And is there anything else you’d like to add?

My YouTube channel and the Jollygoodvelo website if you’re interested in signing up for my newsletter.

If you’re thinking of taking up something good for your mental/physical health, consider cycling! You don’t have to ride dozens of miles; just grab any old bike and ride down the park.

There’s a lot of negativity in the world. It’s time to start thinking about things that make you feel positive. For me, that’s cycling. 

If it works for me, hopefully, it could work for someone else.

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