Regardless of your preferred discipline on two wheels, if you ride a bike you’ve probably heard of Danny MacAskill. Born in 1985 and raised in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skyle, Scotland, Danny is a professional street trials rider and he’s notched up over 450 million views on YouTube.
The story begins on 19th April, 2009, when Danny posted a five minute street trials video on YouTube. With ‘The Funeral’ by Band of Horses as its soundtrack and filmed by his flatmate Dave Sowerby, the video became Danny’s ‘breakthrough moment’, attracting hundreds of thousands of views overnight. Since then the whole world has gone crazy each time Danny releases a new clip; and there have been many. Way Back Home, a collaboration with Red Bull Media House in November 2010, charged up 41 million views, while Imaginate in 2013 amassed a staggering 89 million views.
But it’s not just about the views and it’s definitely not about becoming a ‘YouTube’ sensation for Danny. Viral fame gives him a stage on which to share his skills, but he’s also the founder of the Drop and Roll Tour, which takes live shows to bike festivals around the world. Danny’s holed up in Scotland when we catch up for this interview.
How has lockdown been treating you?
“Things have actually been treating me pretty well. I am kind of locking down in a house up in the highlands of Scotland near a small ski resort called Aviemore, which has some pretty amazing trails on the door step. Maybe not quite at Morzine’s level but it’s pretty amazing and I am putting many miles in on the new e-bike.”
You could be classed as one of the fore-fathers of the YouTube generation, obviously it helped to put you where you are today. But what do you think of people aspiring to be a YouTuber or Influencer?
“For sure I was at the right place at the right time making the right content. Back in 2009 I put my first video on YouTube. Not on my own, but on the channel of my bike sponsor at that time – Inspired Bicycles. Little did I know that it was going to go viral back then and put me in the position to be able to take on lots of other partners and to really start riding my bike for a living. It’s crazy to think that YouTube was only four years old back in 2009 and now it has become such a huge part of everybody’s life. It’s hard to say what I think about people aspiring to be a YouTuber or Influencer. I think as long as you are doing it for the right reasons then it’s perfectly fine. We all had our heroes going up – it’s just a different time. You know, whether it was wanting to appear in a magazine or a DVD, nowadays we have all this amazing media right at our fingertips. We can watch any pro in the world and all the latest new stuff. It’s pretty cool but I would say there’s also a slightly unhealthy side to the YouTube content – especially the way the algorithms work. It can kind of turn you into a slave to them. By having to make more and more content, uploading it more and more regularly, which can end up maybe putting you into a position where you’re not doing it for fun. But in general, there’s a lot of opportunity out there for everyone. And it’s not going away anytime soon, it’s only gonna get bigger so you may as well go with it.”
How many hours a day do you spend on your bike? And how do you balance training versus pleasure?
“Almost every single minute I spent on my bike I class as pleasure. I am not really a competitive guy and I really just like to ride for fun. I still ride my bike with the same attitude as I did when I was eight years old – just going out and enjoying the freedom that it gives me. I just love being creative on my bike. The only time it feels different than training is when I am filming. Then I am obviously pushing myself to do the biggest and best things I can on my bike with an overall goal of making a film that I usually come up with a concept for.”
What was the first moment you realised bikes were your life?
“Ever since I got my first bike I have been totally hooked on riding. And really from the first moments I straight away tried to do skids and wheelies. I have no idea where the influence for trying tricks came from at the beginning; it’s just something I have always wanted to do. I was always slightly crazier than my friends and usually the first person to hit a jump for the first time or to jump off the highest wall of the village.”
As one of the most creative and imaginative people on a bike, who are your riding influences?
“My riding influences are riders like legend Hans Rey, a Swiss-German rider who has been riding professionally for over 30 years. He has been a huge influence on me and still is today. He really shows that with the right professional attitude and with the right mindset you can do this a long time, which is often a question I get asked.
Other riders that have really influenced me in my career are British riders like Martyn Ashton and Martin Hawyes who were always in the magazines when I was growing up. Chris Akrigg is another amazingly creative rider that can do anything on any bike. He has been an influence on me, not just riding the trials bike but to branch out and to ride on the mountain bike and anything with two wheels. And then there’s also Canadian rider Ryan Leech and US rider Jeff Lenosky – those guys really had a big influence on me growing up.”
Are you influenced and/or inspired by different riding disciplines, for example BMX?
“Yes, for sure, BMX has been something I’ve looked to for many years. When I lived in Edinburgh working in a bike shop, actually lived in a flat with four BMXers. Back then YouTube hadn’t quite developed to what it is today and you usually got your content every six months to a year through the next big DVD release. When we got one of these DVDs in the post, we all gathered around the TV and watched it over and over again, taking in every minute. And in some ways for me back then I was really heavily influenced by how much work went into each segment. That’s something that I try to take to my videos nowadays, as if I am making a standalone part for one of these videos. And obviously the creativity and the size of the tricks that go down in BMX is something that has heavily influenced me.”
How has your upbringing in Skye influenced your style, determination and attitude?
“That‘s a good question! I grew up in a small village called Dunvegan on Isle of Skye with only 200 residents. There wasn’t much riding for me to do on the trials bike but what little there was I rode the hell out of it. I used to persuade my parents to get me some wooden pallets for the garden so I could build different obstacles and build my level. There were also a few walls down the street and all the edges soon became rounded with my riding on them, but if it wasn‘t for those walls I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because I did not have a huge amount to ride it meant I had to become more creative to keep myself motivated to ride every day. So instead of learning to get up higher and higher on obstacles, I would instead learn how to do spins and learn how to do some flatland moves, which later in my life have become
really important to the videos I am making. So I am really grateful for having a limited amount of riding in my past.”
Of all the films you’ve made, which is your favourite?
“It’s hard to say. The films I have made have all had their real stand out moments and have been some of the favourite times of my life. The one that stands out for me as being one of the coolest has to be a film called The Ridge, which I filmed on Isle of Skye back in 2014 with my friends. We had very low expectations for the film – not working with some of the bigger sponsors that I usually work with like Red Bull, but instead going with some smaller sponsors and just a small team heading up into the mountains. It was the first project that I’d ever really done on the mountain bike and I had never been up on top of the mountains there properly until we started filming. Skye isn’t known for its good weather but while we were filming for the six days we ended up getting some amazing blue skies, which made for some really cool shots. At one point I climbed up on to this piece of rock called the Inaccessible Pinnacle, a two hundred foot piece of rock that sticks out from the rest of the landscape around it. And while standing up there at seven o’clock in the morning, there was mist over the ridge line, I was looking at my home island thinking that this was one of the coolest moments of my life so far. And we were really shocked when we released the film that it went quite as virally as it did, having more than 70 million views to date. That one was really fun!”
Are you inspired by a location to attempt a new trick, or do you have a trick in mind then hunt for the location? What comes first?
“That’s a good question! I use all sorts of things to give me inspiration for the next film. I spend hours discovering Google images, looking for different locations around the world for the next idea. Sometimes it can also be a piece of music that I listen to and I kind of picture in my mind exactly what kind of film would work perfectly to that. That’s how Cascadia, a film I made in 2015, came together. I really wanted to do a rooftop film and had that in mind for a while and when I listened to The Dodos music track ‘Fools’, I could just picture trying to ride around the top of some really colourful flat roof buildings and it would be an obvious one to do with my sponsor GoPro. So I ended up scouting the internet and we found this place in Gran Canaria called Las Palmas that had all these amazing colourful buildings and it worked out perfectly. For other tricks I draw little stickman drawings of tricks and then I discover the countryside or the city, trying to find a very specific location that allows me to do it. This can sometimes be a nightmare.”
Of all of your films, which trick has taken you longest to nail on camera?
“That’s very hard to say. I often go through this process while filming the hardest tricks of the films, or as we call them, the bangers. Often I never tried the trick until I am on location with the cameras rolling. There have been many tricks from many films that have taken multiple days and hundreds of tries. One of the standout ones for me has to be the log slide in Wee Day Out. This was a trick where I basically rolled down a hill, we found this dead tree which had no bark on it, which was lying horizontal and was also very slippy. And the idea was that I jumped onto the tree, tried to slide along on my crankarm, with my tyres on either side, get to a certain point and jump off a two meter drop on the other side. This trick took me four hundred attempts over four days and I probably had over a hundred cashes trying it.”
What do you think of Morzine and the surrounding area? Where do you most like to ride when here?
“I really love riding in Morzine. It’s definitely one of my top destinations in the world to ride mountain bikes. I first rode there back in 2008 after riding the Megavalanche and then spending a week in the valley. It rained every day when I was there but I loved every minute of it. Riding on the Pleney or riding on Super Morzine or even riding over into Châtel – it’s just amazing to have that network of trails specifically made for mountain bikes. And it was one of my first experiences riding on a chairlift to the top of the trails, which is pretty sweet. I have been there a few times since, riding with world cup riders for Santa Cruz bicycles. This time on the dusty trails trying to keep up and for sure it’s somewhere I try to get to at least once every year.”
I always think your films make great destination marketing tools, with the Santa Cruz European HQ here in Morzine can we hope for Morzine version?
“Well, thank you! You never know. As I said I would like to try to go over to Morzine at least once every year which can be tricky with my busy schedule but even for some personal time I would love to get to Morzine just to come and shred so hopefully I’ll see you guys there soon.”
What should we expect next? What have you got in the pipeline?
“Well I think as with everybody this year, plans have changed quite dramatically. I did have plans for some projects in The States and some projects on the European continent, but they have all been put on hold at the moment. So just now I am focussing closer to home, back in Scotland. I have lots of ideas that I have always wanted to do here but I have never had the time because I was travelling around the world. So stay tuned on my channels to see some more content from me soon!”