I recently got a chance to talk with superstar MTB rider Danny MacAskill about learning tricks on his lunch break and his recent film project Way Back Home. It's his latest viral video, filmed from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye on his home island of Scotland. He is also a stunt double--you can see his work in the movie Preimium Rush.
Most people look at lines to ride. Why do you look at surfaces?
When I cycle around a city I'm always on the look out for features or obstacles which could be linked together in a line. The great thing is that it can be anything i.e a broken slab in the pavement which I could maybe bump off on to a wall then on to a rail then down a set of stairs. Anything can be linked with anything! Most things are rideable in some way on my trials bike--the only thing which is a wee bit dodgy to ride are polished silver railings. They don't give you any warming when your tires are going to slip of them!
Riding the fence was pretty ground-breaking for you. Did you look at it one day and think, "I can ride that?"
I used to ride past the spiky fence every day on my way to work for about a year. On my way I would think to myself, "I will try to ride along that one day." The only way I would try it would be for a video, but the video would have to have a lot of other good riding filmed for it already before I would try riding along the fence. So after spending four months or so filming the Inspired 2009 video, I though I may as well give it a go. After four days of attempts on my lunch breaks from the bike shop, I finally did it.
Was the danger sign really there? Is that what drew you to the fence?
Yeah the danger sign was really there. It's not what drew me to the fence, but it was a cool little thing to put in the video. It's all the little things like that which make the edit what it is. That all comes down to Dave Sowerby's amazing eye for detail!
Have you ever looked at something and thought, "I can't do that."
Well I generally feel I have a pretty good idea what I'm capable of. I am quite a dreamer though. I spend a lot of time thinking about ridiculous riding setups or tricks just before I go to sleep at night. In the new film I made for Red Bull this year, The Way Back Home, you can see some off the crazy ideas I had that, with a lot of help from my friends, became reality. Like the peat kicker onto the red telephone box, or the freeride/dirt jump/trials setup I built on an Island off the Isle of Skye on what was an old iron mine. The front flip off Edinburgh Castle at the start of the video was a dream that I never imagined would work, but one hour of learning and it was a reality.
How many injuries have you had?
Over the years I have been very lucky with injures. When I was younger, I would be one of those kids who would just bounce when I crashed. I tend to ride within my limits and know what I can and can't do, which lets me ride more and spend less time injured. The most common injures I've had on my trials bike are bruised heels and broken feet or rolled ankles as I tend to try to land on them when I crash from height. I had an unfortunate string off crashes last winter which left me with three broken collarbones in a row and having to have a plate fitted on the second break only to break it again three months later! Going as fast and getting loose on my mountain bikes is just too much fun, but that seems to mean breaking bones as well.
What do you do with yourself during that time?
Injury is all part of riding. It quite often allows other long-term injures time to heal. As long as it's not been too many weeks, I feel almost stronger on the bike. I was off my bike for nine months over last winter that gave me a lot of time to research The Way Back Home Project, and to think about all the new tricks I wanted to learn. Other than that, I would hang out with my friends and eat lots of tasty food. I did try to do a little bit of gym work, but being in a gym really isn't for me. I like my exercise to be fun and interesting. The best exercise is the kind where you put in all your effort and don't ever realize it.
What do you learn about yourself when you are injured?
I'm not too sure really. For me, injury comes hand-in-hand with riding. It's something that happens, so I don't think about it too much or I wouldn't do the things I do every day. All I think about when I'm injured is how good it's going to be doing sweet skids again on my bike.
I'd Imagine you have to live in the moment to ride what you do. Has a scattered mind ever gotten the better of you?
This year has been a very hard year to make a film. The Way Back Home Project was in the works from September 2009, right about the time I broke the first of three collar bones. I planned to start filming for it in April, but because I broke my collar bone a couple more times, it really ate into the time for filming and meant I had to ride for the whole project still injured with a bad back. The locations I chose to ride made it even harder. When I scouted them, I only imagined riding with blue skies, no Midgys, and my riding exactly where I wanted it to be. In reality, I found myself in locations where I only had one chance to do the trick of my dreams and I often found that I really had to dig deep to do it. It was very frustrating at times, but I would usually do it in the end.
What ride is the most memorable?
Building the dirt jump setup on the Island Rasaay with all my friends this year was really was amazing. It was so cool to get them all involved in something so crazy and so fun. The weather this summer in Scotland wasn't very kind to me. Getting the right conditions for Rasaay was probably the hardest, most time consuming bike riding line I have ever done. It took three days to build, and about nine days over a few weeks trying to ride it in the pouring rain. But then one day, the weather was perfect and we managed to get the riding done just as the sun dropped behind the hills on Skye. It was such a relief and it felt so good getting it ridden properly for my friends who put in so much effort.
Do you do anything other than riding bikes to keep fit?
Not really. I try anything I get the opportunity to do, but I find mountain biking the most versatile form of exercise to do in Scotland as it's amazing riding down muddy, sloppy trails.
How do you hone in your cat-like balance skills?
It's not something I train for at all. I just ride along things with the intention of making it to the end. It's all about trial and error and just keeping at it.
For the type of riding you do, is an urban environment more interesting than the woods?
It is much easier coming up with lines to ride in a city because every thing has nice, smooth run-ups and run-outs. Riding natural is a lot of fun because it's so challenging, but for the kind of riding I do I prefer riding riding concrete. Plus, it is all lit up at night.
Does your family have a tartan?
Yes the MacAskills do have their own Tartan, although its a pretty rare one. I had to have my kilt specially made.
When did you realize you were good at this?
I have always been into riding my bike. Ever since I first got a bike, I was constantly skidding through tires and doing wheelies. I have always just ridden for fun and I look at my riding exactly the same way today as I did when I was eight years old.
Didn't you ride every day to work then decide to jump off the roof?
The roof to roof gap between MacDonald cycle and the copy shop was something I had been eyeing up for years, but I always though that MacDonald Cycle roof had ridges or gutters which would affect my run up. But one day, my friend Nash climbed up to check it out for me and it was fine, so I did the gap. It was actually one of the easier things I rode for the Inspired video as it was straight forward and not too technical.
Is the RV your favorite home of late? When did the disco ball make an appearance?
I really can't say in words how much I have loved living in that camper van. It really is the best thing that has happened in my life. Well, there are probably other better things, but it's up there for sure. It's like traveling around in a mobile disco with a kitchen, shower and toilet, and enough beds to sleep five people. It is so good driving down the road adjusting the rear view mirror so I can see if my sausage rolls are ready in the oven, then putting on the cruise control are going and making a cup of tea to go with them. I also bought loads of speakers including 2 x12-inch subs, a disco ball, a big flashing strip light, a strobe light, and a smoke machine, which make driving hazardous at times. The camper van was an essential tool for all the filming I was doing this year as we could stay on location for days and be up at sunrise at not have to travel too far.
It has to be Sheep Shagger beer made by Cairngorm Brewery. It's very tasty.
Where do you like to ride in the US?
Well the only places I have ridden in the US are San Diego and New York. I have been to California twice in the last year, but the two times I have been there I have broken my collar bone, so to me it seems to be a dangerous place. I really enjoyed riding the streets of New York as it felt like I was riding in a film the whole time. I really want to ride the Moab desert at some point. The rock looks like it would be a lot of fun to ride.
What was the hardest thing about doing stunts in Premium Rush?
Doing the stunts for the film Premium Rush was a lot of fun! It was like nothing I had done before, getting chased by stunt men dressed as police over cars and other obstacles was really fun. It was a nice change from getting chased by real police around the cities. Joking--of course they have no chance. It wasn't as hard doing the stunts as it was repeating them over and over. I am used to doing stunts I haven't landed before.
Did you ever blow the stunts or get stage fright?
I lost my balance a couple of times riding along some Jersey barriers. I actually didn't really get nervous as I felt confident I could do everything they wanted me to do.
How do you customize your bike for stunts?
My Inspired trials bike is specifically designed for the riding I do. Everything on it, from the Hope and Atom Lab wheels to the Shimano Saint front brake and chain set are on there to take the beating I give it every day. The only modifications I do that you couldn't get from the shops is run a long rear brake hose so I can do tailwhips. I also run water in my rear Magura brake to make it lighter to pull. I also run my front brake hose through the steering tube so my handle bars can spin round freely.
I know you have some how-to videos coming out. Give me three tips to be a better rider.
I filmed a series of five tricks that are featured in the cool new video I made with my friend, Dave Sowerby, in the streets of London for my clothing sponsor DigDeep.
The riding video is on YouTube (Danny MacAskill "Streets of London" presented by DigDeep) and we should have the how-to appearing on there very soon.
My top three tips to become a better rider are:
1. Always ride your bike for fun and for yourself.
2. Think outside the box. Your bike rolls on two wheels over all sorts of terrain, so go out and ride on it all. Try to link things together that you haven't tried before.
3. Practice makes perfect. Try things over and over and once you learn a trick, keep doing it on bigger and bigger things to make you feel comfortable facing new riding spots.
What are the biggest mistakes people make as new riders?
I see a lot of kids starting out riding with the goal to be sponsored. It's a really good thing to have goals and ambitions with riding and in life, but I think its important to ride your bike because it's fun. I believe if you get good enough at something, and you ride your bike for fun, then the right people will take notice and things like sponsorship will happen naturally. The other mistake you can make as a new rider is to go straight into trying the more advanced tricks before you have the basics dialed. Like trying to back flip before learning to manual properly. Learning all the basics will make you a much more well-rounded rider.
What do you think needs to change in the street trials community?
I don't think anything really needs to change in street trials, I just think people shouldn't spend too much time looking and chatting online about what other people are doing and just go out and work on creative riding ideas of their own.
Are these places in Way Back Home your favorite locations?
All of the locations for the Way Back Home Film were locations I scouted myself. I have hundreds of photos on my laptop of random dams, phone boxes, castles, and old concrete buildings all over Scotland. For me, I really couldn't have made a film that meant more to me than filming back home in Dunvagan on the Isle Of Skye and all over Scotland, getting my friends involved along the way. It really was the best thing I have done in my life. Not all the locations worked out, but in the end, myself, Dave, and Mark Huskisson had a lot of fun making it and I hope people from Scotland and around the world look at the scenery and think it's as an amazing place as I do.