Born and raised in Dunvegan on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Danny MacAskill knew he was born to ride and spent all his time either cycling or repairing bikes as a bicycle mechanic. But all that changed in 2009 when he and his roommate and closest friend, Dave Sowerby, filmed and uploaded a five-and-a-half-minute video to YouTube featuring him performing a series of bike stunts. However, these weren’t just your everyday, run-of-the-mill bike stunts. These were heart-pumping, death-defying, and utterly unbelievable feats of agility, strength, creativity, and amazing use of the natural landscape and manmade features of Edinburgh, Scotland.
With hundreds of thousands of views overnight–and with more than 40 million views since 2009–he video went viral, and a new career was born for this then 23-year-old. Now, with upwards of 20 viral videos that can be found on the internet, corporate sponsorships from the likes of Red Bull, Santa Cruz Bicycles, Adidas, GoPro, Eberspächer and more, the founding of the Drop and Roll Tour of street trials riding, and stunt appearances in Hollywood movies and commercials, MacAskill is the iconic face of the relatively obscure, yet amazing to behold, cycling genre of street trials.
We caught up with MacAskill by phone as he was driving from his hometown to London.
We’ve read lots of descriptions of your biking style. How would YOU describe what you do on a bike?
I’m a professional street trials rider and mountain biker. Street trials is basically a very specific style of bike with a low frame and seat and very powerful brakes. But it has to be very strong. I use that bike to jump up and over obstacles like railings. I also do tricks like back flips and front flips. I try to ride on the most interesting things you can ride a bicycle on. I’m also riding mountain bikes, as well. I’ve never been a competitive athlete. I’ve never entered any competition. I’m just lucky that a video I made back in 2009 about the riding I was doing at the time went viral on YouTube. And I was able to turn it into a professional career.
The internet came along at the right time for me. I’ve been doing it now for 12 years. There were riders and heroes of mine that have been doing the style of riding that I’ve been doing. The internet was just a way of getting it out to more people. I was the start of the next generation of my heroes.
You are like an artist on a bike. Where do you find your inspiration?
I felt like I was doing the best riding I could do on my first film. But once the film went viral and the sponsorships for companies like Red Bull, Continental Tire, and Eberspächer came along, I realized that trying to one-up myself with the same genre was a difficult thing to do. So, I tried to theme the videos I was making.
I recreated my bedroom as a kid, imagining what my 8-year-old self would play with, pretending I could do all these kinds of tricks. I’ve done rooftops, mountains on my home island of Skye. Each time I try to create something I can apply my skills to.
Which is your favorite video?
The Ridge is very close to my heart. We filmed it on the mountain range of the Black Cuillin. It was cool to show off my home island. It’s everything a modern viral video should be. It captures peoples’ attention right at the beginning; it has great scenery. It was amazing weather.
Music is a big part of your videos. What’s your go-to music genre?
The music for me is 50% of what makes the videos I’ve made in the past successful. The music is what brings the style and emotion to the project. It’s what sets the scene and makes people relate. Spotify is something I use every single day. I like a lot of electronic music for myself. For the films I make, it’s really music that is a lot more emotive.
Where has been your favorite biking destination?
The Swiss Alps. It’s like a dream land for riding bikes.
Do you compete?
There are no competitions in the kind of riding that I do. I’m not really an athlete. I ride my bike every day, but I don’t necessarily train. I just ride for fun. I’m not really that competitive. I’m just lucky that there is this niche where you can make these kinds of films and make a living out of it. There are more people out there making a living from making street trials films than there is in competition.
You founded the Drop and Roll tour in 2014. How many events do you typically perform in a year?
We normally do around twenty dates in a typical year all around the world, from Monterey to Jakarta. But we’re mainly based in Europe because we usually drive all over. Germany, Austria, Scotland. I quite enjoy the shows. I’m not necessarily a fan of performing in front of people, but I know what it’s like to be a kid in the crowd and getting to see riding in real life. It’s a nice feeling for me to be able to perform in front of fans of the sport, especially a younger audience and hopefully inspire them to get on their bikes or get into the sport.
What are you traveling in now?
I’ve owned camper since 2015. I bought it off a guy that was racing quad bikes (known as ATVs in the U.S.). I bought it to use as a base and accommodation for me and my friends who are working on the film projects with me. I also use it for some of the shows we do at festivals for Drop & Roll.
Tell us about it.
It’s 39-feet long, based on a Mercedes Atego chassis, with a custom-built cab. It’s a 2008 with about 26,000 miles on it. I’ve had it completely renovated for my own space needs. It has an 18-foot slide out with black leather sofas in the living room. I like to have gatherings in my camper. The most we’ve had was about 60 people.
There is a dinette, a simple kitchen with a sink, storage, gas cooker, microwave, and refrigerator. When the slide is out, there is one bunk room, and a bathroom. There is also a bed above the cab.
Beyond the bunk room is a storage area for bikes and camera equipment, and two additional berths that come down from the wall.
We’ve renovated it twice. All new upholstery, we changed out the boot by removing shelving and adding the two berths, we took out anything that could easily break (when you have 60 people, you need it to be sturdy). I prefer it rough and tough. It’s had a lot of work.
What’s your favorite thing about staying on your van versus a hotel room?
I personally like sleeping in the top bunk above the cab. The camper van is very well suited to winter. It’s got a great Eberspächer heating system. I love going on missions with friends and being able to ride out of the back.
What are your three favorite things onboard?
The boot space is pretty amazing. To have the space to dry your kit, store your stuff and bikes, the smoke machine built in under the cooker to smoke up the dance floor for a good party, and the sound system.
What else do you do when you are on road?
Only myself and Dave, who is a close friend and the photographer for most of the projects, have the license to drive the camper. So, we’re often driving. We’ll have an editing session. We make podcasts. We socialize.
Do you cook onboard?
We like to cook but we usually cook fairly simple things. We try not to make too many things that require a lot of washing up.
Highways or scenic routes?
We do everything. I come from a small island, which goes very quickly from highways to small roads. I personally like driving on winding roads. It’s just driving a big van.
Did you grow up camping?
Yes. I grew up in a rural place and we were camping a lot. I did a fair amount when I was younger.