Daydream Imagination: Thinking Big With Danny MacAskill
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Daydream Imagination: Thinking Big With Danny MacAskill

A trials biker with grand ideas, Danny MacAskill speaks to VICE Sports about his life in the saddle
May 1, 2015, 8:00am

When I first gave Danny MacAskill a call to speak about his life as a professional trials cyclist there was no answer. 24 hours later he got in touch to say he'd ended up riding "way off in the Torridon Hills" of Scotland's Northwest Highlands. It seemed like a standard response from a guy who's life revolves around his bike.

29-year-old MacAskill first found fame with the Inspired Bicycles video he shot in Edinburgh with his mate Dave Sowerby. Released six years ago in April 2009, it has since accumulated in excess of 36 million YouTube hits and allowed Danny to turn trials biking from an all-consuming hobby into a full-blown profession.

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Since then he has made several more videos, expanding his conceptual horizons but still working with a group of close friends. The clips range from 2013's Imaginate – in which Danny brings his childhood bedroom alive in vivid Technicolor – to more recent offering The Ridge, a ride around along the mountain trails of his native Isle of Skye. The ideas run from epic to quirky, but are always visually stunning and grandly conceived. As Danny puts it, "if my mind was designed for one thing, it's daydreaming."

But MacAskill's childhood ambitions didn't extend quite so far into the clouds.

"My main aspiration when I was at school was to work at a bike shop in Aviemore called Bothy Bikes. I was really interested in the mechanics side of bicycles, plus it gave me lots of time to ride for myself. So I worked there for a few years, and when I started getting a little bit bored of the riding in Aviemore I moved to Edinbrigh to work in another shop – Macdonald Cycles – and ride around the city. My life has always revolved around my bike."

It was in Edinbrugh that Danny and his flatmate Dave shot Inspired Bicycles (below), a video that sets incredible trials bike riding against a city backdrop.

"We worked over the winter and made this video for ourselves. We had no expectations at all; I was happy with what I'd done. Then we put it online and suddenly it blew up. I was woken up the next day by BBC News and the papers looking for interviews.

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"Then I started getting proposals to go and do various things. I had a request from a Korean circus asking if I'd like to join them, and I was asked to go on the Ellen Degeneres show – really random stuff. About a month after that video came out I sat down and took stock of these requests and signed with Red Bull, plus a few more of my long-term sponsors."

Red Bull have been involved with much of Danny's post-2009 work; they've backed his ideas, allowed him creative control, and picked up medical bills when the the inevitable injuries occurred.

"They have such an incredible platform that allows me to do what I do. They've given me a lot of support and I've worked with them a lot in the past few years. That's not to take anything away from any of my other sponsors – they all support me in different ways – but with Red Bull it's possible to do stuff on the scale I do.

"And it's all my friends that I work with on the films – it's not huge production teams. Whether it's Dave, who filmed the Inspired Bicycles video or my friend Stu Thompson, it's always friends that I go away and work with on these videos for Red Bull."

One of the more eye-catching was the boldly colourful Imaginate, filmed with Danny's mate Stu.

"I basically recreated my childhood bedroom. And that was the kind of project they were really good to believe in, because it's a pretty out-there idea. All I had to show them for this huge project were these terrible drawings that looked like a four-year-old could have done them – stick men drawings of various tricks I wanted to do. And they were good enough to back that project and have my friends involved in making it."

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They also helped him to film a video in Epecuén, an abandoned spa town in Argentina. The dystopian vibe created in the clip is weirdly haunting, coming across like an end-of-the-world bike ride amid sun-bleached ruins.

"Before 2009 I was focussed entirely on my riding. Since then my 'job' has been to come up with these films and my mindset has definitely changed. I'm as focussed as ever on riding, but I look at the broader picture of trying to find locations that will make an incredible backdrop. I found Epecuén on a blog a few years ago and had it saved in a list of places I wanted to go. Red Bull made it happen in early 2014, so I flew out with a few friends and filmed for a couple of weeks."

His latest video is [The Ridge](<iframe width=), which MacAskill calls "a project very close to my heart."

"I grew up on the Isle of Skye and, no matter where you are on the island, the Cuillin Mountains are very prominent; they make up a big part of the view. I remember as a kid looking up at them and thinking, 'Wow, I wonder what's up there.' I kinda had this idea for the film for a while. So me and my friend Stu, who filmed Imaginate, we decided that we wanted to make it, but do so a little more independently. I'd been doing bigger productions for Red Bull, but for this one we just wanted to keep expectations low.

"We set aside 10 days in summer last year to go up and try to film and it was a miracle. The long-term forecast looked terrible but day by day it got better and better. We really lucked out with the whole thing.

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The result mixes stunning mountain visuals with a death-defying ride along the notorious Cuillin Ridgeline. There's also time for an absurd frontflip that sends MacAskill over a barbed-wire fence.

"I think there are a lot of mountain bikers who've had run-ins with fences – I know I've had a few over the years. I ride my mountain bike quite a lot but I'm not necessarily world-class on it. So I thought if I can do these kinda tricks – especially that one – it'll be a bit different and get people talking. It was fun; it's cool to dream up this stuff and actually go through with it.

"The Ridge was quite an unusual one. Often if I'm doing a street video clip – say when I was filming Inspired Bicycles – if I got one trick done a day, that was a success. But because I'm on the mountain bike, there's a lot of shots where I'm just riding down trails. So it's more a case of lugging the gear up, the weather being right, getting the light…

"We actually managed to piece The Ridge together in six days of filming, which is ridiculously quick. I had such low expectations for the film and I was amazed at how viral it's gone. It's quite made. But I'm pleased – and it's a nice advert for Skye."

MacAskill's work isn't a solely visual experience. Since the beginning his videos have relied heavily on music that fits the mood and hits the beats of his riding.

"I spend hours looking for music for videos and saving it for different ideas. Like for Imaginate: I grew up watching a lot of '80s cartoons which had amazing glam metal intros, so I wanted something along those lines. And with The Ridge, I'd had that Martyn Bennett track saved for a while to use for the film. Sometimes the tunes you want don't work; the beats don't fit, or it doesn't have enough ups and downs, or the ending fades out – all these kinds of things. It's a lot of work looking for tracks but I think it makes up at least 50% of your viewing pleasure. And then there's the editing, the camera work… the small part is the riding!"

MacAskill laughs at the thought of calling himself an athlete. But the control and balance he possesses on a bike is nothing if not a feat of athleticism. The way he can make it shift and bounce as if an extension of his body is a sight to behold, no doubt the reward for a youth spent almost entirely in the saddle. But what has really separated him from his contemporaries is his knack for dreaming up bold ideas – and having friends who can help him pull them together.

"At some point I'm going to get to the stage where I can't do all these ideas, and it'd be quite good to hand them on to some younger riders," he says, though he clearly has no plans to stop any time soon. And even when he does, bikes will remain an integral part of his world.

"I'd like to own a bike shop one day," he muses. "I think that'd be pretty cool – a nice peaceful existence. But for now I really just want to make the most of the opportunity I've got. I want to keep making these films and enjoying it."