While some youngsters use sport to avoid a life of crime, Danny MacAskill went the other route: “My parents took my bike off me for the whole summer when I was 13 – they were fed up with the local policeman coming to our door once a week.” Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly Al Capone doing wheelies but, millions of YouTube hits later, the 27-year-old trials cyclist has revisited his rebellious Skye childhood for Imaginate – a video filmed in a stunt course based on his eight-year-old self’s bedroom.
What was the toughest stunt for the new video?
Doing a front flip on to a large inflatable red ball, bouncing on my back, and using that momentum to throw me forward before jumping the bike on to a train platform for another big frontwards flip from a ramp. Most of the big tricks took me between 200 and 300 tries to do. Sometimes, getting a trick right is not necessarily satisfaction, but relief.
What was your first bike?
I think my first bike might have been out of a skip. The first proper bike I was bought was a black Raleigh Burner, which led me on to my first mountain bike when I was about 11, which I then snapped parts off and gradually transformed into a trials bike.
How does the Raleigh Burner compare with the bike that you ride today?
Just the two wheels [laughs]. For seven years, I’ve been riding for a company called Inspired Bicycles, who let me design my own signature bike – the frame is aluminium and its braking system is extremely sharp – if a novice got on it, the first thing they’d notice would be the strength of the brakes.
What’s the biggest height you’ve ever dropped from?
About 14ft. That stuff doesn’t take a lot of skill. There’s a certain point that goes past skill and you just hold on. It’s not even bravery, just knowing – knowing what’s coming for you at the bottom of the drop, and that’s flat concrete. So there’s not really a lot you can do apart from hold on and get your technique right.
Have you ever got it wrong?
Plenty of times – there was a drop in Sweden a while ago of about 13ft to flat concrete. I mucked up the technique – I basically landed two wheels together, a fundamental error as you absorb the full force. It was shot on a fancy camera and you could actually see my left wrist bend back way further than it should. Fortunately, it didn’t break.
What major injuries have you had?
The most long-term one I’ve had is when I tore a disc in my back. I had that operated on last year, and I’m still on a slow recovery. I’ve broken my left collar bone three times, I have a pin in my right wrist, tore a disc in my knee and I’ve broken both feet several times. On the project, I knocked myself out. But injuries give you time to assess things.
The three breaks of my collar bone came when filming The Way Back Home, my last big video shot around my local town. It wasn’t nice, but it gave me more time to go out to look for locations, meaning I found even better places to try stuff.
Does the weather affect your riding?
Not riding – some of my best stunts have come when it has been pouring with rain. The only problem I’ve had with drizzly weather is that a grey sky doesn’t tend to look good on camera. Red Bull’s camera crews are as good as you’ll get, but we’ve spent a lot of time on top of hills waiting for the clouds to part.
You’re well known in Skye and Glasgow for your videos – do people ever come up to you now during tricks?
It’s more when I go out riding by myself, and it’s cool – especially when families say hello. I’m always surprised by the demographic who tell me they’ve seen the videos. Another bonus about the videos is that even homeless people around Glasgow know about them, so when they ask for a stunt, I’m more than happy to show them.
Go to redbull.com/imaginate to see Danny MacAskill’s new riding clip
(Image: Rutger Pauw)