His First Name is “Dangerous” - The Dan Cowan Interview

Jan 6, 2016
by Mike Berard  
In the beginning - before the North Shore, before cedar skinnies and teeter-totters, before Kranked - there was “Dangerous” Dan Cowan. Infamous for both his iconic trailbuilding and balls-out riding on a rotating fleet of clapped out bikes in the North Shore Extreme film series, the North Vancouver-raised legend was recently inducted into the Marin County Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. Alongside longtime friend Todd “Digger” Fiander, the duo is credited with creating 35 trails - over 55 kilometres worth - in Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains. More importantly, their work defined the style of trail that came to be known worldwide as “North Shore”: towering skinnies, massive wheelie drops, and cedar-slat ladder bridges. Dangerous Dan moved to Bowen Island in 2001, and now he teaches math, physics and science at West Vancouver Secondary. We caught up with the newly minted mountain bike icon by telephone to chat about the Hall of Fame induction, fatherhood and the steep and gnarly he still rides.

Thanks for taking the time to chat, Dan. Tell us a bit about your origin story.

The whole shamdangle started in the early ‘90s. I lived on the North Shore for most of my life…I moved there when I was 10. I didn’t start mountain biking until I was 21, but I got into it quick and got good quick. In those days, there was this crazy energy going on. There was really only a half dozen of us out there constantly building, and Digger and I were the most prolific ones.

Danger - Bookwus. Photo by Todd Fiander photo Todd Fiander
Going back to the start. Dan on Bookwus, image by Digger.
Dan in the early years of the Flow Show and Flow Riders, unknown photographer.

It’s fair to say that era of mountain biking - the beginning of freeride - was a big shift in the sport. How long do you think that shift happened for?

That spirit of freeride thing went all the way through to the late ‘90s…into the 2000s. That’s when things started to change, in a sense that it was no longer “new.” Of course, freeriding is still happening, but the new stuff since then hasn’t had a paradigm shift like back then. It was a fascinating time to be a part of.

You and Digger have always been recognized for your pivotal roles in that progression, but how does it feel to be officially recognized with your induction into the Hall of Fame?

It’s pretty cool. It’s nice to be part of the history of something like mountain biking. If I wasn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame, I’m sure I would have been remembered still, but it’s a big honour to be alongside big names like Nicolas Vouilloz, Hans Rey and John Stamstad. These guys are legends for different reasons, but legends nonetheless. I’d never refer to myself as a “legend” but when you get inducted you realize people think of you as something. I’m older now and withdrawn from the bike industry now so the recognition is cool.

How do you feel withdrawn from the industry? Do you mean because the North Shore was a new thing?

I’ve always felt withdrawn from the industry, because of lots of things. There was a time when the [Flying] Circus was in its prime, and that trail was my pinnacle as far as the North Shore went. I was proud that we were building and riding something no one else in the world was doing, but I wasn’t like Wade [Simmons]. I mean, I was a decent rider, but those guys made everything look easy. I guess I did ride stuff that Wade would have problems with…

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That stuff on the North Shore was a first for mountain biking. A whole trail would take a year or more to build. It was an investment. One of the things that made me different was the time and effort I was investing without monetary gain. I wasn’t making any money, or doing it for a film shoot, or to impress friends. It was never about that. It was about riding whatever I could imagine myself riding. I didn’t really have any financial end goal.

You didn’t make any money?

I did end up making some money - I made a whack load on an international commercial. But I never planned on it. I got a phone call one day. It was for a commercial for Nissan Xterra about extreme mountain biking. I got the job because no one else could do what I did…it was on The Flying Circus. I did two days of work and made $80,000 or something over two years of residual payments. It was a big payout…then again, I guess you could say I was paid like $30-40/hour if I put, say 2000 hours into building The Flying Circus! In that sense, I guess it paid off, but in the end, I did it purely for the love. I didn’t have a bike or apparel sponsor that I was promoting. It was just for love.

There’s a funny story actually…the day before the Nissan shoot I was up on the Circus shooting with Jorli Ricker for Ride to the Hills. I never got paid for those kinds of shoots. I was hitting the Lobotimizer 2000 over and over. There was just us (Jorli and myself) and a photographer. The next day with Nissan, I’m there with 50+ people, smoke machines, massive lights, bacon-wrapped scallops for lunch. I was about to ride the sky bridge for the 20th time and I turn to tell a dude about the "mountain bike film" shoot the day before to make the contrast. It turns out the guy was a head honcho from Nissan..he was like ‘good thing you didn't hurt yourself.’ Back then, that would have never occurred to me, but he sure was right!

Dan also filled in for Lance Armstrong in this road/offroad commercial that you can view in low res here.

Tyler and Dan filming.
  Tyler Klassen and Danger filming during the paradigm shift era in freeride. Images by Ian Hylands.

Tell us about the new course you’re teaching.

I’m teaching a sustainable resource course at West Vancouver Secondary which is kind of for alternative courses. One of the things we are doing is going out and doing trail building class on North Shore. Mountain biking is a resource on the North Shore, and it’s sustainable, so we’re bringing kids out to make ‘em dig!

So you’re still building?

Well, I have two kids so it’s been slow going on the building lately. I loved building, but I know how much time it takes. It’s just not enough time these days to ride. I used to build for 15-20 hours a week. But that’s not realistic now. I guess I could build at night after 9 when the kids go to sleep...[laughter]. 70% of what mountain biking was about for me was building.

Dan had the time before two kids and a teaching career to build wild contraptions like this for his world reknowned Flow Show featured above and right. Unknown photographers.

Do you still ride the Shore?

It’s a bit of a long day to get over there and ride, but Digger and I met up recently because we got inducted together. We hadn’t seen each other in two or three years. It was awesome. I thought ‘I gotta come back here more often. This is wicked.

What did you think about the trails?

I know there’s a lot of grooming going on in the North Shore now…a lot of “sidewalks in the woods,” so to speak. I’m don’t really like that kind of riding…it’s not what I grew up riding. I like the gnarly, rooty, “which line do you take,” stuff…that kind of thing. I rode Bookwos, one of Digger’s old trails. It hadn’t changed. It was awesome. Even Ladies [Only] was still like that.

Images submitted by Dan for interview. Shot by Leo.
Dan liked them tall, skinny...
Images submitted by Dan for interview. Shot by Leo.
... and difficult to conquere.

Behind the scenes video from 2009 filming on Bowen Island, filmed by Brody Darough:
Views: 3,112    Faves: 11    Comments: 4

What level is your riding at?

Hey, it’s like riding a bike! Maybe six months or a year ago, I took some Russian buddies out for a ride. These guys are in their twenties and they were on a tour of B.C. I took them on some of my Bowen trails, with 15-20-foot drops, and I was able to ride no problem. If I stick to what I know, then I can do it quite easily. I never go up to Whistler or to Coast Gravity Park, but I talk to people who go there, and it sounds like I might be a little scared of that stuff. It’s not what I am used to. It’s all high speed. If I ride on Bowen I am used to this steep, gnarly stuff. The young riders shake their head a little bit. I did Lower Ladies no problem at all when I rode it recently so I am riding at a fairly decent level.

Steep rock with a janky run-in.
  Steep rock with a janky run-in, just how Dan likes it. Image by Derek Dix.

Now that you’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame, what will your legacy be?

I believe my Hall of Fame inclusion is also a product of the other hardcore [trailbuilder] contributors around at the time. Like Digger, of course. He definitely influenced me. I also had friends who helped me with building on many occasions - people who were so stoked with the whole scene that they inspired me to work even harder.

I think I have inspired people to build and ride just for the love of it, which is cool. That’s what it’s all about. I love seeing people building North Shore-style trails all over the world. That’s what is cool to see.

I'd like to thank some people who were an influence on me...in the early days and into the 2000s. Not necessarily in this order...

The Main Flowriders over the years:
Mike Laudrum
Andrew Baker
Dharma Fontain
Kyle Johnson
Tyler Klassen
Doctor Donald D. Diamonds (aka Mike Debuc)
Erik Burgon
Steve Popma
Ryan Hayes
Richard Gaspiroti
Jonny Rox

Flowriders in action. Video by Vinay Menon:
Views: 3,397    Faves: 11    Comments: 3

The Original Flowriders (and team Herberber Pro):
"Mountain Bike" Mike MacGreggor
Gabe Szczurek
Chad Hansen
Todd Lancaster
Ian Moult
Darryl Steen

Trail builders:
Todd Fiander
GMG (Gabe, Mike, and Gerry)
Ross Kirkwood (7th Secret)
Jeremy Powers

Wade Simmons
Brett Tippie
Richie Schley
Hans Rey
Johnny Smoke
Cam Rodgers
Andrew Shandro
Mike Kinrade
And all the super talented riders I have had the honor of riding with on the trails and in the Flowshow over the years...probably forgetting some...sorry...but thanks!

Also I should recognize that I was payed by a few bike companies over the years:
Lizard Skins
And I received frames from Brodie, RB Bikes and Banshee.

I'm currently riding a Cove Bike...thank you Chaz!

Also big thanks and props to Pinkbike! You guys have being around long enough to fully understand and appreciate everything which the North Shore and "Dangerous Dan" stand for. You guys keep the spirit of the sport alive and meaningful. Hats off to you all!

- "Dangerous" Dan Cowan

If you ride or have ridden on the North Shore, then you can thank guys like Dangerous Dan, Digger and more for laying the groundwork for a revolution in mountain bike riding and trail building styles.

North Shore mountain biking trails

MENTIONS: @mikewberard

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  • 45 0
 The reason we all ran out and tried to build something really tall and skinny in our local woods, usually with mixed results (both structurally and riding them).
  • 10 0
 My brother and I built so much sketchy stuff because of Dan. We both turned out much better riders for it though.
  • 30 0
 Back in the day I was biking through a local park with a friend and we stumbled onto Dangerous Dan leading a kid's birthday party. The birthday boy was shouting "Jump off that!" and Dan would hike is bike up and around a massive cliff to huck a 10 foot drop and snipe a tiny flat piece of land and all the kids would cheer. I remember being star struck that I actually saw the real Dangerous Dan from NSX fame. Time to pull out the VHS player.
  • 15 0
 Congrats on Hall of Fame Dan! You have inspired a whole generation of riders with your trail building, riding style, personality and genuine love of riding in the great outdoors. Cheers!
  • 16 0
 Absolute legend, he was in every cool bike movie in the late 90s early 00s.
  • 12 0
 I love the scene in NSX Quick & Dirty where he is just smelling a cedar plank over and over again so that he can attempt to describe the smell. "It smell like...... *sniff*.... it smells like.... *sniff*.... barbecue...*sniff*"
  • 1 0
 That was the first mtb movie I owned!
  • 1 0
 Right on !!!
  • 8 0
 I remember the first time I stumbled onto one of Dan's trails on fromme. Absolutely blew my mind how much time and care went in to every single feature. It's sad to see so many of those classic trails falling into ruin now though Frown
  • 7 0
 Dangerous dan Cowan is one of THE main reasons I ever tried to point my xc bike downhill and onto skinnies 17 years ago. Thank you for being one of the first people to drastically influence me in such a positive way. Riding and trails are now a huge part of my young family, and riding with my little guy is a super cool bond to share with my son. It wouldn't be this important in my life if I hadn't pointed down those hills and onto those skinnies. Thanks again. By the way, I still have my asx hanging in my garage!
  • 1 0
 Likewise! Stumbling down SexBoy on my '94 Kona Fire Mountain and wondering who the heck the "ghosts" were that rode all the high consequence stuff. Made me try something new every time I was out. Now I'm coaxing my kids on Fromme. That's your Legacy Dan!!.
  • 4 0
 The flying circus is the gnarliest trail I've ever seen always fun to show people the discombobulator! I've only heard stories of Dangerous Dan's other trails, haven't been brave enough to get my buddies to show me where they are/ride them
  • 4 0
 Ridiculator yeehaw! Whole different world these days. "Why would you build a fat low bridge when you can build a high skinny one?" The implications reached farther than you guys could have imagined. Thank you!
  • 1 0
 The ridiculator is a whole nother level. One of these day i think i might drag the bike in and try the discombobulator but the ridiculator is beyond where i think ill ever feel comfortable riding
  • 2 0
 Those trails are gnarly but if you really want to see gnar you have to ride his Bowen trails.
  • 4 0
 Best era of mountain biking is still from late 90's to early 2000's. Freeriding was at it's prime. Still prefer the old Digger Shore videos over the new HD cinematic movies. The trails those guys built/rode are still the gnarliest ever. Mountain biking was more raw, underground, FUN. No one cared about how light or fancy your bike was. They were heavy, ugly, and ready to take whatever you could throw at them. Those days of Dan, Wade, Brett, SUPER T!, Richie, Digger etc...will always be in my mind, the greatest! Cheers to Dangerous Dan!!!
  • 3 0
 wow , i wasn't expecting that ! tnx a lot dan and pinkbike for this interview ! this is awesome ! thats how it all started ! you can find dan in jib also ! such an inspiring person ! good luck and stay safe dan ! best wishes from romania !
  • 1 0
 The last ride on the flying circus video has been floating around for a couple years atleast. The rest of the info was cool to learn!
  • 3 0
 I got to live on the Shore back in 2000 and 2001. To this day, one of the highlights of my life. I still love to get back riding whenever I can. I really appreciate the hard work the trail builders out there have done, and I'm excited to see the gnarliness continue on the shore. Thank you Digger and Dan for your hard work!
  • 3 0
 The guy is a legend and goes 100% at everything he does in life. Obviously an epic freerider, but also a hockey goalie, a metal guitarist and a physics teacher. One of those guys that you know has maximized his talents and when he's in, he's "all in, 100%". Respect to how he's lived his life
  • 3 0
 I have been lucky enuf to tour all over western Canada, USA and India with this guy.... I have heard all the stories main times and as much as Dan drives me nuts when we are setting up or taking down a Flowshow I love this guy like a big brother I never wanted! lol stoked to be able to call this character one of my good friends who I always smile when I see his name appear on my caller id! The story of this trail, the flying circus is amazing when Dan tells you all about it, his motivation to build it, the build of it, and the first bunch of rides on it!
  • 7 0
 The mag wheels!
  • 3 1
 All the stuff we built got torn down because it was on city property. We built a ladder with a 20' drop that was taken down right before we got to ride it. All of our shit was constantly being ruined by the city, it sucked, and I always wondered how they got away with it in British Columbia.
  • 2 0
 It's still mostly there, though its so rotted out that its pretty much un-rideable
  • 1 0
 sorry i realized that your talking about trails you made and not the ones in the video. My bad
  • 6 0
 Inspiration to say the least! Congrats on the Hall of Fame!
  • 6 0
 Dangerous Dan Cowan, tha wood likka!!
  • 2 0
 Great interview. The good old days. I was living in BC in late 1999 and early 2000. I moved out there with an XC hardtail with 26x1.9 tires and 3' travel fork. I was wearing lycra the first time I rode on Fromme. I remember hearing that Rock Shox would no longer replace Dan's forks under warranty and he was riding rigid titanium forks for a while. But that was in the last century.
  • 2 0
 Yeah! Hi Dan, thanks for that ride on Bowen, I believe it was the best ride I have ever had, except for massive loads of crap in pants after nearly every drop =)

From 5.09 in this vid www.pinkbike.com/video/385197 Dan rides some of the stuff on Bowen in 2014.
  • 1 0
 Hey Dan, my right eye stll remembers that bowen stub =)
  • 4 0
 Your a true legend to the sport Dan! It wouldn't be where it is today without you!
  • 4 0
 Dan has the world's strongest neck. Some of his landings back in the day were insane. No transitions back then.
  • 7 0
 Haha, I think they were called Dansition's
  • 2 0
 We all called them Danstions. Too funny.
  • 1 0
 A true legend. Loved the flow riders. Totally inspired me to take my hardtail bike with cantilever brakes into inappropriate trails and build questionable wood features. Klassen was awesome too. Without you guys the bike industry would not be where it is and I would not be riding the way I do. Thanks so much!
  • 1 0
 I never rode any of Dan's trails, yet. But he, the north shore scene, the flow riders and etc. were one of the reasons I got into Freeride, in the beginning of my MTB life. I remember being young and watch all the crazy shores and riding and I thoght to myself 'That's what I want to do. That's the kind of thing I want to build and ride.' Here in Brazil we had a few places with the North Shore's vibe, and all was inspired in what you guys did. Thank to you Dan and all the guys who helped the Freeride to grow. Congratulations.
  • 1 0
 Truly my inspiration wish I could have met him. Met Digger a few years back and that was so awesome.

I went as far as to build a replica discombobulator about 5" off the ground. I think I was the only one of our crew back in the day that ever cleaned it.


Ahhh the good old days.
  • 1 0
 Double D, thanks so much for all that you have done for us. I have been mt. Biking since the Ross mt hood days and when I got my first NSX VCR tape and saw you guys I was blown away. I always rode northeastern US rocky gnar but when I saw the stunts and insane lines you and the original crew were nailing, it motivated me to push it way further than I may have. true inspiration!

I used to watch the early NSX tapes every night after work dreaming of the weekend and when it came i would go and push the most technical stuff I could find in my area. You truly pioneered our sport and shifted it into territories that may not have been.
The word free ride has been fought over, copyrighted, hated, loved and practiced ever since then and in my world, as I am sure many others, that word and what is means to us all will carry on for the rest of our days. I still have a lot of scars and great memories from trying to ride "the shore" lines as we all have called them.... Thank you Dan!! Best wishes brother!
  • 2 0
 Way to go Dan! You deserve it. Me and my crew still talk about the heli day riding Disneyland with you many, many years ago. Congrats!
  • 2 0
 Legend. Thank you for the inspiration and trails! It's nice to hear someone say they did it for the love of the sport rather than for the money. I'm still a fan.
  • 4 0
 Thanks for the memories Dan and for being you
  • 1 0
 We should all give DD a BIG thank you for what he has done for our sport. I think its safe to say our bikes and trails wouldn't be as rad as they are without Dan's early influence. Thank you Dan!
  • 2 0
 So awsome - very much a legend. All new riders should know a little about the history of freeride. Love these articles.
  • 1 0
 Seeing the Flow Show is what got me into riding 11 years ago - can't thank Dan and his crazy crew enough! Still want that old orange Yeti ASX with the Sherman, one day!
  • 1 0
 What i live for. Digger and Dan are the architects of the free ride movement. They invented the concept. Free ride will always be in my blood.
  • 1 0
 Influential Dan! As was mentioned above, we built a lot of sketchy stuff and become became much better riders because of it. Thanks!
  • 2 0
 Thanks Dan for being so rad your awesome
  • 1 0
 He's the real deal. Thanks Dan for everything you have done for our sport.
  • 3 0
 i love canada=)))
  • 1 0
 A lot of great articles lately here on Pinkbike, keep up the great work! Beer
  • 1 0
 A legend among legends. Seeing his stuff on Fromme absolutely blew my mind. Cheers to you Dan, you fuckin beast!!
  • 1 0
 Pretty fricken' legendary...
  • 1 0
 I seem to recall that Dan shreds a mean guitar as well?
  • 1 0
 Thanks for the link. That is some cool stuff. There was a clip of him wailing on an electric guitar in some mountainbike video ages ago. It was really good. Dan is quite a rennaisance man.
  • 1 0
 What the heck frame and wheels has he got going on there?
  • 1 0
 the frame is RB one of the first dh models www.rb-bike.cz
  • 1 0
 One of my heros and still an inspiration today.
  • 1 0
 The guy is a legend! thanks Dan!
  • 1 0
 Dan - one of the few OGs. Great guy Wink
  • 1 0
 Thanks Dan, you inspired me to get out and ride again. Chapeau.
  • 2 1
 Dem mags doe
  • 1 0
  • 2 2
 Riding flat skinnies with a double crown, that's dangerous
  • 1 0
  • 1 0
 that phone tho
  • 1 0
 Awesome article!
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