Interview: Danny MacAskill - "I've Still Got a Few Things I'd Like to Put Down on the Streets"

May 23, 2019
by James Smurthwaite  
Photos: Dave Mackison

Ten years after first bursting on to the mountain bike scene, Danny MacAskill was back with another flawless video this week in the form of Danny Daycare. Riding a trail bike with a trailer in tow on singletrack is far cry from the Scottish city streets where Danny first broke through but he's just as enjoyable and boundary pushing in either environment.

We sat down with Danny to chat about how his latest project came together, the difficulties of flipping a trailer and how he stays motivated to consistently push the boundaries of what's possible on two wheels:


Where did the concept first come from?


Stu and some of his friends are avid mountain bikers and a couple of them had bought these Tout Terrain trailers, which are single-wheeled with 200mm of suspension in the rear. You can basically ride gentle singletrack with them but obviously nothing like what I'm riding in the video.

We decided that we'd stick a doll in the back and see how the trailer handled and it soon became clear that it was pretty funny. It was originally going to be just on trails and then, as per usual, I got a little more adventurous.

We got to the point where we hadn't really found any locations to do a banger. The Holy Grail with the trailer was trying to go upside down with it and that single trick took longer than the entire rest of the video including the Ridge, all the travel and all the scouting.

Was the ramp built for the trick?


Yeah, I tried it initially into a foam pit, which had a really tight run-in and small take off, and I found out I could get upside down but it was nowhere near big enough to try to get the full rotation.


It soon became clear that the trailer had a mind of its own in the air. You can't really see in the video but the trailer actually scrubs up the whole take off. When you're actually in the air, the trailer has its own momentum so it tries to jack-knife you, which isn't very fun so we put a bit of metal across the hinge to stop it travelling so far side to side. As you can see it didn't go so well the first couple of days but it was an awesome feeling finally landing that.

bigquotesYou have to do what you do on the ramp and then fingers crossed it works by the time you get to the landing.

How long was that whole process from being in the foam pit to first getting it down?


It must have been like five or six months. To be fair we took an airbag onto location, I'm a bit showbusiness these days! But basically there's almost no chance that I was going to end up in one piece trying to figure out the transition and spot the landing, let alone the trailer actually surviving the whole ordeal as well.

I tried it a few times and we were pretty close, although the airbag is probably six foot higher than the landing. We took the airbag out and I just kept over rotating like mad because the trailer is in control. If the trailer doesn't land straight on the ground then the bike will just keep rotating. You've got no control over it, you can't extend your body or do anything like you're basically just a passenger. You have to do what you do on the ramp and then fingers crossed it works by the time you get to the landing.


So we tried it three times to dirt on one of the days and I ended up breaking the little bracket on the trailer and then we went back another day and luckily it worked. It was a pretty cool feeling going through that process of improbability and taking on a challenge that felt pretty far away but working away on it until it worked.

Is that the longest you've worked on a stunt?


It's hard to say. I did stuff on Wee Day Out that took me multiple weeks as well - things like the log slide or the hay bale.

Different things seem impossible until you just keep going at them. It's not like the first day you get a glimpse of them being possible. It's like, “oh that didn't really go that well” and the next day you didn't do that well either and then on the third day you get a glimpse of it and then on the fourth day after hundreds of goes you might actually land it.

What drives you to keep going in those instances?


You have to genuinely go in each time with the inner belief that this is the time it's going to come together. I just love the idea of making it work. I love the idea of trying to do some stuff that nobody has done on the bike.

Skateboarding is a good example of folk that have these massive battles with certain tricks where they're going back over multiple days. Or climbing, where they're spending entire seasons devoted to their next hardest climb or whatever route they've set.

Do you change your bike set up riding with the trailer?


Yeah a little bit. The trailer, firstly, handles really well if you set it up properly. It’s glued to the deck and you can absolutely rag it, so for the film we would speed up the suspension and pump it up a bit to make it a little bit wilder.


When I did some of the tricks, the trailer would hit the seat so you run your seat quite far forward. Then you'd have to run your suspension really hard, especially when hitting transitions, because the bar that comes across to the seatpost would rub on the tyre when the suspension compressed. So you'd have to put your seat up uncomfortably high for doing flips and then you also have to run your suspension really hard to stop it compressing.

As mountain bikers we get so used to the way a bike handles, there's nothing generally that surprises you about what your bike’s doing beneath you but when you stick this trailer on the back, it was almost like riding a bike for the first time again. It would push you into corners and the coolest feeling was trying to get the back end of the trailer to step out.

It’s unbelievable how well my bike and that trailer survived the whole process, especially doing the flip. The seat would be getting twisted round, the trailer would be landing on the chainstays or bending different ways, it was really putting strains on the bike and trailer that they're definitely not designed for.

So you didn't break a single trailer?


No, we ended up using about one and a half. I bent the rear in the foam pit. The trailer hit the wall when I was doing a barrel roll and I bent the main arm, I almost compressed it.


But I take my hat off to that Tout Terrain trailer because they're insanely good. They sent us a couple of trailers years ago and we didn't really say anything to them at all for all that time. Luckily we ended up with something quite cool.

Are there any stunts you wanted to try that didn't make it in to the film?


Yeah, I would have loved to have had something a bit more skinny. The dream was to have a gate and a wall on either side. I would have almost held off on the video for it but we'd kind of gone way too far down the line to add any more stuff.


It's been ten years since the Inspired video. How do you look back on that now?


Fondly, for sure. It was quite cool, we had a wee ten year anniversary ride in Edinburgh hitting some of the old spots. It's cool even now to look back on something like Inspired and know I couldn't do any better. I ticked off all the lines that I'd always dreamt of doing in the city, it was filmed by my friend Dave and we just picked the right tune for the mood. We never expected to get many people watching it, that wasn't the plan, it was just making a fully straight video in Edinburgh.

Did you have any idea it would blow up in the way it did?


Not at all. I just wanted to give something back to Inspired who supported me with frames for three years and I must have gone through 15 prototypes, something like that. So it was cool to give something back to Inspired but it completely took us by surprise when it started to go viral, bouncing around the internet. It was a funny time for sure.

You've moved in the past ten years from urban settings to more rural settings. Is that a conscious thing?


It's just what i'm feeling at the time. There would have been other videos out that would have been much more urban but it's just what suits me at the time.

bigquotesI'm definitely keen to get into the streets and really try to put a proper street video together again just so the kids know what's happening.

I try to make films that have very different feelings each time so you’re not trying to one-up yourself. That's something I find amazing about a lot of riders. If you look at the freeride scene, being able to add an extra rotation or an extra bar spin or something technical into their tricks, year upon year or edit upon edit.

I just enjoy playing with different concepts and with Cut Media it's very much a collaborative process and we just enjoy it. It makes life a bit easier coming up with a good concept so on paper it all works really well and then it's just a case of finding locations, putting your money where your mouth is and pulling your tricks.


Street is definitely a harder video to make I would say. I've set personally a high bar for myself over the years so to do something that's pushing that limit takes a lot of time. But for sure, I'm definitely keen to get into the streets and really try to put a proper street video together again just so the kids know what's happening.

There are so many amazing street trials riders now you've got John Langlois, Fabio Wibmer, the list goes on and on. They're already doing so many things I only dreamed of doing ten years ago but I've still got a few things I'd like to put down on the streets.

You’ve talked a lot about enjoying riding alone with music, why is that?


I think for me personally it's an important thing to be able to do to become good at something. If you need people around you all the time then you're going to be wasting a lot of time waiting for friends to do things, especially if you've got flaky friends.

I was lucky enough to have streetlights outside my house, a lot of my friends didn't, so I was able to go out riding at night, practice my skids and my wheelies, trying to be like Martyn Ashton or Hans Rey and just learned to enjoy a session. I would describe it like going for a jog. It's not about progression, it's not about doing exercise even, it's just about like getting in your zone and doing some tricks you've been able to do for 20 years but they're still fun so you just muck around.

If I go out for two and a half hours by myself with music then I would probably do the same riding I would do in a day riding with friends. And it lets me listen to all my new music that I'm finding everyday.

What are you listening to at the moment?


I've been listening to a band this morning called Cobra Man. They're involved with a skate brand called the Worble - you need to check these guys out. The crew have got some insane skate videos but they're really fun, they're not too core, they're a bit more lighthearted with insane skating at the same time.


Can you give us any hints as to what might be coming next?


I was just filming another video last week. I only had five days to make it and instead of choosing one nice easy location we decided to put a little more effort into it. Five days is a short time for me but I'm pleased with what we got. So yes, keep an eye out for that in the next couple of weeks and then some bigger projects towards the end of the year.


24 Comments

  • + 21
 Such a nice read! I loved the insights towards the end, Danny is such an inspiration, things could not have worked out better for him or the brand, they were a match made in heaven! Keep on raising the bar, Danny!
  • + 15
 "The trailer hit the wall when I was doing a barrel roll..."

Hahahaha. Normality people just don't say things like this.
Awesome
  • + 4
 Yeah seriously. I think that he's so casual about it is why he's so likable, me makes you feel like he's just another of your friends doing something crazy on a bike.
  • + 12
 When I saw Wee Day Out, I didn't even really mountain bike, but nevertheless thought "Wow, this guy is better at that than anyone I've ever seen is at anything."
  • + 9
 Some of the tricks he does are just batshit crazy. Insane ideas. Huge risks he takes. I think this differentiates him from other riders of his ilk. Yes they all pull some crazy techy shit, big risk lines and that. Danny pushes it further though. Front flip off the castle, that barbed wire fence front flip. All the upside down shit I guess is what does it for me. Get it wrong, land on your head and you're fucked. That takes massive confidence and massive balls!
  • + 7
 To me it's not just the risks he take, a lot of riders do crazy flips and upside down shit, it's that he takes it to something really technical as well and works at one trick for such a long time. He will have an idea and try it over and over again for days and days until he figures it out, that drive and talent is awesome to see.
  • + 1
 @Trevorjn: True that. He does a lot of different stuff too. His videos are not all the same and that's a rarity. A couple of his videos have been duds, like that one in the flooded town in South America which was just the same as every other trials video by everyone else. That's the only one I can think of off the top of my head actually. Most riders though, video of the day etc, I don't even watch most them anymore. When you've seen one you've seen them all.
  • + 1
 I like baby.
  • + 4
 Only clicked on the video to hear a bit of the music but ended up watching the whole thing. That trick at 10.08, and also the final section. Great skating.
  • + 3
 the first time I saw his backwards front wheel manual i thought 'he is much better at riding bicycles than other people'.
i've not changed my view really

(oh and him riding along the railings -Whaaaaat!?!??"
  • + 2
 Danny has great taste in music too - my most played playlist is one featuring music from his videos.
  • + 1
 Ever since "The Way Home" Danny has been one of my, if not the, favorites. He puts together insane stunts with perfectly choreographed music like nobody else.
  • + 2
 7th picture, the smile of the kid is picture perfect
  • + 1
 "I've Still Got a Few Things I'd Like To Put Down On The Streets" is probably the coolest thing he could have ever said.
  • + 1
 Something like the Top Gear challenges,Danny Vs a car/MX/horse anything really,now that is something I'd love to see
  • + 1
 toxic planet - mull brothers are not bad
  • + 1
 Really crazy ! I love it !
  • + 1
 was the kid in the trailer ?
  • + 1
 Moooooore MacCastreet!
  • + 0
 Why he rides a V2?
  • + 1
 Been working on it for 2 years. Continuity.
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