The Street Trials Genius: Danny MacAskill

YouTube Maestro bringing stunts—and smiles—to millions
November 12, 2014 Updated: November 12, 2014

When we think of street trials and bike stunts, a whole set of images automatically come to mind: Danny MacAskill conquering every available obstacle on his native Isle of Skye, or cycling effortlessly off the roof of a BT phone box…

MacAskill is a professional street trials rider with Inspired Bicycles Ltd. and is one of an extensive stable of extreme sportspeople sponsored by Red Bull. Indeed, sponsorship allows him to do what he does best: starring in meticulously shot short films that portray his amazing array of skills. And in today’s connected world, the video is everything…

The Internet Connection

Born and raised in Dunvegan on the tiny Isle of Skye on Scotland’s west coast, MacAskill honed his skills for 12 years on the rocky outcrops, promenades, and abandoned buildings of his native home. When he was 23, his flatmate and close friend David Sowerby shot a five-and-a-half minute video of MacAskill’s skills, called April 2009, which they set to music (‘The Funeral’, by Band of Horses) and posted on YouTube. The video quickly went viral, catapulting MacAskill to international stardom just as the smartphone boom was taking off. 

Recognising that the winning formula of amazing street bike skills, cool music, and stunning backdrops would continue to inspire young riders around the world, Red Bull stepped in to add MacAskill to their burgeoning sponsorship palette of unique sporting figures.

Indeed, MacAskills videos are beloved by internet users of all age groups and go far beyond the niche market of street trial biking. While almost everyone knows how to ride a bike, there is something in each of us that recognises exquisite skill in any discipline, and MacAskill has that in spades. Whether it’s cycling unerringly straight lines along the top of railings a couple of inches wide, or somersaulting 3 metres off a roof and landing like he wouldn’t break eggs…the perseverance and hard work it takes to become this good resonate with us all.

It’s all About Skill

A wiry five-foot-nine and with shock-absorbing legs that would make a grasshopper jealous, MacAskill’s repertoire on the bike includes a mix of jumps onto and over obstacles, bunny hops on dangerous objects, cycling along extremely narrow paths (railings, tops of fences, etc.), and jumps and somersaults from heart-stopping heights.

MacAskill is generally credited with developing and popularising the sport of street trials biking, which differs from trials biking in that the obstacles over which it is performed are everyday things found anywhere from a beach to a cliff, or from a crumbling Scottish village to Edinburgh city centre. Riding along the top of a spiky fence and performing a back-flip off a tree in his first video gave MacAskill the kind of street credibility other sport stars could never achieve.

Genesis

MacAskill grew up as one of six children in Dunvegan, and says his parents are extremely proud of him (as is, reportedly, just about everyone on Skye). He started cycling when he was four, and when he was given the gift of a proper bike at the age of 11, he spent every day practicing wheelies, stunts and tricks on the wet and windy island.

Curiously, his Dad runs a museum dedicated to their once-famous ancestor, Angus “Giant” MacAskill, who was the tallest man in the world (at seven-foot-nine) in the late 1800s and who achieved fame as a star of P.T. Barnum’s touring circus. Perhaps among the giant’s descendants would be someone special?

As a student with dyslexia, however, Danny MacAskill found school difficult, and left at 17 to follow his dream of becoming a bicycle mechanic. Honing his trials skills at exhibitions and bike shows around Scotland, MacAskill went on to build his own bike from components, which gave him further confidence to add more stunts and tricks to his repertoire.

The success of his YouTube video meant he soon had a manager, a contract with Red Bull, and offers to appear around the world at a mind-boggling number of events.

The Price of Excellence

Working in a bike shop may have protected MacAskill from a lot of pain, however. He used to just ride for fun, and it was a free-time thing.

But since turning professional, he has been sidelined by injury more than he’s been riding. A litany of injuries from falls has pounded his body, including three broken collarbones, two broken feet, a damaged meniscus, and disc injuries in his back. Add to that a cocktail of sprains, strains and cut wounds, and you get a picture of a frustrated sportsman spending months at a time in rehabilitation before he can get back in the saddle again.

Luckily the gilt-edged contract with Red Bull covers all of his medical expenses at the finest clinics money can buy, which came in useful when MacAskill had to recover from chronic back problems in recent years. MacAskill’s back injury forced him into periods of inactivity, further weakening his core muscles and compounding the damage. 

He now seeks to maintain a healthier fitness regime that will help him stay in the saddle for as long as he can.

A Business and a Man

More the creative soul than the businessman, MacAskill’s fame catapulted him into a world that allowed him to make his living from riding, but that also meant endless interviews, sponsorship contracts, and the standard raft of opportunists seeking to profit from his skills. In the world of extreme sports promotion, everyone wanted a piece of the action. 

He is wary, however, of getting sucked into the big-money world of deodorant promotion and mindless TV shows. For every job MacAskill has said yes to, he has turned down a dozen more.

Still living a frugal life dedicated to doing what he does best, MacAskill’s goal is to continue to do that which put him where he is today: showcasing his skills to an admiring online public. And we wish him well…