Danny MacAskill: 'It's about riding into places you're not supposed to go, having fun, using your imagination'

This article is from 2019

Danny MacAskill: 'It's about riding into places you're not supposed to go, having fun, using your imagination'

Taking his outdoor cycling tricks into a circus tent, Danny MacAskill is producing a Fringe show that will be both spectacular and edgy

A pot of coffee arrives to the room at Hotel Du Vin where Danny MacAskill is doing a day of press interviews. Pouring some into the Greggs paper cup still in his hand from earlier, he looks round the room, describing what he sees. 'It's a bit like when you stare out the window in school instead of working. I'm always picturing tricks I could do, or calculating if I could jump a gap.' He laughs at himself. 'Even when I'm meant to be concentrating on interviews, I'm probably imagining my bike sliding over the table.'

The 33-year-old cyclist, or 'street trials rider', put a video of himself on YouTube in April 2009 and hundreds of thousands of people watched it overnight. It kicked off a fast climb to internet and IRL fame which has taken him around the world. He's marking the ten-year anniversary with his Fringe debut, Danny MacAskill's Drop and Roll Live, a three-week run of shows alongside his display team.

In that YouTube clip, which 38 million people have watched now, MacAskill jumps his bike off the rooftop of Macdonald Cycles near Lothian Road (he worked as a bike mechanic there, up until his video went viral), speeds up tree trunks in The Meadows, vaults over fences near Edinburgh Uni, bounces along walls near the castle … 'I was definitely one of those kids who had no fear growing up,' he nods. 'I'd go out every day, every night, on my bike with my pals; I was the smallest and usually silliest enough to try things out first. I bounced pretty well; I was usually the test dummy.'

Growing up in Dunvegan on Skye, he had plenty space to try out new tricks. 'It's never been competitive for me; street trials is not about ending up first place on a podium. It's more creative. It's about riding into places you're not supposed to go, having fun, using your imagination.' The challenge for the live Fringe show has been adapting what fans are used to seeing on YouTube (some tricks are attempted 200 times before making it into the edit) and delivering something 'spectacular but safe', as MacAskill puts it.

Staged in a 550-seater circus tent, MacAskill will perform with a talented team of riders including Duncan Shaw, his friend of almost 20 years. Shaw has his own popular YouTube channel, where he shares tutorials. 'Part of the reason trials is popular is because it's maybe more relatable,' explains Shaw, who's just back from Santa Cruz with the Drop and Roll team. 'We wear normal clothes, jeans and t-shirts, not Lycra or anything. Typical trials stuff is "hoppy", static moves; bouncing on a back wheel, for example. BMXers are more about grinding ledges, bouncing down steps, riding in skate parks. Danny pioneered a crossover between the two. Trials bikes are bigger, like mountain bikes, and don't have stunt pegs on the wheels. So they look more like normal bikes.'

Danny MacAskill: 'It's about riding into places you're not supposed to go, having fun, using your imagination'

MacAskill prefers heading out into the wilderness or finding new spots to ride in a city, but thinks skate parks are also really important. 'If you don't give kids somewhere to use their energy, they'll just use it elsewhere. When my bike got taken off me one summer when I was 13, I used to roll boulders off cliffs instead or light bonfires. I used to annoy the local policeman quite a lot. I was lucky to grow up somewhere rural though! Not every kid likes team sports. But if you hang out at a skatepark, you learn your own rules. You have to wait your turn, watch out for younger kids, respect the older kids. Kids learn to govern themselves that way.'

The audiences at the Fringe shows are likely to be a mix of excited kids up for watching high-adrenaline stunts, and an increasing number of older fans. 'Bikes can cost about £10,000 and a helmet can be £200, so we meet a lot of doctors, engineers, dentists who are into what we do: people who can afford the gear!'

The Meadows, where they'll be performing, is a few minutes from Bristo Square –redeveloped in 2017, but once a mecca for skaters and people with bikes – and many other spots featured in MacAskill's first YouTube video, also in the heart of Edinburgh festival land. 'It's funny because when Danny lived in Edinburgh, the festival crowds used to annoy him because there was less space,' notes Shaw. 'Places like Bristo, which was a real hub, became off limits and it was hard to ride in those city centre spots.'

Ten years later, MacAskill doesn't seem too nostalgic for the old days; he's more excited about replicating YouTube tricks in a circus setting. The rehearsals will be tough, but nothing he's not used to. 'The Edinburgh Festival is a really big deal for us. I mean, we'll be riding recreationally every day for fun, as well. I'm not saying we'll be up every morning doing yoga and juicing: we want to enjoy the festival too! But from the moment I wake up I'm usually looking for more spots. There are a million ways to view the world, but for me, mine is edges! Which railings and surfaces look good and what tricks can I try?'

Danny MacAskill's Drop and Roll Live, Underbelly's Circus Hub on The Meadows, 3–24 Aug, 3pm; 7, 12, 19 Aug, 7pm, £18.50–£26 (£16.50–£24).

Danny MacAskill's Drop and Roll Live

  • 4 stars

Watch trials rider Danny MacAskill perform stunts on his bike, alongside Duncan Shaw and other extreme sportspeople, with commentary from Henry Jackson.