You could argue that Danny MacAskill has most seven-year-olds’ dream job: he spends much of the day messing about doing tricks on his bike. Plus he gets paid for it.
Until a couple of years ago, the 25-year-old Scot worked, very happily, in an Edinburgh bike shop. Then a video shot by his flatmate showing MacAskill performing a series of gravity- (and sense-) defying cycle stunts on the city’s streets – most notably, a head-high leap before pedalling nonchalantly along a set of spiked-fence railings – was uploaded to YouTube. It has now been viewed almost 24m times, thanks in part to enthusiastic tweeting from Lance Armstrong. MacAskill has acquired a flotilla of sponsors and a globe-trotting job showing off his skills at public displays, on television and – occasionally – for advertisements. And despite the dare-devil nature of his stunts, he’s had remarkably few injuries, although he has broken his collarbone three times.
With a new film to promote showing the effort involved in planning his stunts – MacAskill’s work is always beautifully shot, with a far gentler pace than you would normally expect for a video of bike tricks – I have been summoned to the concrete walkways of London’s South Bank to meet MacAskill and, his PR people breathlessly promise, “learn a few of his tricks”. This is a daunting prospect. I come armed with not just a helmet but industrial-strength elbow and knee pads, borrowed from a mountain-biking colleague.
MacAskill, who has honed his stunts for several hours a day over many years, gamely tries his best. I briefly scoot about on his low-slung stunt machine – made specially for him a couple of years ago after he snapped “between 30 and 40 frames” learning his trade – performing the sort of beginner’s bunny hop he was doing as a kid. In contrast, he leaps effortlessly over the urban infrastructure, landing casually on a front wheel, or bouncing gracefully along a flight of steps. It’s much like a bike-borne version of the urban running- and-leaping sport parkour.
The paradox is that all this was learned in a rural idyll, the village of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, where MacAskill was raised by a pair of seemingly indulgent parents. He returns to the Hebrides regularly, riding between friends’ houses on the island on a mountain bike. Even then, he says, he can’t resist the occasional trick: “A big skid is my favourite. It always looks cool, particularly if you end it with a good finger point.”
• Danny MacAskill’s new film, MacAskill Conquers, can be seen at on theRed Bull website