MacAskill takes us 'Way Back Home'

If you're prone to clicking video links that millions of people share like virtual head lice every day, you've probably seen the clip of Danny MacAskill on his bike.

Paul Calver

Danny MacAskill at home on Isle of Skye in Scotland.

His first trial riding clip, "Inspired Bicycles," was uploaded to YouTube nearly two years ago and has since been viewed more than 23 million times to date. This weekend, MacAskill will release a new film to a different audience than he usually connects with by clicking "Upload Now" from his apartment in Scotland.

At the Hawke and Hunter in Edinburgh, MacAskill is set to premiere the full-length feature documentary "Way Back Home," along with a showing of the two YouTube clips that made him famous. (Those unable to make it to Scotland can catch the premiere via Sunday evening.)

Ten months in the making, the documentary explores MacAskill's bike stunt journey with his director, Dave Sowerby, from Edinburgh to his hometown of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye.

The Life caught up with MacAskill on the phone Tuesday evening from London.

The Life: So this weekend's big premiere of "Way Back Home" is a little different from the first time you dropped a film on YouTube, huh?

Danny MacAskill: Yeah, this will be a bit different compared to my last film premiere back in April of 2009. That premiere consisted of myself and five friends, sat in my flat. We looked at the film once and then flicked over to whatever was on television for the rest of the night. [Laughs] Yeah, this one is just a bit more flashy.

The Life: You might want to iron a shirt for this, or something.

MacAskill: Yeah. I might even go back and get my kilt. You never know.

The Life: How soon after you uploaded the "Inspired Bikes" video to YouTube did you feel the mysterious effects of a viral movement?

MacAskill: It was April 19, 2009, that the video went online, and on the 20th I was woken up by, I think it was the BBC that first phoned. They wanted to do an interview because they had seen that overnight the video had something like 300,000 views. Quite suddenly, day after day, it got crazier and crazier. I was hearing from various newspapers and news outlets and soon I was getting requests from the States about things. I didn't know what was going on; you know, I was just a trials rider from Scotland.

Paul Calver/Red Bull Photofiles

YouTube has brought trial rider Danny MacAskill some Internet fame and a Red Bull wardrobe.

The Life: Aside from all the media requests, did your day-to-day routine change much as a result of the video?

MacAskill: When the "Inspired" video came out, I had actually just left the bike shop that I had been working at as I was signed up to do bike demos in premiere schools all around Scotland with some friends. We had already committed to some 70 shows that year. And then the video came out. That commitment was good for me, because I was able to do some chilled stuff and kind of let all the craziness of the media and all the offers simmer down a little bit. Once I finished all the shows, I started to take some more control of things. I got a manager on board, Tarek Rasouli, from Germany. With him, we sort of brought calm to it all. He helped in making the sponsorship decisions -- the big ones like signing with Red Bull and signing with digdeep. My whole life has changed quite a lot, but at the same time, I'm back in Skye living in my old camper van for the last four months or so.

The Life: A camper van? You don't have some second home in Orange County next door to the rest of Red Bull's action sportsters?

MacAskill: No, definitely not. I've been sleeping pretty much every night in that camper van I used for the "Way Back Home" project. I was sleeping in it in Edinburgh when I went there to see my friends the other day, and last week I was helping my dad patch the roof of an old museum. So in many ways, life all feels very kind of normal. At the same time, I do a lot more traveling than usual.

The Life: In your travels, are you recognized in the streets?

MacAskill: I find it crazy -- even if I'm on my bike -- when it happens. I mean, I wear a Red Bull hat a lot of the time, but I was out in Barcelona just before Christmas trying to miss some of the terrible weather we had here -- we had a lot of snow -- and random members of the public would stop me in the street there and chat, too. It's not until something like that happens where a stranger in Spain tells you they've seen your videos that I'm sort of like, Oh brother! You realize how many people look at YouTube and how powerful it is.

The Life: How involved were you personally in media sharing and networking before the tipping point of one fateful and fortuitous video upload?

Paul Calver/Red Bull Photofiles

Danny MacAskill says he feels a little detached from the person in his viral videos.

MacAskill: I personally find myself quite detached from all that. I only got a laptop a year and a half ago. I didn't have any of that social media or anything. I suppose it's all quite new to everyone, but I find it quite crazy. I did have a wild time looking at all the comments that come in about the video. But still, I feel detached somehow. Like it's not me that's doing it. Like it's some sort of fictional character.

The Life: Does YouTube fame lead to fortune?

MacAskill: You put something on YouTube, it's not like you can -- we had no idea what kind of coverage we were going to get. So, with the "Way Back Home" film, as with the "Inspired" project, all I wanted to do was do the best I could. It's not like we were, say a band who can sell albums and get direct income from the stuff they put online. It's quite different when you're giving everything away for free. But, at the same time, with the support of sponsors like Red Bull and digdeep, I'm able to not have to go working back in the bike shop, which is great. It's not like I'm earning a lot, but it's certainly more than I would be, that's for sure. It's not nearly as much as some people might think, unfortunately for me! [Laughs]

The Life: How did you decide on the Band of Horses track for the first video, and do you yourself have much input in music selection?

MacAskill: My friend who edited that video picked Band of Horses. It was a good choice. For "Way Back Home," it was actually myself who chose the music. It came right down to the wire to get permission for it. I e-mailed the band directly, Loch Lomond, a band from the States. Literally, only four days beforehand, we got permissions and then it was edited in a day. It was crazy. The band is actually coming over for the premiere this weekend and playing so that should be cool.

The Life: What's next after this release is all said and done?

MacAskill: Straight after the "Way Back Home" premiere I'm away to South Africa, in Cape Town, for three weeks for filming and then for holidays. It's just an amazing opportunity to be able to do what I love doing every day.

Mary Buckheit is a freelance writer based in San Diego. She can be reached at

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