National Geographic Adventure

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Nov 21

Adventurers of the Year 2012: Rider Danny MacAskill

A street trials rider redefines how we view urban landscapes—and becomes a global icon in the process.

See photos of all the Adventurers of the Year!

Two years ago Scottish street trials rider Danny MacAskill was just a guy working a nine-to-five job as a mechanic in an Edinburgh bike shop, crafting his vision of what was possible on a bicycle in the hours after work. In March 2009, he took a risk and left his job to pursue riding full time. A month later his roommate, Dave Sowerby, released a video of MacAskill leaping, flipping, and balancing across Edinburgh’s famous buildings, parks, and back alleys on his bike. No one had seen riding like this before.

The video went viral. First friends and then total strangers forwarded it via email and posted it on Facebook. MacAskill’s audacity, skill, and grace spoke to people, even those who had never heard of the obscure sport of street trials, where bicyclists use existing structures to create physical puzzles that are solved by moving from obstacle to obstacle. Some even chalked MacAskill’s mind-bending moves up to a special effects hoax. The video went on to be viewed 27 million times.

MacAskill could have been a one-hit wonder. But when his 2011 short film Industrial Revolutions—which featured him riding through Scotland’s abandoned factories, leaping between train cars, and riding across two-inch beams suspended 15 feet above concrete—generated three million views on YouTube in a month, he proved he wasn’t. What MacAskill can do on a bicycle, his body shifting, pausing, and then exploding upward in a seamless tangle of man and bike, makes us reimagine our daily environments.

Groundbreaking adventure has always made us examine and then redraw the fine line between the possible and the impossible. Like the great performance artist and tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who captured New Yorkers’ attention with his 1974 walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, MacAskill has taken the the landscapes of his everyday and turned mundane into a physical canvas.

Since 2009, MacAskill has used his newfound fame and monetary support to log over 40,000 miles in an RV, traveling across Scotland looking for the perfect trick in the ideal location.

“I never had the goal of being a professional rider,” says MacAskill. “I just wanted to ride my bike.”

—Fitz Cahall

Now read the interview with Danny MacAskill and be sure to vote everyday for your favorite adventurer!