Danny MacAskill’s ‘Gymnasium’ YouTube edit racked up almost six million views in a little more than a month. It’s no surprise when you see how he’s turned a bog-standard indoor gym into a jaw-dropping display of his bike skills.
The six-minute clip packs one mind-blowing stun after another into the edit, including one-wheeled hops between the top bars of a squat rack; to a wheelie across weight plates balanced on their ends; to a 360 off one parallel bar to land on its twin.
But which stunts caused the most pain and anguish? I found out when I asked Danny to reveal the behind the scenes truths of ‘Gymnasium’…
RSNG Your new edit might be set entirely in an indoor gym, but I hear you're not much of a gym fan, really?
DANNY MACASKILL, TRIALS TRICKSTER ‘I definitely spend my fair bit of time in a gym, but a lot of the time, it's rehabilitation, so I can get back on the bike. It's quite hard. I have a fairly busy schedule throughout the year, so when I'm on the bike or on my free time, as it were, or when I'm back home, I just try to spend as much time on the bike as possible.’
RSNG So, was Gymnasium a reaction to having to spend time doing rehab – poking a bit of fun at the gym?
DM ‘I was actually trying to make it to this Christmas without being on crutches. For the last two Christmas' I've been on crutches, which hasn't been as much fun, because in winter there's a bit more ‘me time’. That's the time that I get to go mountain biking and ride my trial's bike. It's off-season, although it's still usually quite busy.’
‘All the time I'm doing the rehab, I'm always daydreaming, as I do all the time in my day-to-day life, I'm always visualizing, riding my surroundings. Whether or not it's actually a realistic riding, you're always picturing everything as an obstacle or an edge.’
‘I had a bunch of ideas that I'd been daydreaming about over all those years of rehab and I thought it'd be quite cool to do a wee project, especially in the winter when you could go into a heated hall and ride on some of the everyday gym obstacles.’
RSNG Looking at the jump off a squat rack, to another rack – that looks pretty gnarly, to me, not a nice landing if you get it wrong. Was that a bit nervy?
DM ‘It's funny. There's certain parts of the riding that come a lot more naturally. The style of riding that I'm doing on the squat rack is traditional trials riding, which is something I've been doing since I was 11 years old.’
‘That was actually something that was a bit more straightforward, and the nice thing was that we could move, we could make the gap smaller or bigger. We started off with it smaller and then I could work up to the gap I did in the video.’
‘I had a few too many extra hops in that clip, for my liking, but on top of the rack, when I was on top of the pull-up bars, it was a little bit wobbly. So, I had to take a little bit more setup time than I would normally like.’
‘There were quite a lot of nightmarish tricks in there – the scariest was definitely doing the 360 on the parallel bars’
RSNG Was there a trick that ended up being a bit of a nightmare?
DM ‘Well, there were quite a lot of nightmarish tricks in there. The scariest, the one that had the most fear for me, was definitely doing the 360 on the parallel bars. We custom-built the base so that it was a bike-width apart rather than being shoulder-width apart like usual.’
‘It wasn't a trick I'd ever done before. I didn't have the muscle memory built-in to my system, to be confident about doing that high off the ground. I did have the feeling that I was going to really do myself some damage, or maybe end up in crutches again before Christmas, but luckily that one worked out – it was quite satisfying!’
RSNG I guess you don't get any redo's at that one, do you?
DM ‘It's been slowed down a little bit in the film. The reality is that I'm putting in a 100% effort, and I'm just making it. It's quite precise, if you do the tiniest little bit of wrong movement, then it's easy to miss wheels.’
‘It's all happening so quickly, you don't really have spacial awareness of where you exactly are when you're crashing, which isn't a nice feeling.’
‘Luckily, I didn't have to experience that; I landed it! We tried it with some mats in between to build some confidence that I was actually going to land it, and then we took the mats away and I managed to land it first go, so that'll do me.’
RSNG Which trick took the longest to nail, and how many attempts?
DM ‘By far, it was the last trick on the film. I don't know what to call it, is it a ghost? I do a trick where I ghost my bike at a ramp and then my bike takes off by itself off a springboard, and then it clips the front wheel and the back wheel off a horse.’
‘Then, of course, it does a front flip in the air, then I run up behind it trying to catch the handlebars and jump back on the bike before I land on the ground again.’
RSNG Phew! There are a lot of moving parts in that one?
DM ‘Yes, and it was very, very inconsistent, because when you're ghosting the bike you've got no control over it, you can pull your pressure in when you let it go, then once it's hitting the ramp it could do one of ten different things.’
‘Often it would be bouncing straight back at me, so it was hard to run at it with some commitment, when half the time it was going horribly wrong. That took me about 800 attempts, over two and a half days. That was definitely sore in the legs, that one.’
RSNG What did it feel like to actually get it in the end?
DM ‘To be honest, it was at about 200 attempts. I tried another 200 attempts to get a cleaner version of it, because I like to land things as if they look easy. The roll-out of that one wasn't particularly good, because my pedals were in the wrong position on landing.’
‘We had two more days of filming left and lots of other tricks, like the 360 and the parallel bars to do the next day. We had to move on because we were restricted by time.’
‘The idea's there, and I would like to maybe do something like that in another video and I can do a little bit of a cleaner setup.’
‘What makes me tick is trying what seems impossible in the beginning, and making it work by the end of the day’
RSNG Was there another trick that you had to absolutely rinse to land cleanly?
DM ‘Another trick I did in the film was the gap between the slacklines, and that took, don't know, maybe 300 to 400 attempts, maybe less. I didn't really get a sniff, after like 200 attempts, I didn't even get close to landing both wheels on the line because you had to be very, very precise.’
‘Then it's a case of just blindly going at it, doing the same thing over and over again until you eventually land on it. It is a satisfying feeling, it's definitely what makes me tick, that trying, what seems maybe impossible in the beginning, and making it work by the end of the day.’
RSNG That just pure persistence?
DM ‘Yes, blind, I would say blind persistence, trying to keep some kind of smile on your face while you're doing it, not losing your head while you're trying. You can visualize how it's going to work and you just keep going through the motions.’
‘More often than not, I'd say 95% of the time, I've landed these kind of weird tricks that I've set out to do.’
RSNG How important is it to have that visualization process in your head and have a strong picture?
DM ‘Absolutely a must – I think that's the case in any sport, you have to be able to visualize exactly what you're doing, in real-time as well.’
‘Sometimes the visualizing can be not that handy, when you visualize yourself having all the different crashes that could happen, your brain can't help that. When it comes down to it you have to be able to visualize the success and how it's going to feel.’
RSNG Okay. You were using gym equipment, which is obviously pre-designed and pre-made. Did that free you up to be imaginative and creative, because you got a toolbox there?
DM ‘Yes, of course, and that was the whole reason we did the video. With each one of the videos I've done over the years, I tried to do something that's a little bit different, if I went out and one-up, either one of my own videos that I did before, or one-up somebody else's videos in the streets, or things like that, it's much more difficult because the bar has already been set.’
‘Whereas, if you go into the environment that's a bit more unusual to see a bike (and also, with lots of obstacles that you can place exactly where you want them) then it's much easier to come up with fun and creative ideas.’
‘Also, it’s relatable to the mainstream. It’s important to me to do something that's going to work, that's credible on the mountain bike world and the trials world. But everybody knows what a dumbbell is, or pull-up bars, or exercise balls.’
RSNG Was there any trick that didn't make it into the final edit?
DM ‘I was lucky to have about four day’s practice before we started rolling cameras. There's a few ideas in there, one of which you see at the end of the film in the outtakes, where I lie on my back?’
‘The idea is I was going to do a bench press, almost like with my bike, my handlebars above me, and then I was going to throw the bike up in air and make it do like a barrel roll 360 spin thing, and then try to catch the bike while I was lying on my back. We scrapped that because we had some other ideas.’
RSNG It sounds like a good way to get a faceful of metal, too?
DM ‘Yes, well, faceful of metal was the easy part – I think it's more of the fact that the bikes resting place between your legs, isn't most pleasant, let's say, haha!’
RSNG Ouch, haha! OK, so you said you've been doing some other filming, is your next project out soon?
DM ‘Yes, doing a little bit of filming, the last while, which has been a lot of fun. It should be out relatively soon. I've got loads of projects coming up this year. Going to try to make a little bit more content, actually, this year, which is going to be a lot of fun.’
RSNG Can you give us any hints about what it might be?
DM ‘I'm going to be doing a project with GoPro this year, which will be quite scary, I think! It's on my own terms, but I've got some plans, it's all within my own limits but the scope's pretty endless. I'm looking forward to that. That'll be maybe in the US – looking forward to it!
WHAT NEXT? Watch Danny MacAskill tricking his way through the gym in his latest video edit…
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