Now Danny MacAskill has returned to his roots with a spectacular new street riding video – shot around San Francisco. MacAskill has swapped the Meadows, St Giles’ Cathedral and Bristo Square for Alcatraz, Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge as the backdrops for his latest video.
Shot over more than three weeks, Postcard from San Francisco was originally due to be made five years ago. But filming was halted on the second day of filming after MacAskill broke a knee cap, months before he was due to perform at Glasgow’s Hydro arena.
MacAskill was working as a bike shop mechanic in Edinburgh when Inspired Bicycles, the film he made with flatmate Dave Sowerby, propelled him to fame and led to a long-term partnership with Red Bull.
He said: “I really wanted to do a proper street riding film again. I had stayed away from the genre over the years because the levels were being pushed so hard. I had purposely done more conceptual videos.
"Unfortunately, on the second day of filming in San Francisco, I broke my kneecap. I was quite ambitious trying to go between these two rails doing a fancy trick. It caught me off guard and I kneed the ground pretty hard.
"I was more concerned about my front teeth being wobbly as I fell head first over a railing and did a press-up to try to stop my face hitting the ground. They were a bit wobbly for around a year afterwards.
"I was quite surprised to find out that I’d broken my knee. I was walking around on my knee for a couple of days until I got it X-rayed. It had broken into lots of pieces, but was held together like a jigsaw.
"It took me a while to get over it. My leg was in a brace for around eight weeks. I had to get an operation about a year later as I had damaged the cartilage, but it didn’t really come up on the scan at the time. It took a long time to really recover.”
MacAskill worked with director and long-time collaborator Robbie Meade on Postcard from San Francisco, which sees him hitching a lift on a tram car, performing tricks on its famously steep streets, visiting Alcatraz and even riding on top of a tennis net.
He said: “When I got back to full strength again, I decided it would be quite cool to come back out to San Francisco to finish the project. We had put a lot of work into scouting really cool locations. I would describe it almost like a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ scout – without stealing any cars, of course. I really explored the entire city looking for the best locations.
"When I plan out a video like this, I sit down and make sketches of some tricks that I’d really like to land. It was a case of really looking at the whole city from my riding point of view, making a big list of the top locations and trying our best to get them cleared.
"San Francisco is an incredible place. It must be one of the most iconic cities in the world. Everywhere you turn is almost like being on a movie set.
"We actually watched The Rock when we were out there, as we were filming on Alcatraz. We were almost expecting the trams to be blowing up around us. It was great to get back to finish the project.”
Although MacAskill was able to deploy a host of “cool and iconic locations” for the film, some of his ambitions were thwarted by red tape. He said: “We found it quite difficult to get permission to film in the locations we wanted. Alcatraz was actually one of the easiest places to get permission to film in.
“Back in the day, when we filmed Inspired Bicycles in Edinburgh, no permissions were asked for. But it was a different time.
“But now, when you’re working with a bigger production and brand, of course, you’ve got to get everything cleared. It ended up being really challenging.
“I would love to have ridden on the Golden Gate Bridge, but you could tell by the red tape around some of the other things that you weren’t going to be allowed to ride on it. There were some locations that we had cleared before that we didn’t get permission for this time. I’m always looking at the ones that got away rather than the ones that I landed.
"It’s frustrating when you're trying to do something that, from my point of view, is wholesome, inspiring and is going to show off the city. There were certain sculptures and sea walls that were perfect for riding, but we weren’t able to use them. We had to compromise sometimes.”
Recent videos from MacAskill, who turns 37 next month, have included Danny Daycare, which saw him left in charge of a friend's child, a gymnasium workout on his book and a return to his native Skye for a film shot on steep slabs of rock.
He said: “Back in 2017, I felt that I should use my health while I had it and I had better go after something really hard-hitting. But it’s pretty cool to come back five years later. I actually felt physically fitter making this.
“It was quite a tough project to work and the riding was hard. Sometimes it’s easier to hide behind the concept a bit more.
"But I was quite keen to go after the classic street genre, where you’re riding around a city that people can relate to. It was very much focused on the riding, but that meant the quality of the riding had to be very high. It was good and challenging, but nice to be in one piece afterwards.”