Danny MacAskill, the 26-year-old Scottish street-trials phenomenon, looks up from a plate of chicken enchiladas and out toward the Pacific. We’re tucked into a busy boardwalk café in Venice, California, and nearby a lone trials rider is practicing tricks. He holds a track stand, pops onto a bench, then drops off.
“He’s pretty good, actually,” says MacAskill, who is sometimes referred to as Danny MegaSkill, at other times as Danny MadSkillz.
Pretty good, sure, but no MadSkillz. Street trials is the obscure yet flashy cycling subgenre that entails pogoing your bike onto and over large obstacles (like, say, a train car), performing physics-defying balancing acts, and stringing together wheelies, pivots, bunny hops, and even complete flips into Cirque du Soleil–worthy routines. MacAskill, in case you’re one of the five or six people in the world who hasn’t yet seen his video clips, is the sport’s reigning king—and one of the first action-sports celebrities created almost entirely through YouTube.
As recently as the spring of 2009, MacAskill was an unknown bike mechanic wrenching away at a small shop in Edinburgh. In April of that year, he released a beautifully produced homemade video, filmed by his close friend David Sowerby.
Within hours of posting it, the video went viral. It nabbed a few hundred thousand views overnight, got pinged across continents by influencers like Lance Armstrong, and popped up on the social-media feeds of people who had never even heard of trial...