Danny MacAskill’s physics-defying stunts have inspired mountain bikers around the world for nearly a decade now. But where does the Scottish trials rider draw his inspiration from? In The Slabs, MacAskill takes his cue from a different extreme sport. Rock climbing.
Shot by Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye – where the 35-year-old trials icon hails from – the feat was inspired by modern rock-climbing legends such as the American Tommy Caldwell (of The Dawn Wall fame, and generally a legend in the world of rock climbing.)
“I am a big fan of rock climbing and have been inspired by the various men and woman who set new routes and test themselves on some amazing faces around the world so I set out to find some challenging Slab Rock routes on my home Island of Skye with an aim to ride them in a continuous line and test what was possible on my bike,” MacAskill explains. “The remote Dubh Slabs rising out of Loch Coruisk in the heart of the Black Cuilin ridge provided some of the steepest terrain I have ever ridden as well as an amazing back drop for the film.”
“I thought it would be pretty cool to find some big slab of rock that obviously can’t be vertical, well at least not vertical for very long. The idea is basically climbing the rock and descending these big slabs.”
For Canadians on the west coast, or anyone who has been to Squamish, the concept doesn’t sound that far off. In fact, B.C. freerider Matt Bolton made headlines in 2020 by sharing a slab with an ascending rock climber. Then again with his jaw-dropping Big Wild video segment.
MacAskill adds his own unique take to slab riding, of course. The Dubh Slabs are a massive 500-metre continuous slab. And, being a MacAskill video, there’s plenty of puckering trials moves thrown in to make the near-vertical routes even spicier.
“I did a bit of research and found the big Dubh Slabs right in the heart of the Cuillins where I filmed The Ridge back in 2014. This is a 500-metre slab of continuous rock. It’s a very remote part of Skye which is already quite a remote place. We managed to get hold of a local fisherman that would take us across by boat to the loch at the foot of the slabs. From there we had to walk a couple of miles inland and then there is this amazing face,” Danny said.
While the Scottish trials rider is phenomenally gifted on a bike, the no-fall nature of riding on slabs meant some ideas were too much.
“Some of the places I was planning to ride were very extreme in terms of what’s possible to ride your bike down and staying in control. Some of the lines I had in mind I wasn’t able to ride into because I would have probably been dead if I tried.
“It’s not like climbing with ropes. I am basically learning how to do this stuff but there is no safety involved – no rope. You make calculations as to what could happen if things go wrong, but it’s best maybe not to think about it too much, rather to think about the positives. There are some kind of slabs in there that have no runout at the bottom, once you go into them there is no way of stopping so you are fully trusting your brakes and tires,” he said.
Danny MacAskill – The Slabs
What bike did MacAskill ride for his unique mix of trials and steep slab freeride? Well, turns out the Santa Cruz 5010 was up to the task. But MacAskill did bump the fork up to 160mm to help with the harsh run-outs.
“I was running the Magura MT7 with a Magura MDR-P rotor in 220mm on the front and 200mm on the back which on that small bike made the brakes super powerful. Furthermore, I had Magura performance pads on the front and used some prototype HC3 levers made for my trials bike which were slightly longer to get me even more power,” says MacAskill. “I set these levers on the most powerful configuration – so all in all the most powerful brake setup that you can have on a bike. It made me feel so comfortable while riding down there. If anything would really stand out it was between the brakes and the tires.”
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Bike setup wasn’t the only challenge. Filming far from, well, anywhere, and on such extreme terrain made it difficult to capture the riding on video.
“The remote location and steep face forced us to think outside the box and meant we had to move away from traditional filming techniques, with us opting to shoot the entire film using GoPros mounted on myself and an FPV (First Person View) racing drone.”
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