Whiskey, Bikes and Bottle Rockets


A Scottish adventure with Hans, Peaty and Danny

By Hans Rey and photos by Andy McCandlish

Peaty and I had been planning a trip to the Scottish Isle of Skye for a long time. When things finally started falling into place, we invited YouTube sensation Danny MacAskill to join us. In whirlwind fashion, the Scottish native has been living the dream since his film clip debut on the Internet a little more than a year ago. It quickly became the most watched sports clip on YouTube of all time, with nearly 18 million viewers to date.

It was not my first time traveling and riding with the freshly-crowned downhill World Champion. With photographer Andy McCandlish, cameramen Rob Summers from Pro Active TV, Mark Huskisson from Reset Films as well as our guide and local tour operator Euan, from H and I Adventures, our team was complete.

With much luck I managed to land in Glasgow, ditching the volcanic ash cloud that stopped air traffic in many towns across Europe. Our crew and Danny picked me up from the airport and off we drove into the rolling countryside. First stop was the much filmed and famous fairytale castle of Eilean Donan, where we had a special permit for a trials session. Unfortunately, my trials bike was in Peaty’s van, whose arrival was delayed.

I was a bit limited, but still had a chance to sample some firsthand impressions of Danny’s fantastic riding skills and enthusiasm. Despite the bad weather forecast, we had sunny skies and enjoyed our ancient playground, almost until sunset, which is not until 10:30 p.m. in May. Steve arrived late that night; early the next morning we got ready to go across the bridge to the Island of Skye and hit some stunning XC trails.

Unlike many places around the world, cyclists are tolerated on all of Scotland’s trails. The scenery, landscape and trails were phenomenal—from the mountain views to the ocean views—a perfect synergy of highlands and islands. To be prepared for any style of riding we each of us brought several different bikes. I brought my GT Force Carbon all mountain bike, Ruckus 7 freerider and my trials bike; Peaty was Santa Cruz-equipped and Danny rode his Inspired and some Orange rigs.

The Quiraing are massive, broken up craggy rock faces that tower over the lush meadows, surrounded by breathtaking views only accessible by an ancient trail. We challenged each other to little trials riding problems and it was good to see how much fun everybody had, even though we were “just” cross-country riding. Next stop, the Talisker Whisky Distillery, where we enjoyed a private tour and sampling session. We learned some whiskey etiquette and all about the unique peaty flavor of this precious drink—some would say that it is an acquired taste.

The local pub where we spent the night had more than 300 different whiskys, but we didn’t manage to try them all. Preserving our heads for the morning, I instead gave the guys a private screening of the new Wheels 4 Life film. Danny told us about one of his ancestors, the giant Angus MacAskill, who lived some 150 years ago. According to the Guinness Book of World Records he was known as the largest true giant measuring an impressive 7’ 9” or 2.36m. Danny’s parents run a tiny local museum and it was a pleasure meeting them and listening to their stories about Angus and Danny and the similarities in terms of their success and fame.

Overnight the notorious Scottish clouds and rain arrived, which didn’t hold us back from doing another, very wet and technical XC ride through Glen Sligachan, and along the shores of a beautiful loch. The weather merely added to the dramatic and mystical landscape. We had been wondering why Peaty brought such a large backpack. Instead of the usual contents one would pack during a long ride, he pulled out a small coal grill, sausages, beers and some bottlerockets. Typical Peaty. Who needs a rain jacket when you can have a beer instead?

There are endless trails and very few people using them. We didn’t have to share the trails with any other riders all week long, just some sheep and shaggy Scottish highland cattle. Our next destination was Torridon, north of Skye, on the mainland in the Scottish Highlands. We stayed at a very remote fishing cabin on Loch Damh, a very peaceful and beautiful place, that is, at least until we got there. A chartered helicopter took us to some isolated mountain ridges, where we dropped in on our big bikes. It is something special to slice through the air in a helicopter; we all had big grins on our faces, we were just like excited little kids again.

It was very cool to have three generations of riders on this trip, we all have a different forte but are all influenced by each other and by the same common background of riding very technical terrain. Many things have changed since my early freeriding days. Not only the technology of the bikes, but the limits of what is possible, are at a level that I could have not dreamed of 20 years ago. Boundaries are constantly being pushed, and that continues to inspire us all. I’m thrilled to still be a part of the mountain biking movement, to see it and experience it firsthand with one of the fastest, and one of the most progressive riders ever.

It was a delight to follow Steve and Danny—even though I sometimes had to catch up—and it was with sheer amazement that I tried to comprehend some of Danny’s lines and moves. A gigantic bonfire at our hut burned late into the night, as the boys kept dragging wood out from the hills. Fireworks and other party supplies interrupted the silence of the night. The last day provided us with some more downhill trails, before we ended up in Aviemore, a Scottish mountain resort in the Cairngorms and the town where Danny lived for a few years.

At last I got to ride my trials bike at Danny’s old stomping grounds. Old school meets new school, and let me tell you, this is not the last we’ve heard of Danny. He has many goals and he definitely hasn’t reached his limits yet. Even Peaty busted out some trials moves before we raised a final glass of fine Scottish malt… Here’s to the good life!

Hans Peaty MacAskill Highlands from ResetFilms.co.uk on Vimeo.

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This piece originally appeared in Issue #155. You can order a copy of this issue here. To make sure you get Dirt Rag content as fresh as it can be, please order a subscription, and help us keep it rolling.