Weekend Warm-Up: The Slabs

The extreme athlete’s adrenaline rush also buzzes audiences of Danny MacAskill’s latest escapade. He’s a superhero on two wheels, although sometimes I wonder if he’s more daredevil or possibly even stunt man than an “athlete”. His seemingly most death-defying moment occurred last October when he took his bike down the sheer rock face of the Dubh Slabs on Isle of Skye — the final 200m near-vertical, no less.

When the adrenal glands flood the body with adrenaline, it accelerates heart rate, prompting a fight-or-flight reaction: Does the person retaliate or seek safety? MacAskill chooses a fight response, but it is also one that could turn fatal in a millisecond.

MacAskill’s Dubh Slabs descent is a world first, but it comes off the back of almost 15 years of professional trial biking. Here’s a brief recap:

He’s the guy who in 2009 found the world stage after posting a five-minute video on YouTube. Set to the Band of Horses’ song The Funeral, the video shows MacAskill bouncing, balancing, hopping, and riding along some of Edinburgh’s most iconic sites. Sites that, we should clarify, don’t normally have rubber tires upon them.

The video, entitled Inspired Bicycles, catapulted him to fame and put his previous life as a mechanic in the past. Since then, he’s appeared in music videos and TV ads, and released more than 20 high-production-value films featuring his urban trial bike style, some of which have been viewed more than 300,000,000 times.

Since 2009, Danny MacAskill has been unstoppable, gradually shifting from urban areas to the mountains. Photo: Inspired Bicycles.


In 2014, MacAskill raised his biking style to new heights when he rode the Cuillin Ridge (also on Isle of Skye), creating the video The Ridge, which went viral. Then, while holed up in the U.K amidst a pandemic, he traded his usual two-wheeler for an e-bike, on which he pedaled more than 8,000km while seeking out his next landscape inspiration.

A brief ease of COVID-related lockdowns allowed him to nip back to the Cuilin Mountain range for this most recent stunt on The Slabs.

Dubh Slab is a legendary 500m continuous slab of rock renowned as one of the most remote of Scotland’s classic moderate climbing routes. It’s essentially a giant flat piece of rock featuring 60-degree gabbro slabs that you wouldn’t expect to be rideable.

Gabbro has an excessively rough texture, which makes gripping easier, but even so, there’s the same fight against gravity, with the weight of a bike added to the equation.

“I couldn’t imagine any rock that would be better to ride on,” MacAskill says. “If it weren’t for the gabbro, I wouldn’t have been able to ride the kind of lines I was attempting up there.”

In his younger years, MacAskill spent time in these mountains, so this recent adventure came with a sense of familiarity. To pick the right route, he asked climbing friends for their suggestions. In recent years, climbers have become a key source of inspiration for MacAskill.

“They were building my confidence, but it was also good to have them there for perspective on how scary it was,” he says. “I was maybe 150 or 200 feet above the ground on the hardest section on a 60-degree slope.”

Even before the descent, there’s a lot to factor into a ride of this magnitude. To reach the start of the climbing route, MackAskill first caught a ride to the base on a fisherman’s boat. Then he walked with his camera crew to The Slabs and scrambled up the main face in biking shoes, with his bike on his back. The camera crew climbed the gully to the side, hauling their kit with them to just below the summit of Sgurr Dubh Beag (733m).

He made a few adjustments to his Santa Cruz 5010 mountain bike to suit the challenge. He increased the front suspension, optimized braking power, and switched to softer, downhill-specific rubber compound tires to increase traction.

Here, the rubber literally hit the road, as MacAskill began his skilful descent of the Slabs at perilous speed. At the bottom, with adrenaline coursing through his system, his grin showing the immense satisfaction of outwitting fear, he beamed. “That was, ah, pretty scary!” To a bystander watching from the comfort of home, it appeared precisely that.

“I would say the riding The Slabs was a lot more difficult and exposed for me than what I did in The Ridge,” he says. “I specifically picked lines that funneled me along a one-foot-wide ledge with cliffs dropping to the side.”

It’s hard to imagine how one would trump a descent like this one. But as he edges closer to the climbing world and farther from urban street trial biking, you might see MacAskill crank up the adrenaline level even further in the future.