This breathtaking video featuring the Scottish street trials rider Danny MacAskill was posted on youtube yesterday and has already been viewed over 1.5 million times. It uses aerial shots (using drones), fluid tracking or steadicam shots and point-of-view shots from the rider’s perspective (using a GoPro camera with a distorting wide-angle lens effect that emphasises the stomach-churning impression of depth) to produce a spectacular, vertiginous film that is sometimes hard to watch.

It is a promotional film advertising the GoPro camera, and it compounds the well-established and close relationship between cycling, cameras and tourism. As early as the 1890s, cyclists were invited to buy the compact ‘Bicycle Kodak’, which could be mounted on the handlebars, or the ‘Cycle Poco Camera’, which was was ‘especially designed and intended as a wheeling companion, or for tourist’s use’ according to newspaper adverts, and in this sense there is a direct link from Poco to GoPro.

This video is also a striking example of the way that cycling produces a different relationship to the physical environment since the cyclist – however skilful or cautious she is – has to think differently from a pedestrian or a car-driver about how to navigate towns, cities and road systems. Cycling forces us to see space differently. For example, the cyclist is much more aware of gradients and the effort involved in moving her body through space, and in most cases will try to follow routes that avoid hills. As a result, as Jon Day puts it, ‘Urban cyclists live in Euclidean cities, hidden to the others, cities made up of inclines and angles, curves and cambers. Almost unconsciously cycling uncovers the deeper and older structures of a landscape than car or train travel can’ (Day 2015: 16). Perhaps more than any of Macaskill’s other films, Cascadia is a perfect illustration of cycling’s spatial and visual reconfiguration of the urban landscape.

The short film has a neat narrative frame – it describes Macaskill’s unorthodox trip down the hill from his apartment to the beach – and it concludes with him taking a dramatic, somersaulting dive into the sea. This final stunt is a reminder that, despite the technically sophisticated camerawork and the specialised bike, Macaskill rides in a tradition of end-of-the pier attractions. See, for example, this actuality footage from 1906 of (the rather less skilful) ‘Professor Reddish’ shot by pioneering Brighton film-maker James Williamson:

 

Reference:

Jon Day. 2015. Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier (London: Notting Hill Editions).

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