Danger Dan Interview Pt I (plus vid)
This was originally posted in July of 2001 – over ten years ago. The response to our video feature on Dan a few months ago made me realize that this interview needed another airing. Dan talks about his battle with cancer, building, starting to ride, and about the characters that built this special zone.
This wasn’t supposed to be for the site. I sat down with Dan thinking I would write a story and submit it to bike magazine. By the time the coffee was cold and the Pannekoeks eaten I knew this was too good to give away.
Words like legend don’t quite capture the buzzsaw that is Danger Dan. It isn’t too big a leap to say that without Dan the North Shore as we know it wouldn’t exist. I remember talking to Digger (Todd Fiander of the NSX video series) when Dan was scoping the line for “The Flying Circus” Dan’s most famous trail. Digger had built a one off rock drop and Dan had discovered the fuel for his sick imagination up slope and asked Digger if he could finish what he’d started. “He’s nuts” I remember Digger saying. “He thinks that because he can ride a road divider 6 inches wide he can do the same thing 6 feet in the air.” It turns out that he can and so can many of the rest of us.
It is no exaggeration to say that Danger has made every rider on the North Shore better. According to Digger “Dan is a great trail builder because he always needs to be challenging himself. No one would have thought of articulating teeter totters and log rides way up in the air – without Dan we’d still be on the ground.” We may be a few steps behind but as he continues to challenge himself the rest of us mortals struggle to ride what was tough for him a few years back. As far as his riding goes Dan doesn’t attract the usual adjectives. Words like muscular, forceful and tenacious come to mind. In Digger’s words “Dan is an extraordinary rider pushing the limits. Dan is always aggressive. He pedals into stuff hard – he’s like a wound up spring.”
Something to think about, the next time you see Bender launch some cliff, is that Dan has been riding with less travel in total than Bender has in his front fork. Danger recently swung his leg over a new Ellsworth Dare with Boxxers (8″ and 7″ respectively). Before that he had 5 inch travel Marzocchis up front and 6 inches in back on his Aeon Joker – a very meagre amount of travel for a video star. Talking to Dan is like trying to catch goldfish with mittens on; you feel unprepared for his energy and enthusiasm, always trying to catch up and never able to anticipate what comes next.
Here is the first installment of the Dangerous Dan Cowan interview.
Eric Van Drimmelin on the Reaper Log. Photo ~ Sterling Lorence
– torn down by the District of West Van)
|Nsmb – So tell me about when you started mountain biking.
Dan – Well I started mountain biking in 1991 when I was 21 or 22 – yeah I think I was 21 when I got my first mountain bike. I just bought a mountain bike at the top of Mountain Highway because I lived right nearby. I got this bike and I think the first trail I took it on was the Baden Powell and I remember the first ride I was just ecstatic because I couldn’t believe my bike was riding over this stuff and I was actually still on my bike. I was just totally ecstatic and then I found a few trails. I think Ross Kirkwood was working on the 7th (7th secret) I hadn’t met Digger at the time and I don’t know what he was up to – he was probably just starting to build the Big Eye. I rode every single day – rain shine it didn’t matter – I would just ride to the top of mountain highway and ride down the Baden Powell and then ride up the Griffen trail and then I heard about Pipeline and I went and found that. Actually I remember that day because I got passed by 2 guys and I was like “wow those guys can really ride” and that was the last time I was like fully passed.
Nsmb – So when did you start getting into riding stunt trails? Do you remember when Digger built Ladies?
Dan – Oh yeah.
Nsmb – You already knew Digger then?
Dan – Yeah I knew Digger for 2 years by then. I started riding a fully rigid Rocky Mountain Equipe and then I got a titanium bike actually – my RekTek. My Dad has been running the trails on the North Shore for years and he showed me the trails up by Brothers Creek with lots of stairs and stuff so I started riding those all the time and all through West Van. Back then I thought I was just the gnarliest guy around because of the stairs – and they are still big stairs even today. And then somebody told me about Big Eye and Grannies and then I just started riding everywhere by myself. More and more trails like Severed Dick because like I would always…
Danger riding the ‘Slocan Swiveller’ on Air Supply. Photo ~ Phil Maranda
Nsmb – Because no one could keep up with you?
Dan – Yeah I would meet a couple of people and say let’s go for a ride and I’d ride for 30 seconds and wait for a minute right so it kind of sucked that way. The first guy I met who kind of showed me some trails was Tony from the LoveNest. Do you know Tony?
Nsmb – Err? No. What’s the LoveNest?
Dan – It’s a “love” store you know. Anyway I met up with him one day and he was kind of the leader of his pack and I was following him down and I was thinking “wow this guy’s really good” and we got down to the bottom of Severed Dick and he could see that I was totally psyched and just like ready to go – wanted to ride everything and anywhere and he goes “I know a great trail – you need love” and I went Yeahyeayeayea you know like that weasel in the cartoons? Show it to me show it to me! So he said it’s all the way over on Grouse so we rode over to Grannies and that was the trail that I was going to be riding for a good month or 2 straight every day you know what I mean because it had a couple of little ramps – like ramps to logs to drop-offs you know and then he told me about The Big Eye and he just sort of explained to me where it was and I went up on 2 different occasions to find it and couldn’t. I was hiking around the bushes by myself for 2 days and finally I found it and started riding that over and over and over again.
So by that time I had probably been riding for about a year I guess maybe a little less, and I was riding all the trails – Coiler, Big Eye, Grannies.
Nsmb – Sexboy?
Dan – No Sexboy wasn’t there. What excited me about the trails was the difficult sections. The trail would kind of go along and then there would be a ramp or a really steep section or a big rock or big drop and that was what would get me really excited. So what I did was where the BigEye ended it just sort of stopped and came out onto a hiking trail but there was a big wooded area beyond so I took a look and there was this giant rockface – well what I thought was a giant rockface back then. So I said I’m gonna ride down that rockface I’m gonna blow peoples’ minds – I’m gonna blow my own mind right? Then I walked some more and found this giant log. Now back then there was no log rides.
Nsmb – You rode over logs but not across them
Dan – Exactly, no such thing as a log that you ride down. But this log was big and it was on its side and ready to be ridden on and I like to say it was the first ever log ride in the trails. Around the same time I met up with Mountain Bike Mike who was building Twelve Bridges, which was around the Big Eye – no actually what happened I was taking a buddy up to the gate, he’s a writer now he writes for the voice.
Nsmb – Who’s that?
Dan – Justin Bettle – he’s the editor for Sports View. So he said to me “why don’t you show me some trails” so I said come on and back then upper Oilcan was a big one as well. And I had heard of Digger by this time – he was the guy who built Grannies right and that was my favourite trail. I had heard some stories “oh Digger and the guys he rides with ride everything” OohhAhhhooooh (laughs). I was coming up to the gate that day and there was a couple of guys standing there – one guy with a beard and a bigger looking guy and to me they looked older – 29 – 30’s kind of thing. Sure enough this guy comes up to me and says “what are you guys ridin” so I said I’m going to ride upper oilcan and Grannies and they both laugh. And it came out that this was Digger. Of course when it was Digger – and he remembers this moment too – I was just like down on my hands and knees “oh you’re the man, you’re my hero”. Because I had been riding his trails and loving it. And so I said ” Hey guess what I’m doing? I’m building a trail at the end of your trail” And as soon as I said that Gabe (Goat Legs Gabe) looked at Digger and Mike and they just started to laugh because they had seen it right and they had gone and looked at my starting of this rockface and they were like “Yeah we were wondering who that crazy idiot was who built that stupid rockface.” They were like “you ride that?’ And I told them I tried to ride it a few times and fell off. So I abandoned my poor friend I was supposed to take up but I said “I gotta ride with these guys” and I remember that I was riding behind Mountain Bike Mike and he was going the same speed I was.
Nsmb – A totally new experience?
Dan – Yeah, so when we got out I said to Mike – not so much to Digger because he was a little bit slower, not much but Mike was definitely the best rider. So I said to him “we gotta go for a ride again” so we hooked up and they were telling me they were building a trail up by the Big Eye but they were always keeping it secret and I was always “where is it? Where is it?” And they kept saying “we’ll show it to you when we’re finished.” Their trail got finished around the same time as the Fleshy Wound got finished and so we rode together for ages and then?
Nsmb – The Fleshy Wound is the one with the Quiver Rock right?
Dan – Yeah. You know why it’s called the Quiver?
Nsmb – No.
Dan – A friend of ours, Wayne who built Crippler, one time he was going down the – back then it was just called Dan’s Rock or something – and he fell off and quivered like a dead squirrel. (Laughs while chewing his Pannekoek). The same guy on the first rockface that we used to call the stuck pig he fell and started squealing like a stuck pig. (Dan makes frighteningly lifelike stuck pig sound)
Nsmb – Wayne contributed a lot to stunt names. So you hooked up with those guys – that must have been a huge turning point for you.
Dan – Yeah it was because all of a sudden I had a group of guys to ride with. Not only did they ride well, we had the same kind of competitive attitude for building stuff so we were always pushing each others boundaries. But I like to say that I was pushing them because I was younger right – they were as old as I am now and they were building crazy stuff but I was building stuff that would scare the hell out of them but when they built something I would just go and ride it you know. It would scare me as well.
Nsmb – But you were just pushing it farther?
Dan – A little bit. Like with the Reaper Bridge. Actually Mike introduced me to a friend of his, a younger guy named Chad and we hooked up another guy Todd who was just an awesome rider – like as good as Wade (Simmons) right. I didn’t know Wade at the time but this guy Todd could wheelie up and down hill with one hand and he was a big guy too like 220 lbs with long blonde hair.
Nsmb – What happened to him?
Dan – He just does other things. He’s a mechanic at Whetmore VW. He’s a good guy but just into much different things right? Mountain biking was just one of the things he did well.
|Nsmb – Todd who?
Dan – Todd Lancaster – we called him Todd Lungcancer because the guy smoked so much?. So I met these 2 guys my age and I had played hockey with Todd before and I told them I wanted to build this trail along this line I had scoped out on Cypress and they were all stoked to help me out because they were all West Van guys. So we went up there and started building the Reaper.
Nsmb – So was there anything in between the Reaper and Fleshy Wound? Because there’s a pretty huge leap from Fleshy Wound to Reaper as far as difficulty goes.
Dan – No there wasn’t anything between there.
Nsmb – So your riding was developing really fast then so you had to toss the ball further ahead?
Dan – Exactly – we wanted something that was going to freak the hell out of us. We were always looking for something. And it wasn’t my idea to build the Reaper bridge. I wanted to build the chute beside it. But Chad who was wild and crazy too said “why don’t we just ride down that log.” It took a couple of days to build right and we used the shittiest wire – we used stucco wire and since I was the instigator so I said I get first dibs. I had my name back then because Digger had already named me Dangerous Dan.
Nsmb – How did that happen?
Dan – I just went for a ride with Digger and his buddies and he said “you’re dangerous” and it just stuck. So I put my bike on the Reaper Bridge and my poor buddies Chad and Todd were sitting there watching me and I start shaking like a leaf. Because you know you don’t really look at it until you get up on it and the thing is you need to be really calm and composed and feather your front brakes. Even up until the day it was built it was scary because it was so steep right and there were lots of consequences.
Nsmb – And the tree you had to avoid.
Dan – Yeah – so I freaked the hell out of my 2 friends. I think if we had put Todd Lancaster on it first he would have ridden it. So my friends rode it before I did. Mind you we were already riding the rest of the trail.
Actually the first person to ride it was none other than Wade.
Nsmb – Really?
Dan – Yeah and that’s how I met Wade right because I was talking to Ken Maude because he was working at Robson Cycles. It’s funny because I have talked to him so much over the years but I have never actually ridden with him much at all. I would always come to Robson to get my bike fixed and he was riding all the trails as well right and Ken told me about his buddy Wade and he said “yeah he rode your bridge.” And I was like no way, what’s his number” so I immediately called him up that day and I said “I hear you rode my bridge” and he was totally psyched. So I said “we gotta go for a ride.” We met up at the first lookout there and I’m sitting on a park bench and Wade comes riding up all the way from downtown. I guess he was a cross country racer and in shape and all that, I’m sure he still is but he comes riding up and hops over the concrete barrier and I was like “holy shit man this guy’s effing good”. So we rode up there and I watched him ride it (the Reaper bridge) and watching him ride it did not make me want to ride it because he almost fell off right? He was like stop, start, stop, skid right? His back tire came this close to falling off you know. It didn’t make me want to ride it but when Todd Lancaster heard that Wade rode it he went up and did it. He didn’t know Wade but when he heard somebody else rode the bridge that he helped build he was like down it. After Chad rode it then I rode it and then once I rode it it was like okay and then you do it over and over and over again. But that was a major turning point. I saw it take out so many people right.
Nsmb – Well even you in NSX 1. Wasn’t that you hitting the tree?
Dan – No. That’s Chunderbunny.
Nsmb – Now who’s that?
Dan – Jeremy Catchpoole. He’s all over NSX 1 crashing everywhere.
Nsmb – I always thought that was another one of your names.
Dan – Chunderbunny – no that’s Jeremy.
Nsmb – Didn’t he wear the same kind of helmet?
Dan – Yes that’s right. A black Troy Lee Helmet.
Nsmb – So I thought you crashed more than you do because I was mistaking you for him.
Dan – In NSX 1 everybody’s crashing.
Nsmb – Which is a criticism of that movie.
Dan – I used to crash a lot more for sure.
Nsmb – Your tolerance for it gets less as you ride more. And you get more calculating so you can figure out when you are going to crash.
Dan – Yeah exactly.
Nsmb – What was the rest of your first ride with Wade like after the bridge.
Dan – Oh it was awesome. It was good in a way because although he got the bridge I could definitely ride the rest of the trail as well as him but then he did stuff that you could just tell he had an amazing handle on his bike. He was just born to ride that kid is right?
Nsmb – And what did he think of the rest of the Reaper – he must have been excited.
Dan – Oh yeah. I haven’t ridden with Wade that much either right but he doesn’t come across as the kind of guy who lets off a lot of emotion but when he got off that bridge he was jumping around like a monkey. Everyone who rode the bridge at that time had the same reaction. I did the same thing.
Nsmb – I still do that sometimes.
Dan – Oh yeah when there’s something you’ve never done before I jump around for sure.
Nsmb – That one out in Tswassen that David Houston sent me looks huge. It’s on the site have you seen it?
Dan – Which site?
Nsmb – Nsmb – you haven’t seen it?
Dan – That was big too.
Nsmb – In the picture it looks bigger than the one in the British Properties.
Dan – It’s a little less actually
Dan building for the filming of
Search for the Holey Trail
|Nsmb – So you built the Reaper and you started getting some guys to ride with. What was the next big thing in your development?
Dan – Well the Reaper was divided into sections. After I built the first section of the Reaper GMG was just starting to get built. That was a cool addition to the North Shore scene because it was steep right. And then I built the second and third sections of the Reaper which had some steep sliders in it. And then I built the Pre Reaper which wasn’t more difficult but it had some things like the teeter totter on top of the log which was a significant step in the evolution.
Nsmb – A combination of 2 kinds of stunt. Pre – Reaper was one of my favourite trails. I used to love it because you’d get on it and get warmed up.
Dan – And it started out in the big trees – really lush forest. I guess A Walk in the Clouds was after that. Right after the Reaper and GMG was finished Todd (the Digger) had started on Ladies and he was about half way through it and I rode it down till it ended and he said “yeah I’m going to build these ladder bridges across these mud pits.” And that is when the ladder bridge craze started.
Nsmb – He wasn’t going to put them up in the air or anything he just wanted to avoid building the trail up where it was constantly muddy.
Dan – Yeah. I immediately thought what a great idea. I can just build that anywhere as long as you have the right materials. So I started building A Walk in The Clouds which was originally going to be called A Shitload of Nails right. I remember Digger kept coming up and he sat down and he said “goddamn you sure got a shitload of nails on this trail” because it was just ladder bridge after ladder bridge. And I guess one of the significant things about that trail was the Abyss right because it was a 7 foot wheelie drop.
Nsmb – With a FLAT landing.
Dan – Flat and muddy. I remember doing the Abyss for my first time and I was scared shitless.
Nsmb – How long after you built it did you do it.
Dan – Pretty much right after. I think I was the first one to do it.
Nsmb – And that was back in the full-on wheelie drop days so you weren’t launching it.
Dan – Right. Actually that being said the big wheelie drop at the time was the boundary rock. I went travelling for 4 months and I got back and started building Walk in the Clouds with this guy named Jody Dobson. He was a really good rider but he wasn’t strong enough to keep in the game you know – he got hurt. But he was really talented. Remember the Jesus logs? (on Pre Reaper) That was named after him. Because we kept saying “Jesus Jody!” because he was able to do the same hop over as Wade. That was the big thing because Jody had done this big hop to the side that only Wade had done. He had done the Boundary Rock. So I went up there my second or third ride back I was riding with Andre who built the Boundary – he was just 16 back then. I knew that I would be jumping off the boundary rock.
Nsmb – And obviously you were on a hardtail with 2 inches of front shock.
Dan – I don’t even think I had any suspension.
Nsmb – So you must have been landing really heel toe.
Dan – Doing the trials thing basically.
Nsmb – So when you were thinking about your line for Walk In The Clouds were you consciously aiming above what you were capable of then?
Dan – I wanted to challenge myself for sure.
Nsmb – Because some of the uphill log rides even now are some of the nastiest things to ride on the shore so then they must have been out there. What was Digger saying about what you were building?
Dan – Well that log ride you are talking about the log has deteriorated. I wouldn’t build a log ride like that now because I know it’s not cedar, it’s not going to last right? Digger thought it was funny – I don’t think he really knew what to think about it.
Nsmb – Do you think he thought there would be other people who would be able to ride it? Because he seems to be more of a populist trail builder. He pushes the envelope but likes to build something that a lot of people can ride.
Dan – He didn’t say much about it because it was so high up there and he thought it was my own little playing field.
Nsmb – Your secret stash.
Dan – When he did freak out was when I started building the Circus. I remember him saying “who the hell’s going to ride this? No one’s going to ride this.” And I said “well I’m going to ride it.” “Well you and who else?” And I said “I don’t care if nobody else rides it – I know there will be some people riding it. I know Wade will ride it.” Circus was the next step. It freaked everybody out – I freaked myself out. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I found all those log rides in a row.
Nsmb – Are they all good cedar?
Dan – The Skybridge isn’t but it’s pretty new. But the Mother Log was just like a sign from the mountain god to build a trail here right.
Nsmb – Is that the big uphill one?
Dan – That’s the Overpass. No the giant one just sitting there. It’s still the biggest log ride on any trail I’ve ever been on. The Mother Tongue was just a creation – Chunder Bunny built that with me actually. We went out in the winter and when we were building it we were thinking should we make it wider at the bottom or skinnier – let’s make it skinnier. (The mother tongue is an uphill logride about 6 inches wide which climbs to the top of a root pad about 7 feet up. From there you must turn your bike left 90?down a steep ramp which narrows to about 8 inches wide at the bottom. Very scary.)
Nsmb – Circus was after A Walk In The Clouds but there was gap in there wasn’t there?
Dan – There was. I went away to Sweden. And then there was that whole thing with the tumour and everything…
Here’s Danger riding the last trail he built on the North Shore; Watchamacallit.
Your thoughts on Danger Dan and his legacy would fit nicely below. And let us know if you are interested in seeing part II of this interview.