Hart attack: The Danny Hart interview

Danny Hart’s balls-to-the-wall style has made him a star but when he’s not pulling huge whips or trading insults on Twitter, he’s just a ‘normal kid’ who loves racing bikes. Ric McLaughlin gets the lowdown on the curse of the rainbow stripes, riding on the edge and rivalries in the pro ranks.

“Do I really have to take me shoes off?” Downhill world champ Danny Hart is less than impressed but acquiesces and humps off his Five Ten riding shoes. He climbs into the palacious Fox motorhome and flops down on the leather sofa, “Nice this, isn’t it?”

As the door closes behind us the noise of the Fort William World Cup all but disappears. Only the dull, rthythmic thud of the huge PA system remains audible. Snapper Steve Behr starts clicking and Danny and I do our best to ‘look natural’.

Since winning last year’s World Championships with a run that’ll go down as one of his generation’s standout moments of brilliance, Danny has had to get used to life in the spotlight and being mobbed from all angles. I ask how he’s coping with it.

“You have to get to the point where you’re comfortable saying no to people,” he sighs, obviously still not entirely comfortable with the concept, “I like it to a certain extent but once you want to try and do something you’ve got to get your blinkers on and just try and walk and not stop to talk to anyone.”

The recognition isn’t restricted to the midge-infested Nevis Range car park, either. “Even at home, around town (Redcar in north-east England, where Danny has just bought a house), all the young kids recognise me, and my van’s all logo’d up too.”

A smile sneaks across his face. “I was filling it up the other day and someone came and shook my hand, which is weird for me, you know? It’s the same here too. I went down the campsite to get a shower last night and met people. I prefer to stay here in the camper. I could stay in hotels and stuff but I still just enjoy feeling like a normal kid racing bikes.”

The ‘normal kid’ sitting in front of me is wearing the rainbow stripes of the world champion. Do they help or hinder him? Much has been written about the pressure they bring with them.

“It’s given me a lot of confidence actually,” he says. “I know that I can ride in any conditions. It’s good for me and it’s good for Giant to have me in the stripes. I know I’m up there with the best of them. After South Africa (where Danny crashed in his race run ~ Ed) I had it all – all the magazines, the whole ‘curse of the rainbow stripes’ thing…”

Did that wind him up? “It did but it just makes you hungry to go out there and win. You’ll always have people who hate on you, there’s always someone who has something to say, you know? I want to get on a steady rise now. Val di Sole wasn’t the best but qualifying third here (he went on to finish second ~ Ed) is a step in the right direction.”

Danny’s style is spectacular. ‘Ragged’ is the wrong word – it implies a lack of control – but the one thing that strikes you most about watching him attack the razor-sharp rocks of Fort Bill is that he seems to be constantly on the edge, constantly pushing the envelope. When he breaks the beam, does he hang it all out, every last drop, or is there still more in the tank?

Danny Hart at the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round in Fort William, Scotland. Picture by Steve Behr

Danny Hart at the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round in Fort William, Scotland. Picture by Steve Behr

“There are times when it’s a bit sketchy!” Again, the smile spreads from beneath the dark shock of hair protruding from under the obligatory sponsor’s cap. “But when you’ve been riding as long as I have, not to sound like a veteran or anything, but you can’t ride like that week in, week out or it’ll bite you, you know? I raced at Val di Sole this year and put everything out there, it was a good clean run.”

Among Hart’s critics, a point often made is that he’s yet to have a ‘big’ crash. An impact which would leave him hurt and off the bike for a prolonged period. Does that ever play on his mind? “Yeah, I mean, it’s part and parcel, and touch wood, I’ve been lucky. No, I don’t think about it much.”

Raw speed is at the core of Danny’s riding but it’s built on the foundation of one of the most well-rounded skill sets in the pro ranks. Does he think he has any natural weaknesses? “Nah, not really.” He pauses for a second and glances down at the table.

“I won Champery in the wet on an unbelievably technical track and I’ve come second here in the past, which is a totally different track, two completely different ball parks. There’s a couple of little things that I need to iron out, like I can struggle with my diet, but that’s just me, not my riding.”

What about the other riders? Do they see the world champ’s stripes as a target? Before the recent Halo BDS national race at Fort William, a row broke out between Danny and Scott11 rider Brendan Fairclough on Twitter. It was tit-for-tat stuff but seemed to get under Hart’s skin.

“It kicked off a bit,” Danny says. “Me and Dave (Garland, Danny’s mechanic) have been preparing for all the races beforehand. Everyone can do it, you know? I was up here for three days and I wasn’t preparing for the national, I was preparing for the World Cup. There was a little bit of backbiting but I think some people just missed out on an opportunity and decided to have a little dig instead.”

Danny Hart just missed the top spot at Fort William but second place was a good result for the young Brit, who's yet to win a World Cup. Picture by Steve Behr

Danny Hart just missed the top spot at Fort William but second place was a good result for the young Brit, who's yet to win a World Cup. Picture by Steve Behr

Danny’s maturity belies his age and he seems capable of converting such tensions into positive motivation. “Once I get on the track all that’s gone. Everyone can do it,” he shrugs, still feeling the need to defend himself.

Hart’s quiet but funny. It’s a combination which seems to meld well with his easygoing South African teammate, Andrew Neethling. “Needles is a good teammate,” he nods. “We rode together this morning actually. We’re not one of those teams who ride together every run but we do a bit and he helps me out and I help him out. He’s had to travel a lot and it’s been hard for him at times. He’s got a lot of experience and he’s a good bloke. It’s good to have someone like that when you’re away or ever stuck for anything, he knows what to do.”

Danny’s not without experience of his own, however. “I’ve raced so many seasons,” he says. “I think I’m on my tenth or eleventh full season now and I’m 20 years old. If you’re still enjoying it and everyone is still behind you, backing you, then why not continue as long as possible? I’ve signed with Giant for a few more years – they reckon I’m doing a pretty good job so they’re happy.”

‘A pretty good job’ is an understatement – a trait which you become used to, talking to Danny. As a rider he seems to have it all – the talent, the consistency, a team willing to back him and most importantly, the maturity to manage all three. The stage seems to be set for him to affirm himself as one of the all-time greats.

Check out some of Danny’s latest videos on our profile page.