Kriss Kyle is without a doubt one of the best mountain bike and BMX riders in the world, and he has been on a BMX since the age of 10, ripping around his home town of Stranraer, Scotland. In 2008, Kriss won his first major competition at The Transgression Skatepark Jam in Dalkeith, just south of Edinburgh.
From epic wall rides to insane helicopter drops, his blockbuster edits have pushed the boundaries of what's possible on a bike and earned millions of views on YouTube. But for his latest project, he's taken the sport literally to new heights.
Don't Look Down sees Kriss perform tricks on a floating skatepark more than 2,000ft (610 meters) above the ground suspended by a hot air balloon. The balloon set off from Charlton Park Estate in Wiltshire and flew about 30 miles over the Cotswolds before touching down with Kriss thankfully still onboard, who described his incredible feat as a "once in a lifetime opportunity".
Kriss said the idea of a floating skatepark came to him whilst out mountain biking with his dogs during lockdown. "I was mountain biking up this horrible hill behind my house. It was a beautiful day, a thought popped into my head – ’imagine riding a skatepark up in the air’. I first thought you could hang it under a Chinook helicopter, but when I dropped out of a much smaller helicopter in Dubai it was like jumping into a tornado.
"My next thought was, ‘What can you fly that gives off no wind?’. It had to be a hot air balloon. I was visualising it as I was pedaling up and quickly put it down in my notes on my phone before continuing on my ride. When I got home, I sketched up a hot air balloon with a bowl and a stickman underneath it."
After pitching the idea to his manager at Red Bull, his build crew built a prototype out of wood crammed with as many BMX park features as they could get into the bowl, which ticked all the boxes but it weighed six tonnes.
At this point and realizing they needed something light enough for the balloon to carry, the Oracle Red Bull Racing and its commercial arm Red Bull Advanced Technologies (RBAT) got onboard. Formula One engineers who usually spend their time designing parts for Max Verstappen’s F1 car set to work designing something that matched the wooden bowl for shape but significantly shaved the weight, with the result being a carbon fiber bowl weighing around two and a half tonnes, now light enough for the balloon to carry.
Kriss added, "It flexed so much that when I first got on it, I ran down it on my feet and the flat was like a trampoline – not what you want as a BMX rider. It rolled faster than concrete and wood, which was good for me as it meant I could get even more air than normal. But it was hard to get used to that spring and pop. After getting it as dialed as I could on the ground, it was time to raise the bar, but there was another obstacle to tackle first."
The obstacle Kriss referred to was a parachute, more a necessity than an obstacle, bearing in mind he would be doing his tricks 2,000ft (610m) in the air. However, the 'chute was super heavy, almost 20 percent of his body weight and made performing the flairs and flips and spins even harder than normal.
"I practiced riding with it in Unit 23 skatepark and the wooden bowl but it never got any easier. I even asked my manager if I had to ride with it because I was so worried that it would stop me from landing all of my planned lines, but I just had to accept it as an unforeseen difficulty and continue the project."
The first time riding with the bowl off the ground it also became apparent how much it was going to move around. Kriss was left feeling mentally exhausted and sick just from the motion but, eventually, after many hours of practice he started to get used to it.
After 11 months of waiting and multiple canceled attempts, the day finally arrived when conditions were right and the balloon with the bowl, support crew, and Kriss set off from Charlton Park Estate. "Up at 2,000ft (610m), it was so peaceful. I remember looking around and thinking, ‘riding this little bike has got me here – just look at everything that's happened’. Riding was horrendous once again though. It was minus 12 degrees Celsius, the bowl moved and bounced like never before, while the parachute completely drained my energy.
"I had a job to do. I didn’t want to simply session the bowl either – I had a hit list of bangers I needed to tick off, including a fakie front flip and a kick-off to ice pick on the handrail. What are difficult tricks on the ground became near-impossible at altitude with the added weight of the vest and movement of the bowl underneath me.
“Waiting for all that time made it the hardest project in my life. I had to be on standby and there are so many trips that I missed out on. This was the sole thing that my life revolved around. It's insane but my dream to ride at 2,000ft became a reality."
Watch Don't Look Down by clicking the link below and keep up with Kriss and his next mind-blowing project over on Instagram.