BMX THE SADDLE DANCER.
Matthias, Judging by your social media channels, your days appear to be filled with nothing but fun. What are they really like?
Instagram isn’t reality, of course. But I’m lucky to be able to make money doing what I love and work with my friends at the same time. I’m a very positive person and I try to share that with others. But in the end, of course, it’s also my business.
You have around 250,000 followers on Instagram and collaborate with brands, such as MINI, Red Bull and Vans. Are you really more of an influencer than an athlete?
No, my sport is my sport. I know influencers who spend all their time thinking about what to post next and how their fans will react. It’s like a kind of schizophrenia in which your social media personality takes over your real life. I tend to ignore all of that and just get on my bike and do what I’ve always done.
Does someone who holds eight world championship titles still have to train?
I’m not very fond of that word, but I do spend between two and three hours a day on my bike, perfecting my tricks or thinking up new ones. With my headphones on, I’m in a world of my own. To me, it’s like meditation.
To me, prevailing in urban spaces is the essence of the BMX sport.
Flatland, Dandois’s freestyle discipline, is a little bit like figure skating on a BMX: the athletes perform routines to pumping bass rhythms with a jury looking on and evaluating every move. If the world weren’t in the grip of a pandemic right now, Dandois would probably be on a plane, as the BMX scene is connected worldwide. But COVID-19 has forced him to stay in place, close to where he grew up: Paris, that overcrowded, open-air museum with the Seine running through it. This is where Dandois and his friends pedal from monument to monument, spinning on their back wheels in front of the Eiffel Tower, riding across the glass roof of the Grand Palais, performing tricks on the Place de la République under the watchful eye of the Marianne statue.
Does it feel strange to be staying in one place for so long?
For the first time in 15 years, I have something resembling a routine. I take the dog out, go to yoga, ride my bike. But I miss travelling. When a sponsor sends us athletes somewhere for a film project, we all live together in one big house for a week or two. It’s like camp, BMX camp. The stunts we perform for the camera are always more or less the same, but the aesthetic changes with the architectural backdrop. Bogotá is different from New York or Cape Town. To me, prevailing in urban spaces that were not made for bikes is the essence of the BMX sport. And that’s what I’m doing here in Paris and just outside the city of course, too, together with three or four of my mates.
Is there anywhere particular you like to go?
I like to take my MINI Countryman out to Sarcelles, which is in the suburbs. It’s got tower blocks and people selling drugs, and you’re likely to be accosted and given a hard time – but not if you’re on a BMX. You transform a place when you use it to perform tricks. Suddenly, people stop to talk. BMX is a universal language. It helps to connect people who otherwise inhabit very different worlds. I have won eight world championship titles, and whether or not I win a ninth or tenth won’t change my life very much. But what I can do is inspire other people, get them interested in my sport. Who knows, maybe someone watching me do my tricks will one day be a world champion, too.
When you travel outside the city, you always take your MINI Countryman. Does a bike pro like you actually enjoy driving a car?
I very much enjoy travelling in a car, but I prefer to be behind the wheel rather than in the passenger seat. There’s no better way to get to know people than on a road trip. In fact, some of my best memories are associated with cars, like the 10-day trip with friends that took us from Paris to Barcelona, then Portugal, and back again as far as Cologne. I’ll never forget it. What links car travel and BMX is the camaraderie within the group.
There’s no better way to get to know people than on a road trip.
What made you decide to buy a MINI Countryman?
The MINI is an urban car; you see a lot of them in Paris. And if you have to transport a bike as often as I do, it’s also the perfect size. I once even got four of us into it and four BMX bikes in the boot – no problem. We’re always on the lookout for good places to take photos or film each other doing tricks, and as many of these places are outside the city, we take the car. The MINI has the agility of a go-kart, which is just what you need in this city’s traffic.
You’re now 31. How long do you intend to keep looking for new spots, doing tricks, winning trophies? Is it possible for an extreme athlete to age with dignity?
I’m never going to stop riding my BMX. And the only way I want to end my professional career is by competing in the Summer Olympics in 2024, right here in Paris, in front of my family and my friends. To give it everything I’ve got, my absolutely best performance, and then say: ciao, that was it, bon dimanche! To leave the stage after my greatest triumph – that’s what I’m working towards.