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Graffiti artist to BMX bandit: Charveron pushes limits as guerrilla bike rider

By Chris Murphy and Francesca Church, CNN
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed October 16, 2013
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maxime Charveron is a freestyle BMX biker from Lyon in France
  • The 22-year-old honed his skills after being fined for going on a graffiti spree
  • Charveron has won a string of titles and constantly comes up with new tricks
  • He says the streets of Lyon feel like his office, especially in the dead of night

(CNN) -- Your city is Maxime Charveron's blank canvas, and it's no longer spray cans he is painting with.

As a graffiti-obsessed tearaway teenager in the French city of Lyon, Charveron used to paint the town red, as well as blue, yellow, white and any other color he could get his hands on.

Hauled in front of the French courts after one particular spree, the then 15-year-old was slapped with a $33,000 fine, one his distraught parents were unable to cover.

It was a brush with the law that would thrust Charveron towards his destiny as a BMX freestyle trailblazer.

"My parents didn't have a lot of money -- I killed them with that," the man who describes himself on Twitter as a "clown Pro-BMX rider from the cheesiest country in the universe" told CNN's Human to Hero series.

"My dad was really scared, he had no money. He was not really angry against me but he said 'Dude, we are done, all the family is done' and I was like 'Phaooo.' I thought 'I just need money and I need to do something to get out of this situation.'

"I started riding really seriously because there was a BMX tour contest in France with a car to win, so my aim was to win this car, then to sell it, pay my fine.

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"I did it, so then I thought I'm going to keep riding BMX and live like that."

So in the best traditions of guerrilla art forms, Charveron continues to carve his own arcs through the environment around him, grinding rails and finding flow and meaning in functional structures.

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A legacy of broken bones is a small price to pay for the exhilaration it brings him and the people lucky enough to watch him at work.

Charveron has a string of titles to his name, and a cherished fourth place at the International Festival of Extreme Sports in Montpellier this year.

His desire to push the parameters of what is possible on a bike serve as a unique blend between BMX and the principles of Parkour -- where free-runners vault, jump and glide over and around the urban landscape.

"Maybe I'm a little bit better than the others at BMX because I'm less scared and I'm determined," he said.

"It's about pushing the limits and finding new things to do all the time. If you've got a new spot you will find new things to do. There are no rules.

"In BMX freestyle there are different types of riding, there is the street -- you ride on the street -- there is dirt -- you ride on jumps -- you can ride in a skate park, you find everything you want in a small place, and then there is the flat land.

"It's like a dance with the bike on the floor. For me I ride street, skate park and dirt. And I just want to do my best on all of them."

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Polished videos of Charveron's skills are stuffed full of tricks; one moment he might be sliding backwards down the handrail of a flight of stairs, the next leaping into the air after whizzing round the curve of a defenseless Lyon building.

But some also showcase the often unseen trial and error stage, when Charveron's bike and body end in a crumpled heap on the floor.

It is a painful necessity in the process of trying to perfect a new trick.

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"Sometimes it takes a long time for your brain to make your body do it," Charveron said.

"Sometimes I just think about one trick for two months, and one day, when I feel good, I try the trick and it works like that! Just pull it. Maybe I will crash one time, two times, then I will pull it. Easy.

"I think the hardest part of BMX is to be injured all the time. As soon as you ride, as soon as you try something, you can be sure to have a small cut on your leg or to be hurt somewhere.

"I had a lot of injuries: a popped out shoulder, a twisted knee, a broken foot, surgery on my ankle. I have been knocked out maybe 10 times, I broke my nose when I was young, broke my arm when I was young.

"With BMX you need to crash, you need to fall to learn new tricks. As soon as you ride you will be hurt a little bit so you will be all the time injured."

It was at the age of nine that Charveron's interest in BMX was piqued by a magazine article.

After a year spent pinching his sister's bike, he got his own and after nailing down the basics, learnt his trade on the deserted streets of Lyon under the cloak of darkness.

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"When I started riding a lot at 15, I loved to hang out in the city alone during the night and ride street all the time," he explained.

"It was chilled, it was calm, during the night there is no-one on the street, everyone is in front of the TV with their families.

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"It was weird -- it seems like you have the entire city for you, if you ride Lyon at 3am, there is no one on the street and you can do whatever you want -- I love that.

"It inspired me because there is a real atmosphere on the street. I am scared about nature, I would hate to be in the forest alone and ride but I love being on the street because of the atmosphere of the buildings.

"I think it's comfy; it's like I feel like home, it's hot, I can stay on the street, it's like my office."

As a pioneer of his chosen discipline, he is constantly protective of its integrity, and claims many of the current crop of freestylers in France are in it only for fame.

"It's about taking your bike and riding for pleasure, not to be famous, or make a video, it's just about riding BMX," he said.

"I think with the internet -- Instagram, Facebook, Twitter -- I think the kids (have) lost it, now when they go to the skate park they all have camera stuff to make videos.

"I do the same and I think it's normal, but in one way I think it's sad because they're in the skate park and they're not even riding, they're doing it to put their videos online and be famous."

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