Saltrock Ambassador Andrei Burton loves to cycle - but not on the flat. A crop of granite boulders is more what he is after: “I come up here to Dartmoor, put my headphones on and can ride for six hours straight,” he says.
“I’m the happiest person in the world and can’t believe other people don’t do this! I feel really sad when I meet someone who doesn’t have a passion in life.”
Andrei’s passion is also his profession and has made him the best mountain bike trials rider in Britain and in the top 10 globally. Recently turning 30, Andrei first fell for the sport aged 13 after seeing a group of boys doing tricks on their bikes on the steps by Exeter Cathedral, entering his first competition a year later. He now spends between 20 and 40 hours a week training and has spent “thousands of hours” practising on Dartmoor over the past few years.
You may have seen him in the media, doing everything from competing in the Ninja Warrior TV show to advertising multi-vitamins. He is the besuited commuter on a folding bike who suddenly cycles down stairs, along a wall and over benches in the Berocca ad to the catchline: “You, but on a really good day.”
What is more, Andrei has been all over the world with his bike, reeling off a long list of countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Japan. He spends most winters training in Spain. But it’s Dartmoor that tops them all. Why? “Look at it!” he grins, throwing his arms out. “What more could you want?”
Andrei says Cape Town, in South Africa, comes a close second to Dartmoor. “You’ve got Table Mountain in the background,” he says. “And whereas you’ve got sheep and ponies here, there you’ve got penguins and sharks.”
So in demand is Andrei, that he struggles to describe his average week. “I’ve driven 16,000 miles, flown to three different countries, driven to Scotland twice and Europe twice, all in the past ten weeks,” he says.
Over the years, Andrei has broken numerous world records, like the highest ever side hop on to a platform (157 and a half centimetres) and highest vertical drop on to a target. He’s appeared in several Top Gear Live shows, where he rides a bike on moving cars – the only rider in the world to take on this feat.
He certainly looks invincible - he’s so at one with his bike it’s like an extension of him. “I feel naked without it!” he grins when I suggest he might abandon it for a few of the photos. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, his career has been punctuated with injury - he’s broken his shoulder, his hands, and has had 22 stitches in his face. His worst injury was crushing two discs in his back, which kept him off his bike for three months.
He says the sport is: “50 per cent mental attitude, and 50 per cent physical skill. It’s like playing chess but getting sweaty!
“There are riders I’ll beat in competitions because they are weak mentally.”
Andrei grew up in Exmouth and was educated at the small private school of St Wilfrid’s in Exeter before moving to the city aged 16, where he started working as a bike mechanic.
Then, when the invites to perform started multiplying - nowadays he does an average of 100 appearances a year - he went for biking as a full time career.
“I’ve sacrificed everything – I don’t see my family very much and I’ve had relationships break up because of my riding,” he admits.
So if you see him on his bike, don’t tell him he’s fortunate to do what he loves for a living. “I actually hate it when people say, ‘You’re so lucky to ride your bike for a career’, when they don’t know what I’ve been through to get here.
“I don’t know why I’m so driven,” he adds. “I’ve got quite a competitive personality, so maybe it’s that. I don’t think about myself competing with others, only against myself, to be the best version of myself I can be.
“But money can’t buy the feeling after having a good day riding – it’s like a weird euphoria.
“My whole career has been an accident really. I never set out to be a professional mountain bike rider. I still don’t. It was never a conscious decision.”
But what he loves most about his job is inspiring the younger generation to take up sports, and he has worked with Devon County Council to do just that. And with his work ethic, if anyone is up to that job, it’s Andrei.
“Trials biking is hard and takes a lot of work. That’s why a lot of people give up and jump on a BMX bike instead,” he says.
“But I would say to young people wanting to get into trials - or any other sport - is to enjoy the process of learning and set yourself small goals. I always break a challenge down into small goals that are achievable.”
It is now time for Andrei to return to “paperwork and spreadsheets”, which need to be done so he has time for an evening bouldering session at Quay Climbing in Exeter. So I aim a few quick-fire questions at him: What makes you angry? “Cruelty to animals,” says the man who has a 5ft Cuban red iguana, three other reptiles, and a cat as pets. “And, do you know what really makes me mad? People leaving rubbish, it drives me insane, I just don’t understand it!”
Messy or tidy? “My girlfriend would probably say messy!”
What makes you annoyed? “When people ask me why I have no seat on my bike,” he jokes. “Especially when I’m balancing 20 foot up on a granite boulder, mid trick!”
Remember that if you see him out and about, everyone.
Andrei Burton will be performing on Sidmouth beach at the start of Stage Six of the Tour of Britain bike race on Friday, September 9