Words by Leon Poultney
Every year, the hippest kids in Europe flock to the picturesque French coastal town of Biarritz for the achingly cool Wheels & Waves festival, where custom motorcycles line the beaches and trendy folk surf the warm azure waters.
The event was kick-started in 2009 by The Southsiders, a group of Biarritz biker chums obsessed with surfing and racing vintage motorcycles, but it has rocketed in popularity since.
In fact, this year saw the venue moved from its original home at the Phare de Biarrtiz lighthouse to a much larger site at Cité de l’Océan, meaning more stands, a larger stage for live music and a giant video screen to play arty black and white surf films to the chilled out crowds.
A surf contest, which sees pros and amateurs take to the waters on stylish vintage craft, usually opens the event on the Friday but it was unfortunately called off thanks to some epic thunderstorms and an unusually calm Atlantic Ocean, but that didn’t stop the bikers from taking over Biarritz town centre.
As soon as the weather cleared up, the revellers could begin to enjoy the other highlights, which include a massive art exhibition in a disused garage, daily group ride-outs along the beautiful coastal roads and the festival’s highlight, the Punk’s Peak race.
Here, classic and customised bikes race two-by-two along the Jaizkibel mountain range.
A total of 64 competitors embark on a high-octane blast along the twisting route and compete in a knockout style competition. The winner stays on until he or she takes glory.
This year, Harley-Davidson seized the opportunity to reveal a number of specially customised motorcycles to promote its Dark Custom range of aftermarket parts.
Perhaps most striking was Shaw Speed and Custom’s eye-popping Street 750 Factory Racer, decked out in fluorescent hues and sporting an exhaust note that makes eardrum spontaneously combust.
The specialist bike-builders, who are based just outside of Brighton, also impressed crowds with an awesome, retro-inspired H-D 1200 Cross which took inspiration from Steve McQueen’s off-road bikes.
BMW also jumped on the band wagon and unveiled its Path 22 Concept – a surf/motorcycle mash-up that’s based on a 1,160cc R nineT model but benefits from bespoke scrambler-style bars and lights, a tailored leather seat and an exquisite contraption that keeps surfboards safe and secure.
But the madcap event will always be about real guys and girls personalising real bikes, and for every modern Harley-Davidson that is parked outside of one of Biarritz’s brilliant bars, there will be five customised Hondas, a handful of tweaked Nortons and more Yamaha cafe racers than you could shake a stick at.
Bikes and boards may not be your typical bedfellows but for one weekend a year in Biarritz, they seem to make the perfect couple.
We’ll raise a petite bier to that.
Find out details of next year’s Wheels & Waves Festival on their website.