Wheels & Waves: The Best Motorcycle Event in the World?

| 6/24/2015 4:55:00 PM

Wheels & Waves

Perhaps the easiest analogy for Wheels & Waves in Biarritz, France, is to call it Sturgis for the custom bike hipster. Yet that comparison isn’t quite right. Sturgis is a mostly older crowd; Wheels & Waves is a mostly younger crowd. Sturgis is mostly Harley-Davidson; Wheels & Waves is most anything else. Sturgis is mostly stock bikes; Wheels & Waves is mostly custom bikes. Sturgis is mostly black chaps and leather fringe; Wheels & Waves is mostly raw denim and waxed cotton. Sturgis has beautiful mountains and prairie; Wheels & Waves has beautiful mountains and beach.

Wheels & Waves is definitely inspired and influenced by American culture, especially SoCal culture — that unique mash-up of hot rod, biker, surfer and skater styles. But it’s American culture translated by Europeans. So while both events are an annual opportunity for like-minded enthusiasts to reunite, talk bikes, listen to live music, cruise the streets, drag race, see bike-related exhibits, check-out their favorite custom builders, visit brand booths, buy T-shirts, take day rides into the surrounding countryside and generally party, Wheels & Waves exemplifies the simple joie de vivre the Europeans have mastered so well. Instead of a super-sized circus, it’s a more personal, less commercial celebration.

Wheels & Waves

Tats and beards

Tattoos and beards may be on par at both events, but at Wheels & Waves there a far fewer beer bellies and the women are actually dressed — and still look great. Emphasis seems to be on personal style and understated individuality, while bikes tend to lean towards used and lovingly abused, favoring patina and grime over gloss and shine.

Then there’s the food. Being in the Basque country straddling France and Spain, food and drink are a ritual. There are no fast food stands offering hot link sausages or dry hamburgers washed down with a plastic cup of Bud Light anywhere to be found. Instead, participants ride to any one of the many restaurants, seafood patios or tapas bars in town or the outlying region for some of the best slow food cuisine and wine on planet Earth. At Sturgis, food is an afterthought. At Wheels & Waves, food is an event.