Gareth from Double Six went to the bike festival in Biarritz and sent this report.
This year saw three of us make our way from England to Biaritz for the annual phenomenon that is Wheels & Waves - me and feelow DTRA racers, Sam Neville and Danny Williams. The trip had started to possibly the worse way we could imagine, when French customs decided we needed a piece of paperwork that the British customs said we didn’t need. So 24 hours and a £1000 later we set off (again) to the dreamland that is Wheels and Waves in the south of France.
El Rollo is perhaps the diamond in the crown of the Wheels and Waves extravaganza. This year saw a return to the Hipodromo De San Sebastien in the north of Spain (40 minute drive from Biarritz). As soon as we pulled up we saw a plethora or flat track bikes getting ready for the day's racing. Harley XR750s (3 of them), XG750R (full race bike) Trackmaster Triumphs, Bultaco Astro, Champion Triumph and Yamahas, Rickman Metisse and more.
The pits are what I envision a 70s flat track race would look like, everywhere you looked you found a bike on any other occasion you would stop and stare at, but here, at this makeshift racetrack, you would just walk past because there is so much vying for your attention.
Riders are divided into classes (pre 75, inappropriate and pre 55) groups of 7 or 8. Each group got a timed practice followed by 2 heats with your points being tallied up from the 2 races. I found myself in a group with 2 x XR750, Dimitri on his Trackmaster, Gille on his very sorted Triumph, two other triumphs and myself on my Trackmaster. The racing line was on the inside and it saw a bundle of bikes make way for it. Two riders stretched in front with Gille and Dimitri battling for the lead. Riding behind you could hear the crowd cheering these two gladiators bang bars. Unfortunately, Gille ran wide and slid out letting everyone pass and Dimitri to bring the win home. As the racing went on the crowds excitement grew with volume, a crowd favourite had to be Danny Williams who had made the trip with me.
Read about Gille's Champion Triumph in Sideburn 53
He was attacking the lead rider on his stunning Bultaco (top photo) with his death or glory approach, snapping at the ankles of the lead rider every corner, trying the inside then the outside. After three laps he lined up his pass for only his bike to fail. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he pushed his bike off the track. As the heats and rounds went by the racing got more intense and the crashes more regular.
Sam Neville (#105, above) the third rider who had made the trip, finished his first raced in second overtaking riders to chase 1st place before running out of laps to catch him. His second race saw a bad start but him making it up and working his way up from last to 5th on his somewhat annoyingly trusty AJS. Over his two races Sam finished a very respectable third in his group.
Read about Sam's AJS Stormer in Sideburn 48.
Other notable racing worth mentioning was the Royal Enfield team. They bought two bikes and riders, not just any bikes but full on custom framers built to the highest spec. They sounded ridiculous in a good way. Not only did they sound great the two riders Gary Birtwistle and Paul Young really put a show on, neither of them letting up on each other on the track. Both took a first and second in each of the races. The pre-55 crew didn't let the event down. This class put on some of the closest racing all day with multiple people taking the lead, again you couldn't help but find yourself cheering them on as they bang bars into the corners.
Read our test of the Royal Enfield Factory Twin in Sideburn 47
The racing all day was fast and great fun to watch, the track had held up pretty good and the crowd in their numbers really made it an occasion to enjoy. The racing ended almost abruptly with everyone expecting a final of some sort only to find final standings to be worked out form the two heats, that were to be announced later back at the festival village. Each year the bikes and riders get better and with the return to the horse track it was one of the best to date.
As the dust settles on yet another Wheels & Waves and I look back and it makes no sense to travel 12+ hours each way for 2 heats of racing and a timed practice. Even the most dedicated riders would struggle to justify it to themselves. But, and it’s a massive BUT, Wheels and Waves is more than just one flat track race. It’s a 5-day extravaganza celebrating everything to do with bike and surf culture. Off-road racing, art show, live music, surfing, sprint racing. It's grown to such an extent you can find yourself bumping into old Top Gear presenters, famous skateboarders, and TV personalities in the festival village. Will I be back? Most likely, I’ve found myself looking into routes that circumnavigate the angry French Karen border control force already, I'd just like a little bit more racing and a final, please.