There are bike shows and there’s motor racing, but in the grand tradition of Woodstock, Wheels and Waves is an epic five-day festival, that celebrates the motorcycle culture in every possible way. Held this year for the past week – the 12th edition of the event was by far the biggest and arguably the best – as organisers ensured there was definitely something for everyone. Based as always in the beautiful beachside city of Biarritz, France, the festival also took visitors and participants across the border into Spain to enjoy the best of Basque Country. Racing and riding, static displays, surfing, skating, cool motorcycles and magic music, the 2023 W&W was one to remember.

If you ask the organisers what Wheels and Waves is all about, they have this to say, “It’s a state of mind, a unique aestheticism, inspired by the motorcycle culture and shaken by our various influences. We rely on the past, on ‘savoir faire’, to live the present and talk about the future.” From this core philosophy, the organisers have packed five days with endless things to do and see, all based out of the W&W Village in Biarritz. In between checking out the custom bikes and racing events, there is skating, surf contests, incredible food and music to enjoy and like minded people to meet. To capture it all, photographer Jan Van Vynckt immersed himself in the action to bring us these fantastic shots.

One of the most popular events on the schedule is “El Rollo”, with a cast of over 100 characters and their incredible machines hitting the flat track for some fast and fearsome racing. The classes ensure there is a mix of vintage and classic bikes and then the downright crazy, with competitors being able to choose a home amongst the pre-1950, pre-1975, pre-1990 categories or the highly entertaining “Inappropriate” class. But don’t think it’s just a laugh, with DTRA European Championship accreditation, the racing was hard fought and as the photos show, the dirt was flying.

For racers of a different stripe, the Punk’s Peak sprint is an original feature of the festival and this year was the 11th edition of the race. From the beautiful coastal town of Hondarribia, riders and their blisteringly quick sprint bikes head to the start line, before racing 400m to the clouds and the summit of Mount Jaizkibel. There are a host of categories from vintage to modern and with Sprint racing so popular across Europe, many of the heavy hitters made the journey and ensured the racing was as wild as the machines.

A good old-fashioned Enduro event awaited the crowds when they arrived back in France and with three classes based on the age of the motorcycle, it ensured the racing was super tight in an event that reminds young and old of the days when Scrambles was as big as road racing. “The vintage enduro ‘just for fun’ on bikes exclusively pre-1995, is a moment eagerly awaited by the spectators and the often outlandishly dressed competitors, the endurance race perfectly sums up the Wheels and Waves ethos that, everyone can become part of the event!”

Adding a touch of Americana and getting back to the beach, the race of the lords is a 300m hard sand track sprint. A standing start with a U-turn at mid-run, two pilots compete with their machines in the purest tradition of the sand races organised by the American soldiers at the end of WW2. To really capture the vintage vibe, all the bikes that compete in this event have to be pre-1950, and this year the races ensured their dress was just as old, adding a bunch of fun to the beach blitz.

The surf and skate aspects of the event are no sideshow and this year, things got ramped up to ten, with intense competition held each day at the skate park, located inside the W&W Village. To show just how good the entrants are, part of the family is the living legend Steve Caballero and plenty of prizes were on offer. The surfing is kept classic, with each day used to find the best waves as a mix of longboards and ’70s twin fins competed in some serious swell, while onlookers were also treated to a board shaping exhibition back at home base.

You couldn’t have been bored this year, with food vans delivering up the goods and the beer flowing freely, with art exhibits and non-stop music to keep the crowds entertained. And the popular rides saw packs of bikes coming and going from the village, as new friends climbed aboard their motorcycles to explore the surrounding roads, take a break from the action with some relaxed cruising and get on the throttle to carve up the countryside. We’ve been covering Wheels and Waves from the beginning, and with another festival set to be held in Italy at the end of the year, it’s definitely time to dust off the passport.

Big thanks to Jan Van Vijnckt for the great photos.

[ Wheels & Waves ]