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Wheels and Waves, Biarritz June 2014

Last year’s trip to the Spa Summer Classic was an enjoyable and refreshing change to the last 20 years at Le Mans and on that trip, we discussed going to the Isle of Man TT this year. The dates clashed with GCSE’s/ Whitsun half term, as well as a conference for Franck, so had to dismiss it. Much consideration was given to the Nuerburgring, but we got a little scared off hiring cars and the potential damage and insurance if we dented it. So having missed the boat for booking LM we were a bit despondent and lacking inspiration. That was until a chance off-the-cuff comment from Yannick at Kingston Little League had us heading towards this super cool event.

Wheels and Waves (W&W) is a mini festival set up by Southsiders M C (motorcycle culture, note its culture, not club). Waves, the surfing element is almost non-existent and the whole event is about style and culture, something we were clearly lacking before we even left. This was only the third year it has been run, so there was a faint hope of us being ahead of the game as seriously hip-biker dudes, how rock n roll would that be?

The rough plan was the overnight ferry to St Malo on Wednesday night and then on Thursday, a charge down straight through France on the back roads to near Bordeaux. Overnight and then the relatively short hop down through the forest the next day to Biarritz. This timetable should give us Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the event, then head back Saturday late. The 600 miles each way was a daunting prospect even for Franck on his sports tourer, but a scary prospect for a few of us on more ‘sit up and beg’ bikes. James suggested a return on the ferry from Santander in Spain, which was a damn good idea, although it added quite a lot to the cost. By the time we calculated the fuel cost for plodding back up France, there was only about £70 more and a no-brainer for the comfort and boy were we glad of that decision. The added bonus was that we could head our way across the fantastic autoroute that runs along Northern Spain to Santander.

Ian and Yannick are our style ikons and it was they that W&W appealed to most, both were planning to bring bikes of character which seemed most unsuitable for a trans- European expedition like this. The route, therefore, was to be sans-autoroute and keeping to backroads. French Franck almost laid a ruler down and planned a pretty much straight route south from St Malo, with more than 30 waypoints just to Bordeaux. Panic set in a week to go, as the selection of our three sat navs found this an objectionable exercise. We did get Francks to reluctantly accept a route in the end, but little did we know how uncooperative it would later become, Ian and I had other sat navs as a backup, which would take a route but with only one waypoint. Despite this, we were all dead excited about the big adventure, a combination of the somewhat daunting distance and our target at the end. John had seen Google suggest the trip was 6 hours, but most of us were expecting more like a 10+ hours trip, a small aspect was the rough 100-mile range that three of the bikes had, which would mean plenty of fuel stops and time to flex the shoulders.

Come Wednesday night, Yannick’s 3-4-year-old daughter did not share our enthusiasm and was screaming ‘don’t go’ while clinging to his leg. Helpfully Ian had suggested using a cargo strap to ratchet her to the rear carrier if the stalemate continued, but it was unnecessary as the drama didn’t last too long. The A3 Kingston bye-pass was also uncooperative as we plodded our way south, we were now over 45 mins late. This was followed swiftly by John’s speedo cable also going south, taking with it his ability to judge his fuel situation as well as speed. There was a quick pit stop to top him up and glare at the offending cable, and then off we sped. Franck was to leave directly from work and Dave’s route was also down the mighty M3, so the RVP was our usual Tescos. A happy hunting ground for us, where James (I don’t do lists) has frequently spent many hours picking up desperately needed last-minute kit for Le Mans. We were seriously late so made a final top-up on the outskirts of Portsmouth and headed straight for a curiously quiet and sinister check-in, gulp, just how late are we? I had to push my bike back as I was not able to check- in without Dave and Franck, but no sooner had that been done, when the pair of ‘where did you get too?‘ brigade turned up, phew!

While waiting in the lines, the offending speedo cable was removed and much grinning at John’s exclamation of his already numb arse, 90 miles down 800 to go, he he! His bike ‘out cooled’ all of ours combined, as it was stripped of such mundane items as, mudguards, bodywork, most of the foam in his seat, speedo cable and a working left-hand indicator. Oh how I mocked and was to later regret. Despite all the work that has gone on to his Kawasaki to give it that retro vibe, mine was still the only bike with an authentic British oil leak.

When booking the ferry it seemed a good idea to have an inside cabin as it was cheaper, it was quite a surprise to be on the keel of the ship and two decks lower than the vehicles, it was a hell of a climb back up! Brittany Ferries entertained us with an extraordinarily amateur magician that was probably a comedian too, but we saw little to convince us of this category. Fuelled with a bit of beer (not too much, due to the next full day), we were highly enthusiastic and perhaps a little over-enthusiastic at times, but the bizarre show was a pleasant way to cross the channel. The St Malo crossing is roughly 12 hours, so time to sleep with not such an early arrival time.

It took ages for us to come out of the ship’s bilges. We had not planned a route to Dinard this seemed simple enough, it was to be from here that we had the route already loaded into Franck’s naughty little sat nav. There was much fluffing around, the sat nav was very badly behaved, and we went down some small farm tracks, it was a rather pathetic start. By the time we had topped up in Dinard, it had taken us about an hour, so we were rather daunted by what lay ahead, as the 10+ predicted hours were from here and much of the morning was already gone.

The remainder of the morning was made up of some delightful sweeping cross-country roads, interspersed with a slow cruise through deserted villages. John clung on at the back as we made swift progress, but our small convoy of 6 bikes was still a 1/4 of a mile long, which made for a frustrating ride at the front, as Franck has to navigate, read the road and keep an eye on tail end Charlie. At one small village, I was almost driven off the road by a woman trying to take photos of John’s bike one-handed through her sunroof. We all then realised what a celeb we had without realising it, but obviously played this down, not wanting it to go to his head so soon.

Franck led at a good pace, Ian had a BMW 800 adventure bike with huge alloy panniers to carry their camping kit, and Yannick had accepted that his 30-year-old single cylinder may not have made Portsmouth and so hired a Honda of the same style. Both kept a close guard behind Franck. Dave has a Triumph Speed Triple, a stripped-down sports bike with no faring, on paper faintly unsuitable for long-distance work, but he was happy with the beast on our trip to Spa last year. My Bonneville with is summer screen and new £20 each resprayed eBay panniers was now a pretty decent touring bike. I was very happy with the way it handles in the twisties with the full panniers and would cruise at 85 on the motorway. John’s Kawasaki was the real McCoy, this had big funky and arguably deeply unfashionable alloy wheels (soooo funky they actually looked great) with radial tyres, it was stripped of bodywork and mudguards, with the most titchy lights and as mentioned the thinnest seat imaginable, which became the main talking point throughout the trip. Franck’s view of John’s machine was reversed 180 degrees on arriving at W & W, when we all ‘got it’!

The tetchy sat nav took us down a country track and then down a small lane, making us have to squeeze past some campers lazing on the verge outside a farm house, they were naturally not that happy as we had disturbed this tranquil scene, but not ten foot on we found ourselves in the farm yard with no way out. We all found this highly amusing and had to turn the bikes around and head back apologetically past the rather bemused spectators. Heaven knows what they were thinking when we first came in, no doubt pondering on us setting up camp next to them?

Around midday in the centre of the busy town of Blain, traffic lights split us up and I hung back to make sure the last two were aware of the direction we were heading, but I was then blocked in and hidden by a large lorry and the other two just sped by. It took a few frustrating minutes to finally pass the lorry and head off looking for them. I think I spied the others parked down a side road as I shot past, but by the time I had circulated the one-way system, they had gone. I headed out of town to see if they had gone on, but after 10 mins realised I was alone, lost, and unloved! I sent a text to our adopted dad Franck, to say that I would go to the second way-point further on and dialled it into my Tom Tom. It took about an hour and included a horrid time around Nante’s périphérique I ended up at a cafe by a village church and it was now getting seriously hot. Franck returned my call, they were someway behind me having trailed around Blain looking for the lost boy. They agree to come on to my place for lunch, having just come off the périphérique themselves and should be with me in ten minutes. Having noshed on a panini some time ago. An hour and a quarter later they arrived, rather grumpy as Franck’s sat nav had a strop on and returned them to the motorway.

The cafe was going to close but agreed to provide some paninis for the expected troops and when they did turn up, seemed happy to stay open for us. Yannick’s ungoggled eyes and clown-like lips made for a scary sight, thankfully no small children or animals were harmed. It took an hour for them to relax and get over the adventures so far, but is was now 3 pm and we had yet to even cover HALF the distance from Dinard. Gawd blimey what had we let ourselves in for? So we set out with a little trepidation, the plan was to use the sat nav in a slightly different way and just ask the route to Bordeaux, avoiding autoroutes, which should remove the infuriating requirements to go through the middle of each town. Because if you missed the middle, it wanted you to backtrack, a blooming nuisance that didn’t help Franck’s mood one bit, this game of convoy was no fun. The second leg was the same again, only significantly hotter since passing Nante, each traffic light phase became a trial, superheating us up, but the speed on the open roads meant we cooled down. Some of the group were nervously discarding their biking jackets.

At our 4th or 5th fuel stop, an oasis of superheated black tarmac, Dave and I were late out onto the main road, as I was pratting around with my side stand down, thinking the bike wouldn’t start, DOH! The others were nowhere to be seen, so we decided that I would set my Tom Tom to our hotel in Bordeaux and we would head off and maybe see them on the way, but it’s rare that even two sat navs of the same make give an identical route. Having failed to realise that I had not resent my sat nav to French time, I gave Dave the cheerful and optimistic news that we were only just over an hour and a half away, but actually in the end three, oops!

The heat was rather tiresome, but it was a nice ride and refreshing as it was just the two of us. We were both happy to cruise at 85 on the motorway sections so made great progress. At 8 pm we passed an electronic sign saying the temperature was 31 degrees.

Yannick, John and Ian, had with them their prototype hammocks made out of builders’ bags and were planning on wild camping in the forests south of Bordeaux, leaving us with a couple of hours the next day down to Biarritz. I had booked a cheapy motel with a triple room that was to cost Euro12/ person and to us, old chaps felt for that amount it wasn’t worth camping or lugging the kit across France. It was amusing to find that the room was a clone of the cabin on the ferry, with bunk beds, but a spectacular and effective a/c, which made it delicious after the heat of the day. We arrived at about 8.30 pm having ridden for over 12 hours, the appeal of a shower, a bit of nosh and a cool beer was high. Having checked in and deposited our kit, we returned to lock up the bikes. Three Frenchies wandered over with beer to chat about our bikes, they were in the area working on the big energy windmills. After one Leffe, my head was almost swimming, Dave was grinning after two and happy to discuss any old rubbish with our slightly smashed co-conspirators. The hotel was right next to the motorway, a little enclave of budget motels with the ever-present hum of the autoroute and a Buffalo Grill as our only option for dinner.

Having been adequately anaesthetised, we were in a good place to accept Franck’s arrival, at around 930pm, needless to say, he was not a happy chap. It had been very frustrating to lead the group all day with a large disparity in speed and needing to keep them together. It actually took him half an hour to realise we were not with him when we left the petrol station. Our newfound best friends said Buffalo Grill stopped taking orders after 10 pm. So having changed into shorts, the whiffy threesome headed across the delightful car parks with a little trepidation, as I had assumed Buffalo Grills were crap. Seating us was indeed rather crap, but we ended up outside and had a nice relaxing meal, with lashings of cool beer and time to kick back and dissected the day’s long haul.

We all slept well in our landlocked cabin. The plan for all on Friday was to keep clear of the autoroute again and for both groups to possibly meet up in a village south of Arcachon. The morning’s initial drive turned out to be hideous, through suburbia, keeping off the motorway was a mistake, having not found the other three at the agreed village, we headed south with me leading, to let Franck have a break. These roads were dead straight with hardly a kink for 3-4 miles and no traffic, so we made great and very enjoyable progress, blowing away yesterday’s frustrations. A lakeside cafe was a great suggestion from Franck’s as a pitstop, very picturesque.
We then made a detour to the coast to have a look at a small resort and headed west through the trees. As we crossed a bridge there was the most hideous sewage smell, each of us making pong-like gestures to each other (actually very hard to mime holding your nose in a full-face helmet). The small village was of low-lying houses that abruptly stopped at an enormous paper mill. We swiftly headed out trying to breathe through our mouths, who could live there? The beach seemed pleasant with no whiff, but nothing too special and we made a hasty retreat past the offending mill and its pong, assuming this was not the river but the factory causing it.

It was now about 100 miles to Biarritz and was cloudy and a bit cooler. Lunch was at a small cafe on the sea wall at the rather posh seaside resort at Capbreton, it was a very pleasant affair. In the distance, we could see concrete pill boxes from the war scatted across the sand like giant boulders.

Over the last two days, I seemed to have lost my bike’s horn, rear light, brake light and indicators, which had made following me very interesting for Dave. So we decided to head to the Triumph dealer in Biarritz to sort this out. I was probably the culprit when I removed the rear cluster to install the pannier rack. We found the place and was fleeced for my 6 fuses at Euro 22. It seemed to solve the indicators and horn problem, the others would need a proper investigation at home. I would also need Franck as an outrider following me up close, on our last leg home on Sunday evening up the A3, as it would be twilight.

After a relaxing day, the three of us arrived at our hotel at about 5 pm, not quite sure where all the day had gone, but it was a nice contrast to the previous one in a convoy. Our hotel room was a duplex, Dave and I upstairs and our kid Franck on the lounge rollaway. This was located about 10 mins walk away from Wheels and Waves, the walk-up was interesting enough with dozens of bikes buzzing around. As they came down the hill we spotted the other three, who had spent a couple of hours there and were going towards the campsite in the south of the town and told us it should be kicking off about 10 pm, we hoped to RV with them later. For their first night in France, it turns out that the forests were too full of flies and having been taken in hand by another biker they were shown a shop to buy beer and then a campsite. This was to be their second night in tents.

The event was clustered beneath the Biarritz lighthouse, with dozens and dozens of bikes on the pavements surrounding it and many more of the beautiful people’s bikes inside. It was all about the lifestyle and bikes were just one of the accessories, it was amusing to look at them and their too-smooth bourgeois owners. We learnt that the encompassing style of the event was Brat Bikes, which are Jap bikes with a thin seat, no mud guards and no bodywork, but also included cafe racers and flat tracker type bikes with knobbly tyres, but many had elements of all three styles. Plenty of flat-twin BMWs, but by far the largest contingent was Triumph Bonnevilles, I was heady with the euphoria at being achingly cool for once in my life, well not exactly true as mine was dead conservative compared with how most had been tinkered with. We all quite admired what had been done, most were usable and quite unlike the extreme custom bike scene. There was a Morgan three-wheeler which I was very taken with, it would be a great vehicle to come down with William in. There were a few stalls to see and with a cool beer we strolled around for 2-3 hours until dinner beckoned. As the light faded we felt a bit cool so went back to change into something warmer for the evening. I had no long trousers so slipped on my leathers and some trainers, which Franck was appalled with, clearly our sudden injection of cool at W&W had taken effect on him. The walk around for a restaurant was a little disappointing, we did find a place and ate outside but it was nothing to write home about. It was ominous as we return to the lighthouse just before 11 pm as there was no music and lots were walking back towards us. So much for ‘it’s kicking off at 10’, it was over by 11 pm, not very Rock and Roll! No music, but we did get a beer and kick a few more tyres for an hour. As we arrived back at the hotel there was a disabled chap in a wheelchair, we had seen his trike earlier with massive almost aircraft-sized balloon tyres, with his wheelchair and wheels hung off various parts of the trike and were a big draw at the event, very dramatic, very black and very Batman.

We had the next morning free, it was too grey to go to the beach so we decided to have a walk around the event again, it being Saturday there may be some new bikes. It was a lot quieter, Wheels and Waves base was around the lighthouse, but it also encompasses a bike ride out up into the hills on Saturday, also a surfing event (which gave it the very loose connection to the ‘waves’ ), plus a hill climb and a bikes & art exhibition, all of which we missed! We may not have fitted in well with the lifestyle, but felt quite cool with the distance we had travelled to attend it. I get the impression John and Yannick were not that impressed with the event, but to us, it was not bad at all and enjoyable, we had no great expectations. After an hour of Franck telling us what each bike originally was, we headed back to check out the hotel and jump back into the saddle.

The plan was to head across the top of Spain to the ferry at Santander, if we stuck to the motorways it would be two and a half hours, but had agreed to divert west from Bilbao and head across the country before turning north just under Santander. suggested this area has some of the top roads in Europe. The waypoints were reasonably well spaced, so I had them loaded in my sat nav. There was a quick spot of ‘me me me’ when Dave wanted attention and decided to hang around the toll booth, plus some very objectionable Spaniards that kept moving over and blocking us filtering past, but apart from that it was a fab ride. The motorway was empty so we could swing through the delightful corners at full throttle using all three lanes. It was what biking dreams are made of, the quite unlike any other motorway. Having been going at a fair old lick, I ran out of fuel cranked over into a corner and struggled to go onto reserve with the others close behind, an uncomfortable moment with the bike spluttering.

Ian had lead Yannick and John across to Santander on back roads. Despite being locked into an organised ride-out with police escorts, they broke free and zig-zag their way under the massive motorway bridges that we were crossing. It sounds like they also had a hoot and a good finale to the trip.

The other three were not at the next RVP, and the petrol attendant was having a siesta, so we were direct to the next town by some jolly yet dentally challenged old chaps. A charming lady then filled up the bikes and gave them huge handfuls of sweets. Dave attached his Go Pro mount and camera, forgot to turn it on and we then away we headed, uphill towards the corners.

Almost immediately the lanes twisted and turned in and out of the dappled sunshine, up and up we went. Some U bends were tight enough to scrape my boots and I misjudged a couple. It was like skiing, swinging out the bike to and fro, we all enjoyed it immensely. My Bonneville felt completely planted with the new panniers keeping the weight low. The first two legs were both about 30 mins each, climbing up and over the mountains. Each section was as thrilling as the other.

Unlike France where almost every village has a picturesque and charming cafe-lined square, the villages we went through were deserted and not attractive. We ended up next to an apartment block that could have been in any Eastern European town, although the boarded-up Coconut Discoteque looked intriguing, it didn’t matter as we had loads to talk about. The World Cup dominated bar had five rather elderly tuna rolls left, which we swiftly scooped up and added crisps and soft drinks for a fine meal.

The third leg started out as the others did, then climbed to a ridge above the tree line, a landscape of boulders and grass, the road followed the ridge above and along valley edges, sometimes darting back 180 degrees around the mountain tops. Both Franck and Dave charged ahead, thankfully Dave’s GoPro had been turned on, but it does look rather pedestrian compared to the adrenaline rush at the time. We stopped at a viewpoint to chatter over the run-up, then headed down at a little more cautious pace, amazingly we only had to overtake one or two cars in the whole two hours.

We arrived at Santander in good time to top up and get to the port well ahead, it was damn hot at the dockside, but thankfully we were shunted off to an open but roofed waiting area with over fifty other motorbikes. Once again we drove down to the lowest deck and then another hatch was opened and we daintily shuffled down the steel ramp to the bilges.

Thankfully we had a better cabin this time. The three of us then went for a posh meal in the restaurant before it bizarrely closed an hour after sailing. A dodgy wine was sent back and Japanese lemons were experienced. We met up with the other chaps who were in the bar chomping on sandwiches and had a good time talking over the last two days’ events and keeping a crafty eye on the England v Italy match. Around midnight the adrenaline and heat of the day had caught up with us and we retired to the bunks.

A good night’s sleep had us all up around 10- 11 am and re-grouped on the top deck near to the pool (puddle size). Unlike the ship we travelled on a few years ago, this one had a kid’s playground a dog walking area, and little screened-off areas to deflect the wind. We spend the remainder of the trip at the back of the ship in a sheltered open-air area, discussing bikes and general blokey things, the crossing was sunny and dead calm.

It took us 45 mins to get off and a quick wiz through Customs and Immigration, Franck as promised kept to my tail due to my lack of lights. It took us 50 mins to come up the A3 and were home before 930pm.

What a great trip it was, with some fine chaps. With some tweaking, I would do it again. Andrew