Thursday, June 25, 2015

WHEELS + WAVES 2015: 'MAYBE BIG IS NOT BAD?' - Pt.1

The ArtRide exhibition
Olivier Prat, son of Southsiders founder Vincent Prat, walks the Garage Foch gallery during setup
Our title quote popped from the mouth of El Solitario's David Borras in the wee hours of Saturday night, just after a Motorcycle Film Festival screening, and before the start of the last band.  It had been raining all day in Biarritz and the Pyrenees, at times biblically hard, but 10,000 people still showed up at the Cité de l'Océan to check out the scene, chance a ride in the mountains, and hang out for something of a party at night, as the gods finished their liquid torment.  After three years of growing pains and tension with the neighbors, Wheels+Waves had finally settled into a comfortable mix of factory support (BMW, Ducati, Yamaha, Triumph, Harley-Davidson) and its own independent spirit. What this meant in sum was, the event which hatched just 4 years ago has assumed major importance in the global alt.moto scene, a mantle it wears easily.
'Sonic' Seb Lorentz of Lucky Cat Garage with his streamlined BMW sprinter, which won the Punks Peak race on Friday
While anyone with a job to do at W+W shows up on Tuesday or Wednesday, the official 4-day festival begins on Thursday with a surf contest in the morning (cancelled; zero waves), and the 'ArtRide' exhibit in the afternoon, held the past 2 years at an abandoned workshop near the center of Biarritz, the Garage Foch.  Artful decay gives atmosphere and character to the building, but actual neglect created all that loose paint and water stains, and bottom line, the joint leaked.  Which created a bit of a problem for the artists hanging work on the walls, which were wet from continuous rain. The motorcycles exhibited minded less about the water, and some great photographs were taken using the shallow-lake floor for reflections - always a silver lining.
A lovely BMW R68 with Gelande hi-pipes.  Note the damp floor - it got worse, but this was Wednesday, and it all went away by the gallery opening on Thursday...
But hey-ho, the rain stopped by mid-day, and the 2pm press/VIP opening hour was dry, as it remained all the following day, more or less.  What was inside this damp former garage turned moto-art exhibit?  Paintings by former Clash bassist Paul Simonon (whose work I featured here), sculptor/bike builder Jeff Decker, several machines by Shinya Kimura, a pictorial essay on beautiful parts by Harley-Davidson, quite a few new custom machines, several vintage bikes, a display of Brough Superiors, and more artists - it's best to see the list here.
Global press, anyone?  Yes, there was.  Full attention as the concept BMW 'Path22' is revealed... and a hint that BMW will produce its own Scrambler soon.  Kind of ironic given their longstanding dominance of ADVtour machines with their GS line, but the Scrambler will clearly be all about style, and fun.  
At 5pm, the BMW design team assembled to reveal their homage to Wheels+Waves, the 'Path22', which I discussed at length here.  What wasn't broadcast was the origin of the name; its the forest road Southsider/W+W organizer Vincent Prat uses to access his favorite, secret surfing spot.  As such, the BMW adopted a Scrambler look, complete with a nifty surfboard carrier, and a board by Mason Dyer.  The just-for-kicks paint job was hand-applied by Nicolai Sclater, who as 'Ornamental Conifer' has truly made his stamp on the alt.moto scene...a note reinforced by his hand-painted leather jackets which the BMW team, and the Southsiders, wore at the unveiling.
A pair of Japanese 'Soulfuel' project RNineT customs; Cherry's Company 'Highway Fighter' in the foreground, and the 46Works 'Clubman Racer' behind.  Both exquisitely built, but the Cherry's Co machine takes the 'Epic' prize for being the first proper homage to Ernst Henne's 1930s BMW WR750 record-breaker...
BMW also flew in the four Soulfuel RNineT customs from Japan, remarkably accomplished machines from Cherry's Co, Brat Style, Hide Motorcycle, and 46Works.  As externalized R+D goes, placing their new model in the hands of these shops was a major publicity coup, certainly boosting sales of the new model, which is now their top seller.  I'm sure working with Roland Sands on the earlier R90S homage (the Concept90, displayed at my 'Ton Up!' exhibit in Sturgis) didn't hurt either.  BMW have accomplished a remarkable jiu-jitsu of their image in the past few years, moving from 'old man bike' to 'remarkable appliance' and today, the coolest game in town.  They've also put their designers forward into the public eye in a way only Harley-Davidson managed previously, when Willie G. started appearing at every cool motorcycle event in the USA in the 1970s. Now we're familiar with chief designer Ola Stenegard and head of design Edgar Heinrichs, whose particular brand of cool (both build cafe racers and even choppers in a shared garage near Munich) has successfully rubbed off on BMW's image.  Clever stuff.
A major display of old and new Brough Superiors.  I was hoping to test ride the new SS101K in Biarritz, but they're not ready yet...stay tuned on that score.
Not to be outdone (but they're 3 years late to the party) this year Harley-Davidson flew their head of design, Ray Drea, and a substantial staff to Biarritz, to showcase their Battle of the Kings, in which H-D dealers across Europe customized a new 750 Street.  Yes dealers, not builders - an interesting concept, keeping it in-house.  At the ArtRide exhibit, they showcased a series of photographs from their substantial back catalog, of H-D 'parts as art', which was an interesting concept but could have used an actual artist to interpret the photographs, which ended up looking more like H-D propaganda, mounted behind a lineup of lovely vintage machines.  The Kings machines were parked at Cité de l'Océan, so more on that later.
You never know who you'll run into at Orly airport... Bob from Roland Sands Design and Ray Drea, head of styling at Harley-Davidson, both en route to Biarritz for business
Yamaha wisely commissioned Shinya Kimura to modify a new FZ-07 as part of a campaign called 'Faster Son', and followers of his blog might recall a very rushed build a few months ago for the bodywork on this machine.  To hurry a metal artist like Shinya seems absurd, but his work on the FZ-07 has one atypical feature I like very much - a pure Bosozoku elevated tail section!  Not to everyone's taste, but I've been saying it for a while now - 1980s style Boso bikes are the next big style inspiration; just strange enough to break new ground, and offend the right people, until they decide it's cool, and everyone else starts copying the style leaders, who abandon that style for something else.  I can't see past Boso though!  Shinya will continue to tread his own path, though.
One of several Shinya Kimura bikes at ArtRide; this one BMW based, with a French owner
Ducati sponsored a rash of Scrambler builds which were very clean indeed, from Holographic Hammer and Fred Krugger especially, both of which showed just how far small custom shops have come towards production-ready ideas.   In Krugger's case, this is due to his incredible talents as an artisan/designer, while with Holographic Hammer (Sylvain Berneron, working with his brother Florent), it's because Sylvain is an actual trained motorcycle designer, who used to work on the BMW Motorrad team!
Fred Krugger with his own version of the Ducati Scrambler
Quite a few wildly customized new Triumphs were present, although I failed to meet their staff to sort what they're thinking about W+W and their participation.  What's clear is my provocative note to the motorcycle industry back in 2012 - 'you weren't here, but you should be' - has proved prescient, as the industry was very much in evidence.  Plenty of my indie pals were nervous that Wheels+Waves would be ruined by 'going commercial', but the opposite has happened; by offering a measure of financial stability and clear respect for the independents, the industry has helped make the event even better.  Their organizational skills brought calm, and their staff were happy to be away from the office, and kept a low profile.
The latest build from El Solitario, looking distinctly Marvel-ous.
More on Wheels+Waves coming shortly - the festival lasted 4 days!  Lots to report...

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Outside my window, what did I spy?  3 vintage Harleys, waiting to ride.
Fellow 'wet plate' photographer Bernard Testamale sets up his 1800s plate camera
Turbocharged Kawasaki 'La Bestia 1327' with a fantastic cast aluminum unibody, and cast induction tracts for the turbocharger.  Sadly, the bodywork isn't structural, but it is a rarely-used process for customs.
The other side of the 46Works 'Clubman Racer' flown in from Japan 
The other two Japanese 'Soulfuel' BMWs - the Hide 'Boxer' by Hideya Togashi, and the Brat Style 'Cyclone' by Go Takamine.  Brat Style is one of the biggest influences on the Alt.Custom 1.0 scene.
Chris Hunter, founder of BikeExif, tries out an uncharacteristic build by El Solitario - a racing Ducati 450desmo single, the manga-inspired 'Mononoke' with beautifully wild landscape paintwork.  'All my builds are animals' says David Borras.  Chris Hunter flew in from New Zealand as a judge for the Harley-Davidson 'Battle of the Kings'...
Disc rear wheel from the Moto Guzzi drag racer, built by the Swiss Young Guns Speed Shop, under Nick Keer
El Solitario's latest build, the MalaBueno, with Orwellian NewSpeak tattooed on its aircleaner - 'war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength'.  Have you read '1984'? Can't recommend it enough.
Fly like an eagle - the sprinter Moto Guzzi of Swiss team Young Guns Speed Shop, which finished 3rd in the Punks Peak drags
Harleys?  We got 'em.  H-D brought a great lineup of competition machinery, including an XRTT racer, a Peashooter, and WR.  A local brought his fantastic Knucklehead.
Brothers Sylvain and Florent Berneron, the 'Holographic Hammer', with their Ducati Scrambler build sponsored by the excellent Moto Heros magazine
Almost lost in a corner, the ex-Raymond Loizeaux BMW built by HPN; 1050cc, 85hp, raced in Paris-Dakar, the Autstralian Safari Rally, the Egypt Rally, the Paris-Moscow-Peking, etc. all with great success.  Loizeaux was a French highway patrolman, and a popular competitor, being a 'man of the people' and an excellent team player.  His help repairing team-mates BMWs cost him a win in the '84 Paris-Dakar (he finished 5th), but led to the team victory.
As we walk amidst the noise and haste, a moment's reflection on the beauty of a 1941 Indian Chief stills the torrent, and brings peace.  Perfect in DuPont red.
Ornamental Conifer paints the world...
Kelly and Jeff Decker consider their display...Jeff brought a collection of M/C club 'cuts' under glass...
The sculptural qualities of the Hide BMW custom
Jeff Decker's bronze of speedway legend Sprouts Elder inspired at least one conversation...Roberto Parodi has his say to a captive audience.
Jeff Decker brought his custom Crocker for display.  Clearly not original; I think he started with a pair of genuine cylinder heads, and worked outwards with replica parts for the engine, and an assemblage of other bought or built components.  
A beautiful 1941 Indian 4-cylinder on display, not that anyone was looking.  A truly elegant design, and the acme of American style...
The just-finished Brough Superior LeVack replica with JAP KTOR racing engine
Nicolai Sclater aka Ornamental Conifer painted up the 'Path 22', a bunch of jackets, a zillion t-shirts, and his own denim suit!  Slowly painting the world...
Nico's white spirit.
Not Kimura!  But built with love, by a huge fan of his work, Thierry Camus (yes, a relation) of Haute Tension Garage built this supercharged '67 Triumph TR6.  Worth inspection for very interesting details, like the leading-link forks, oil-tank rear fender, etc.
A man needs a good hat; Ola and Southsider Jérome Allé show how it's done.
BMW in da house.  Chief motorcycle designer Ola Stenegard, with BMW Motorrad PR man Ralf Rodepeter
A charmingly well-loved '46 H-D Knucklehead, proud of its patina
Families love ArtRide too!  Beautiful parents make beautiful babies... #luckygeneclub
Cindy of l'Equipée, a Parisian girl-gang who ride their bikes literally all over the world.  The film about their trip over the Himalayas débuted at the Motorcycle Film Festival screening on Saturday night.  And yes, that's her 1965 Triumph, which she started/rode in those slippers...real bikers wear chic footwear?  Gorgeous at any rate; as this was the end of the evening, I'm sure her hotel wasn't far, so no gear-crit from me.
Stole the show, and a very kind homage to Wheels+Waves.  BMW will undoubtedly offer a Scrambler soon, since its the configuration du jour.
A gentleman and a rock star - Paul Simonon, bassist from The Clash, showed his 'Wot No Bike?' series of paintings at ArtRide, and was amenable for a chat any time.  When I confessed being a to-the-bone Clash fan, he responded, 'So am I!' Awesome.
Always plenty of vintage machines at Wheels+Waves, as the Southsiders were vintage enthusiasts long before the alt.custom world descended on Biarritz.  The Southsiders still ride vintage...slightly customized vintage.  This c.1911 Pope was among the first OHV production bikes in the world, and was far more advanced than its European rivals, using all-chain drive and a proper multi-plate clutch even at this early date.
Rider's eye view of the 'Bari Vecchia' H-D Knucklehead custom by PDF, resplendent in red paint, polished brass, and nickel...
The influence of Ian Barry's Falcon 'Bullet' continues to spread in waves around the custom scene.  This is my favorite re-interpretation so far, with the chassis built tight around the H-D Knucklehead motor, and using vintage Brough Superior 'Castle' springer forks.  A tidy machine! 
Austin's Revival Cycles brought their game, making a big impression as usual, especially on the Punks Peak race, with their 'Hardley', pictured here.  A very fast machine - which I can confirm, having ridden it around Laguna Seca!
The Lucky Cat Garage BMW sprinter, a constantly evolving beast, and very fast indeed...
Shinya and Ayu and Vincent Prat
Photograph Jo Fischer and subject Susan McLaughlin, with his new book on Wheels+Waves 2014, available here.
Tadashi checks out the Brough Superior Pendine, and seems to like it!
@Tamara_is_cool
Fascinating Triumph special - note the frame; a mix of specially cast aluminum spar and tubing (carbon?), with girder forks built the same.  Also, the cylinder head is reversed...
Definitely the first new Triumph I've seen with a 'backwards' cylinder head.
But if we're talking vintage, I loved this Triumph Tiger100 racer, with a beautifully lightened clutch basket, and swingarm conversion which looks 1940s era.  
The rigid T100 converted to a swingarm, using Matchless shocks (I think) and an unknown swingarm rear subframe.  Lovely machine, beautiful patina

It was a BMW-heavy ArtRide this year, which included this remarkable turbocharged R100 which is headed for Bonneville this August...pray for no rain.
Uwe Ehinger builds the cleanest vintage H-D choppers around, with a distinctive style, more bob-job but with the insectlike delicacy of a long-fork machine.  This one is based on a Panhead, with 23" and 21" wheels.  Uwe is a vintage bike collector of many decades, and pioneered travels to South America to source vintage machines - seemingly everything passed through his hands in the 1980s...which is documented in his book, 'Rusty Diamonds' about his finds from 1979-89.  Find the book here - it's great!  
Men of the hour - the Southsiders at the début of the 'Path22', with Vincent Prat in profile
'Woolie' Woolaway of Deus and the BMW custom he built for Orlando Bloom, as seen at Villa d'Este