If you’ve been fortunate enough to ride a motorcycle through Croatia then you’ll probably agree it’s the true definition of pure riding pleasure. Home to some of the most pristine coastal roads in Europe, it’s the perfect place to hone your riding skills and further your knowledge of local wine and seafood.
What many bikers might not be aware of, is how deeply ingrained motorcycles are in the national culture of Croatia. It seems the iconic portrayal of the ‘old skool’ biker is still very much alive here.
Leather vests laiden with patches, bandanas and shades on almost every head in sight, and heavily-inked arms is the aesthetic of many bikers here.
While visiting some biker friends in the beautiful coastal city of Rijeka, we received word of a motorcycle meetup taking place in the delightful coastal village of Bakar, just a few kilometres away.
Described only as a ‘special event’ by our mutual friend, we were told we shouldn’t miss it. Convinced for a moment I heard the words “motorcycle jousting” spoken between others, I knew this was something we’d have to see with our own eyes.
A few hours before sunset, we formed a four-strong wolfpack and traced the outline of the rocky cliffs before passing over a crest, promptly treated to a sublime view of a sparkling marina and the village of Bakar beneath us. From there I could see what looked like hundreds of motorcycles lined up along the seafront.
We arrived several minutes later to a buzzing reception. There was a surprisingly large turnout of people for such a small venue. Villagers occupied any balcony and roof spaces available, while bikers from far and wide filled the road below with a vast range of motorcycles, all the while classic rock music filled the airwaves.
For one night in August, this small, unsuspecting village would be host to a festival of epic proportions.
What's the event all about?
This annual event held in Bakar is organized with an aim to raise money for humanitarian causes affecting Croatia and the local area.
Bikers from all over Croatia turn up to try their hand at a traditional game that is played, in which teams of 2 battle it out to see if they have what it takes to score.
So what’s the aim of the game?
A team consists of a rider and pillion, with the latter equipped with a ten-foot wooden lance, vaguely reminiscent of medieval weaponry used for jousting.
The rider must advance down the street, satisfying a target speed and trying to remain steady while their teammate attempts to place the end of their lance through a steel hoop, dangling from a rope overhead.
Ride too fast, and your teammate will have trouble being accurate with the lance, ride too slowly and you’ll be penalised by the judges, who watch on from their very own outpost beside the DJ’s – adding an ecstatic commentary between sips of beer.
From what I can tell, this traditional game is known as ‘moto alku’ meaning ‘moto ring’, and has roots spanning more than half a century.
The action was spectacular to watch. Each team did their best to make a grand entrance and get the crowd riled up before charging down the street in hopes of victory. And it wasn’t just the visitors that were getting involved, even the barmaids both took turns to come out from behind the bar, saddle up and score perfectly before dashing back inside to keep the horde of thirsty bikers at bay.
Aside from the action roadside, a donation to the charitable cause would get you a nice, warm bowl of delicious bean stew in return – aptly named the ‘humanitarian beans’.
The event was a thoroughly enjoyable place to be. The atmosphere was refreshing and unique, friendly people were all around and the impressive display of bikes was like visiting an open-air museum by the seafront, with motorcycles from the 70’s through to the the present day.
I’ll leave you with some of my favourite shots from the event. And if you’re ever passing through Croatia during August, connect with some local motorcycle riders and get yourself to this one-of-a-kind motorcycle event.