Wednesday, May 26, 2010


(A condensed version of this article will appear in the Quail Motorsports Gathering program this August)

As with the best of motorcycle gatherings, the second Quail began with an excellent ride in perfect weather, auguring well for the continued success of this event, now in its toddler year. If a morning lineup is any measure of success, then the variety of machinery ready to Ride was certainly impressive; 43 motorcycles arrayed on the walkway in no particular order, ranging from a ‘legal for a day’ Norton Manx racer with an open megaphone, to Craig Vetter’s recycled plastic scooter-cum-whale, to the eventual Best in Show winning BMW R50. Riders of more ‘experimental’ two-wheelers, initially nervous at a CHP escort, soon realized the good fortune of our parade leader’s protective wing, which precluded any…uncomfortable…questions about the matter of proper road equipment. Further, this meant all could enjoy the ride sans map, and revel in the sounds of singles, twins, triples, and fours, plus the visual juxtaposition of a hub-center-steered Vyrus cheek and jowl with a 1967 BSA Spitfire.

The Quail is fortunately planted on one of California’s finest motorcycle 100-mile day-rides, with Carmel Valley Road winding through intimate Oak dells along Carmel Creek, rising onto wildflower carpeted hillsides with breath-intake views of Arroyo Seco, and eventually doling us out into Salinas Valley. Steinbeck country yields flat asparagus fields vying with hill-planted grapes for River Road’s picturesque appeal, which hugs the edge of both. While skirting the nouveau appellation of the Santa Lucia Highlands, it seemed prudent both to stop at Hahn winery, and not to sample the merchandise, although quite a few saddlebags and topboxes were weighted with ammunition for the evening’s banquet.

Ducati were kind enough to loan three pre-production Multistrada 1200s for the event, on which lucky participants took turns experiencing the most civilized 140hp yet devised for cycling pleasure. A different species of Duc flew in under legendary artisan-customizer Shinya Kimura, whose hand-fabricated bodywork over an unsuspecting 997S broke new ground in his future/retro aluminum vision, and attracted admiring scrutiny during the day. The Italian marque proved a popular mule for the customizer’s craft, as a further two late model examples had been tastefully shaped to their owner’s wishes.

The 80-mile odometer mark brought the Ride through the gates of Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, a moment eagerly anticipated by the group, as it meant free access to the track, and lunch! Quail Lodge’s executive chef Julio Ramirez joined the two-wheeled tour on his Honda, and miraculously, an elegant black-tablecloth picnic lay awaiting the hungry horde at the very pinnacle of Laguna Seca’s notorious Corkscrew. Early arrivers and support crew had a stunning view of 43 eclectic motorcycles winding their way through many track laps, while the entire Monterey Peninsula lay spread at the diner’s feet to enjoy through a fantastic meal. The adrenaline of ‘parade’ laps on such an esteemed track certainly stimulated appetites. The post-prandial jaunt over Laurales Grade on return to Carmel Valley made for an excellent digestif, leaving plenty of time to rest up before cocktail hour proper began at Quail Lodge.

Bonhams auction house, long a partner at the Quail Motorsports event, is equally committed to bringing the finest motorcycles in the world to the for the viewing pleasure of assembled guests, and the purchasing pleasure of a few! Friday evening’s cocktail party swirled amongst delectable machinery, while delicious hors d’oeuvres and champagne from sponsor Roederer Estate were a cheerily indulgent onslaught. The auction preview showcased incredibly rare machines from Europe, Asia, and America, and included small gems such as a 1957 Grand Prix Mondial with full ‘dustbin’ streamlining, big guns like the 1967 Münch Mammut with hand-hammered fuel tank, and early star power like the ex-Steve McQueen 1914 Indian boardtrack racer. The night’s banquet was surrounded by such riches, adding to an already august gathering of World Champions and legendary racers (Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rayney, Mert Lawill), big-time collectors, and rising stars of the restoration and customizing arts. Speeches were kept blissfully short, although the subject matter at hand, including featured charity Riders for Health, certainly merited attention.

The Saturday of the actual Gathering dawned bell-clear and calm, while owners, helpers, and pushers distributed wheeled treasures across the lawn with minimal fuss - plenty of space, clear section markings, and courteous staff made it look easy. The DiCE magazine ‘Mr.T’ van offloaded metalflake booty onto a well-stocked Customs corral, an area of the lawn and the motorcycle world which is simply booming, despite economic body blows to the most visible teledrama constructors. Artisan bike builders carry on doing what they clearly love, the expertise on display simply too good for even hardened originality freaks to dismiss. The Quail was graced this year with the début of Falcon Motorcycle’s just-finished masterpiece, the Kestrel, later awarded Best Custom by Dean Micetich of DiCE.

It didn’t take long before Quail Drive itself became a motorcycle parking lot, lined along one side with several hundred bikes taking advantage of perfect weather and a rare assembly of amazing machines. Attendance figures by day’s end were roughly double those of the first year, and while it was clear the crowd had grown considerably, the lawn never felt crowded, and it was always possible to get a decent photograph of any particular motorcycle. Chef Ramirez outdid himself again filling two tents with four-star luncheon; the fried chicken, cornbread, and terrifically spiced haricots vert jostled with an outstanding fresh berry cobbler with whipped cream for plate space. Complimentary wines and champagne at the Roederer outdoor lounge proved popular, especially with the press and photographers! An occasional running commentary provided by emcees Michael Lynch and Paul d’Orléans gave a bit of color and highlight to selected entrants, as they plumbed the depths of their catalogic memories for the fine points.

A relaxed atmosphere prevailed, the wind was apparently at sea, and if the venue didn’t feel just a bit decadent my mid-afternoon, you had simply forgotten your sunblock. The awards presentation continued a theme of ‘just us motorcyclists’, with Cycle World’s Mark Hoyer giving the nod to John Stein’s Manx for the Elegance in Action trophy after watching Stein bump-start the Norton and blat down the highway on the previous day’s Ride. Legendary star of On Any Sunday, Mert Lawill awarded the ex-Kenny Roberts ‘you don’t pay me enough to ride that thing’ TZ750 Yamaha flat-tracker the Competition Sport trophy. Craig Vetter, designer of the ubiquitous Windjammer fairing and Triumph X75 Hurricane (the original ‘factory custom’), had a yardfull of grass devoted to his designs for the Honda Goldwing, Triumph, and experiments with wind-cheating bodywork, eventually awarded his Innovation trophy to the Zero electric motorcycle. Michael Lynch felt keenly the diminutive 1960 Honda CB92 (Guy Webster) deserved the Design and Style award, as the combination of high-tech and high-style were a harbinger of the future for Honda’s dominance of the marketplace.

Tim Stafford’s Best in Show 1961 BMW R50 was simply clean enough for white-glove inspection, even after 100 miles riding the previous day. While the machine itself is neither rare nor the top of its model range, the Quail judging committee felt Stafford’s dedication to and perfection of his craft, combined with his willingness to risk his handiwork on the backroads of rural California, pushed the machine forward as an example of best practices all the way around. Sometimes it isn’t the flashiest, most exotic, or most expensive motorcycle which deserves our respect, but a solid machine exceptionally cared for which shines true in a field of excellent competitors.

And next year? May the doubling trend continue! As a solid foundation has been set for the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, additional features will be added in 2011, most notably the introduction of full concours d’elegance class judging. As word of the event’s success spreads, expect ever more exotic motorcycles from ever farther afield to arrive on the lawn. Gordon McCall is dedicated to the continued growth and improved quality of the Motorcycle Gathering, and given his track record with the Motorsports Gathering, we can expect world-class motorcycling in Carmel Valley for years to come.