The Quail Motorcycle Gathering may be the fanciest event ever held on two wheels. It is to motorcycles what any number of great car events are to cars. It’s sort of the Pebble Beach of motorcycles or, more accurately, The Quail: A Motorsport Gathering of motorcycles. It’s held on the same grounds as the car Quail, which is itself one of the half a bazillion events that make up the big Monterey Car Week held here in August.
But The Quail Motorcycle Gathering takes place in May and holds none of the claustrophobic panic and $500 flophouse motel rates as the car events that will follow it three months later. The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is what Pebble Beach was probably like for cars 50 years ago. There are no ticket scalpers, no impossible parking and impassible traffic. You can roll right up to the gate and park your motorcycle just a few feet from the entrance just about any time all day. Entry is only $95 if you buy in advance, compared to $950 for The Quail car show in August ($2,500 for guaranteed admission if you want to bypass the lottery required for the proletariat).
And the people at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering are almost all motorcyclists, meaning they all share the common brotherhood of the bike (or sisterhood — all are welcome). They’ve all had their near-misses, a few have had a hit or two, and several stroll about the grounds with a pronounced limp that you just know but are too polite to ask if they got on a bike.
“There are a lot of car guys who are secretly motorcycle guys,” organizer and lifelong biker Gordon McCall has said.
And I will add that the motorcycle guys are almost never arrogant or hoity-toity about their enthusiasm or their rides (not that you ever run into that at Pebble or Chantilly or Villa d’Este). Motorcycle guys are almost always “good guys,” unpretentious, happy to talk to you about whatever bike they rode here on and whatever bike(s) they used to own. The whole place is about 3,000 folks swapping stories about motorcycles.
And it’s 356 motorcycles, too. That’s the number on the lawn at this year’s show. Every one of them worth a story in itself.
The featured classes this year included a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Brough Superior (pronounced, as near as anyone can tell, “brock” superior). Without giving away a secret — I hope — Jay Leno himself has an entire room of his collection dedicated to these magnificent motorcycles. The company was actually started in 1902 by William Brough, but when his son George took his third of the business and branched out on his own, the son’s goal was to “build a Brough that was superior.” This is according to Somer Hooker’s story in the show’s program. There were nine in all of the remarkably intricate bikes all parked on the lawn, eight of them on their own individual wooden stands.
Another featured class celebrated 50 years of the Honda CB750. Anyone who was alive and paying attention to motorcycles in the late ’60s knows what a revolution the CB750 was when it came out in 1969. No bikemaker that wasn’t building a race bike offered four cylinders, transversely mounted making a then-ludicrous 67 hp at the then-ridiculous engine speed of 8,000 rpm. In those days, the best bikes had been big British twins, but they couldn’t match the performance and sophistication of the CB750 Four. It even had a single overhead cam, front disc brake and electric start. It was a revolution on two wheels.
Off-Road Wonders through the 1990s paid tribute to the great off-road bikes that have propelled so many to fame and fun over the years. The dirt bikes ranged from a Triumph Desert Sled and a Husqvarna 250 to the Honda Elsinore 250 and BMW R 80 G/S used in Paris-Dakar. As journalist Mark Hoyer said, “It’s important to remember: Dirt was here first.”
This year’s Quail coincided with the annual International Female Ride Day. Organizers added that feature to the day with onstage interviews of female riders, including 11-year-old racing phenom Kayla Yaakov and a gathering of all licensed female riders at the show up on the stage, the latter act now being an annual tradition at the Gathering. It looked like about 50 of them made it up on stage, to cheers from the crowd.
The highlight of the day, though, had to be the presentation of the AMA’s Dud Perkins Lifetime Achievement Award to moto great Malcolm Smith. Smith won the Baja 1000 four times, won eight gold medals at the International Six Day Trials and rode in Paris-Dakar twice. Most people know him as the star of the iconic Bruce Brown motorcycle documentary “On Any Sunday.” Smith’s co-stars in that epic documentary were flat-track racer Mert Lawwill, who was there all day showing off his famous flat-track racing frames, and Steve McQueen, whom McCall implied was there in spirit.
At the Gathering, Smith was recovering from a broken hip suffered only a month or two before in, of all things, a golfing accident. It didn’t seem to slow him down, though, as he could be seen all day walking the course (and sometimes riding in a golf cart driven by his wife Joyce), signing helmets, programs and even a couple of motorcycles.
Smith said of his first real motorcycle, a Lambretta 125 he bought for $329, “I took it home and started riding and never stopped. It gave me freedom.”
The crowd cheered.
So, inspired by Smith and the lady riders and all 356 motorcycles on the grass, get yourself a bike, take an MSF safety course and start planning now to ride up for the 2020 Gathering. At the very least it’ll give you freedom, and you can’t put a price on that, man.