Last May I found myself very happy: all it took was a warm, sunny day in California’s Carmel Valley, 350 beautiful motorcycles parked on several acres of neatly trimmed grass and 3,000 happy people walking about, chatting and inspecting the bikes. A good lunch and a cone of Marianne’s ice cream helped.
The Quail Motorcycle Gathering limits attendance to 3,000 so that the venue is not too crowded, allowing one to move about easily. The attendees are as important as the motorcycles, from formally dressed and well-hatted ladies to the mass of blue-jeaned men and women.
A small portion is industry folk, from the OEMs, the aftermarket and the moto-press, while the rest are simply lovers of motorcycles. Whether one is rich as Croesus or poor as me makes no difference, as our common denominator is the love of motorized two-wheelers.
The Quail appeals to me because it does not focus on any one type of motorcycle, but has a bit of everything scattered around the grounds, from old to new, stock and modified, beautiful and bizarre.
The most bizarre in 2018 was, to my eyes, the Curtiss Zeus Concept, a new effort to break into the electric bike market due to appear in 2020. Other than the two round wheels, the billet-aluminum styling appears to be based mostly on right angles. It is powered by two electric motors, supplying a mind-boggling 290 lb-ft of torque and a more modest 172 horsepower. I cannot imagine what twisting the throttle on that bike would be like.
Battery bikes were scattered around the grounds, as that was one of the foci (focuses?) of the 2018 show. Mike Corbin, of saddle-making fame, had three of his electric motorcycles on display. In 1973, Mike took note of the oil crisis and decided to go electric, and the following year got a land-speed record (165 mph) on his streamliner–which held for 38 years. The streamliner and two of Corbin’s electric street machines were also on display–a man before his time.
On a slightly more conventional note the Ness family, Arlen, son Cory and grandson Zach, were much in evidence, as they were given the Legend of the Sport award this year. And they had a few of their customs on display, which were more art forms than transportation. Arlen’s SmoothNess design, with its endless sheet metal, looked delightful–but more of a museum piece, whereas Cory’s CurvaceousNess appeared as though it were moving even when sitting still.
A third focus was on café racers, sporty-looking bikes intended to race from one café to another. Several Triumphs were on display, and I remember showing up at the Busy Bee Café in north London on my brand new Bonneville in 1960, with many homebuilt street racers on hand. Some of the Quail café racer models looked very expensive, not quite what I saw 58 years ago.
Another focus was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Ducati Monster, Il Mostro in Italian, which began as a naked 900cc L-twin (90 degrees) in 1993. Later versions grew to 1,200cc, and diminished to 400cc–though that small one was never imported into the U.S.
All around the driving range of the Quail’s golf course were several tents promoting the sponsors of this event, from Geico insurance to Bonham’s auction house. In addition to a tasty lunch, for the $75 entrance fee all attendees received a nicely done catalog titled “10 Years of Excellence.” It has a list of all 45 sponsors, from Arch motorcycles to Zero motorcycles, including Roederer Estate sparkling wines, bottles of which were lined up at the awards table.
Around two o’clock emcee Paul d’Orleans began presenting the awards, of which there were many. The Quail has 10 traditional classes, ranging from Antique to Custom/Modified, with a 1st and 2nd in each class; no third place. The many judges, headed by Somer Hooker, do not necessarily have to adhere to “Is it original?” judging, but look at the overall beauty, modified or not; it can get personal.
Then there was a baker’s dozen of special classes, such as the Café Racers and the Electric Motorcycles awards, as well as the Innovation and Why We Ride awards–way too many to list here. Run up the 2018 QMG on the Internet, and you will find all the winners. A beautiful 1913 Flying Merkel received Best of Show.
As well as reconnecting with people I know, the show itself had a major touch of nostalgia, as there were several reminders of my mostly misbegotten past. The Talbott Collection was showing an NSU 250 Max, my first bike–although this in green rather than my black. And any number of old, fully skirted Indians, my second bike, were around.
Along with history, the Quail also offered visions of the present, like the new Royal Enfield 650 twins, and the future, as in that Zeus. One of the many pleasures was listening to many of the older bikes running, something lacking in the electric world.
Quail No. 10, or X, was a success, and Nos. 11 and 12 are already booked: May 4th, 2019, and May 20th, 2020. For those not familiar with the Quail’s location, it is halfway between the California towns of Carmel and Carmel Valley.