The Quail Motorcycle Gathering has been going on for 11 years now, and I’m happy to say it was just as good the 11th time around. You ride along Carmel Valley Road, going east from Carmel, and signs soon indicate the Quail Lodge is off to the right (on Valley Greens Drive, in case you need that for your GPS). Ride past the lodge, cross a little bridge, then you see a lot of white tents off to your right and a straight road ahead — lined with hundreds of parked motorcycles.
Find a slot to back your bike into, and then walk over to the entrance. For 11 years I’ve left my gear on the bike and never lost anything, but there is a free “gear valet” tent should you be of a nervous nature. If you didn’t get an $85 ticket ahead of time, pay your $95, pick up a very well-done program — makes a great souvenir — and head on in. By 11 o’clock some 3,000 people are walking around this large grassy area, looking at more than 300 motorcycles on display, from scooters to customized creations, some gorgeous, some bizarre. A tasty lunch is provided for the price of the ticket; since the culinary pavilions are open from 11 to 3, peckish types can eat several lunches. Encircling the grass are a whole lot of tents featuring everything from motorcycle manufacturers to auction houses to medics with their electric bicycles, waiting to rush off and succor any ailing individual…perhaps someone so stricken by the beauty of the motorcycles that he or she faints from overwrought pleasure.
The Quail has never discriminated, as long as a machine has two wheels (sometimes three) and a motor, internal combustion or electric. For the awards there are nine traditional competing classes running from Antique to Custom/Modified, and a dozen featured classes that can be quite subjective, as they include subjects like Innovation and Design & Style. The tents on the sidelines may be showing off the very latest in modernism, including a rather expensive Arch motorcycle from the company of which Keanu Reeves is part owner; one of those will probably appear in the next “John Wick” movie. Or the latest battery-powered streetfighter from Italy, the Energica Eva, claiming a top speed of 125 mph and a range of less than 100 miles.
Since 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Honda’s CB750, that was a major part of the show. And it happened to be the 100th anniversary of the Brough Superior, so there were a few of those on display, most restored, but one had 90-year-old paint. By the way, it is important that that word Superior word be kept in there, as Daddy Brough had been building Brough bikes for a few years, since 1908, and then his son George came along and had the nerve to make what he claimed was a superior version. Which, apparently, it was. More than 3,000 Brough Superiors were built between 1919 and 1940, and to the surprise of many perhaps a third survive to this day. But not a single Daddy Brough to be seen.
Somewhat more CB750s came off the production line, like 53,000 in 1969, and I’ve seen the figure of 444,000 total for the single overhead cam version, which was around for a long 10 years before becoming the double overhead cam. And Honda models with that 750cc (roughly) air-cooled in-line-four engine have stayed around into the 21st century. A pseudo-replica came out in 2007, though I don’t think that model ever made it stateside due to problems with the Department of Transportation.
More than 7,000 of the first batch of CB750s were called “sandcast” models, but an interesting tidbit of information is that the sandcast name is a misnomer. As Honda was concerned about the sales possibilities for this all-new-and-different motorcycle, rather than making more expensive production casting dies for the long run, it used less expensive gravity-casting metal molds for the first batch of engine cases. This left a rough finish that was mistaken for sand casting. Once the popularity of this bike was established, production die-casting molds were made.
A third featured class was for (pre-2000) Off-Road Wonders, covering every aspect of off-roading, from enduros to motocross. History tells us that observed trials riding began in Scotland more than 100 years ago. It was fun to look at some middle-aged machines intended for grueling events like the original Paris-Dakar Rally in the Sahara Desert.
Since The Gathering happened to coincide with International Female Ride Day, three women had their time on stage, including much-published Cristine Sommer-Simmons, who has motivated a lot of women to try the pleasures of motorcycling. The star of this three-way chat was obviously 11-year-old Kayla Yaakov, who has been road racing for two years and winning — much to the disgruntlement of those she has beaten. Also on hand was Ginger Damon, of Moto Couture, a company making fashionable protective gear for women.
There is always someone of note to serve as the latest Legend of the Sport, and this year it was legendary racer Malcolm Smith, who starred in the “On Any Sunday” movie. When he got on stage with his movie buddy Mert Lawwill, listening to their reminiscences hosted by Master of Ceremonies and sartorial wonder Paul d’Orleans of The Vintagent was pure pleasure.
The judges, under the leadership of Somer Hooker, finished their work in early afternoon, and more than 30 awards were handed out — Sam Roberts’ sandcast 1969 CB750 won Best of Show. All of the awards can be found online.
As a postscript, I will add that it takes a lot of work to keep a show like this going, and a fellow named Gordon McCall should probably take credit for that. He’s a local man, raised on the Monterey Peninsula, and well versed in the art of promotion as he puts on expensive car shows and very expensive airplane events. He is also good at promoting himself, with a pleasant short article about his buying his first motorcycle (a Honda 50) at age 14 appearing in an April edition of The Wall Street Journal.
How do The Gathering’s finances work? At last count there were 46 sponsors, from Geico insurance to Marianne’s ice cream — which people have been enjoying since 1947. The sponsors all contribute to the costs, from rental of the property for three days to feeding the crowd. And the tickets bought by the attendees probably add $250,000 or more. Money in, with money out including expenses, charitable donations and profit — if there is any to be had. The 2020 show is already being advertised…May 16th.
Keep scrolling for more pictures of the bikes at Quail XI….