Article By: Ken Conte
Originally Published In The September 2014 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
I was headed to Cali in May and it just so happened to be the same time the Quail Motorcycle Gathering was going on. I had heard great things about the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, but really had no idea what to expect. I had spent the day prior exploring Kirk and Lisa Taylor’s Custom Design Studios up in Novato, and had headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway. The only way to describe an early morning cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway is majestic, it was unfortunate I was in a car but I still got to see some amazing sites. I had pulled into Carmel only to find a town like no other. Carmel was a quaint oceanside town but with no real connection to reality, at least my reality. It felt like Aspen by the ocean. The shops boasted expensive trinkets and unbelievable homes, from hobbit I style houses to mansions. I had no plans of where to stay but soon found the Veteran Memorial Campground. I set up camp and was awakened in the middle of the night by an unfamiliar grunting, followed closely by some squeals. Our campground was overrun with wild boar, I was only wishing I had my bow.
The morning was easy, I headed to get coffee and off to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. I passed hundreds of motorcycles parked near the entrance and was soon rubbernecking looking at rare examples of vintage machines. Unlike a lot of events, entrance was seamless and pleasant. Organizers got me their event magazine and a copy of Why We Ride (you should check it out if you haven’t). I entered and was immediately taken aback by the amount of manicured green grass and expanse of mostly vintage international two wheelers. It was going to take a little while for me to make the rounds.
Not to seem callous, but after you have been to hundreds of bike shows and seen tens of thousands of motorcycle it takes a lot to catch my attention. To capture my attention for hours only happens in a motorsports museum, where there are stories behind every ride and every ride is worth its weight in gold. This show is not enthusiasts showing off their prized possessions, it’s a way for riders to experience motorcycle history. There was an overwhelming obligation to preserve and share motorsports history through these private collectors. The pretention was gone and I soon found myself amongst fellow enthusiasts that wanted to talk bikes.
I can appreciate almost anything on two wheels, but I definitely have a preference for certain types of motorcycles. Something fast, minimalistic and has stood the test of time. If I can check off those traits, a bike can catch my attention. There were a few that really stood out including a 1969 Kawasaki H1 Mach III. This was a triple cylinder 2-stroke street bike. The performance and braking could not match to the 63 Horsepower and 120 MPH top speed but nonetheless it was a historically odd and fast bike. I also noticed a Honda with a particularly groovy paint job. I knew it must have a story. It turns out that in 1972 Honda decided to offer a swirl paint job in three choices on their CL 350 Dual sport scrambler “Flying Dragon”. There were a handful of dirt trackers including a 1978 Yamaha TZ 750 that must have given the XR 750 a run for it’s money back in the day.
I saw scores of bikes that were historical and very fast. This year, as with every year they had a theme with bikes displayed to best represent that category. The theme was Bonneville Salt Flats. They had the original Easyriders streamliner that held the record for years as well as a fleet of other streamliners and salt flat record holders. One that caught my eye was a 1949 Vincent Rapide drag bike, this bike looked like it was built for speed and must have an amazing story.
Most events are marked with me meeting up with friends non-stop. This was the only event I attend that I didn’t think I would know anyone. I did bump into Bryan Harley from Motorcycle USA and also into freelancer Colleen Schwartz, it was nice to see a few friendly faces and talk about the v-twin industry. I did end up talking with some people about building up a custom knucklehead and also what it’s like to ride a BMW GS with a sidehack. What I found most refreshing was the lack of attitude, everyone was there for one reason, to enjoy motorcycles and see some amazing machines that are possibly the only example known to man. Perhaps the $75 entry fee made it so only people who are truly committed to the machines would show and it wasn’t so much about the lifestyle.