The Quail Motorcycle Gathering: Ten Years On

Jul 20, 2018 View Comments by

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering: Ten Years On

For the past 10 years the Quail Lodge and Golf Club in Carmel Valley, CA. has welcomed motorcycles onto its finely manicured grounds, offering up the stunning backdrop of the Central Coast for an artful motorcycle event. Each May, the quiet valley (a bastion of old wealth and secure retirement) is awakened from tranquility to host The Quail Motorcycle Gathering. Now a full decade on, “The Quail,” as it is affectionately known, has earned its reputation among the devout as the premier motorcycle show in the country, with the upscale locale serving to elevate the sport and showcase motorcycles across all of the varied disciplines.

There’s also great poignancy in the fact that the serenity of Carmel-by-the-Sea is only 44 miles from Hollister, CA—site of the infamous incident in 1947 that made the pages of LIFE and effectively painted all motorcyclists as inebriated hoodlums. The tale of the “Hollister Riots” arose from a freelance journalist’s creative embellishment of a slightly rowdy motorcycle rally on that July 4th weekend in 1947, which severely altered the public’s perception of motorcycles and the people who rode them. But to walk the greens of The Quail today and take in all the rolling art on display, it’s safe to assume we’ve eclipsed that bad-boy image in style. Beer bottles have been traded for glasses of champagne, sports coats and slacks have replaced jeans, as have fine cigars for the packs of Camels rolled up into tee-shirt sleeves.

Yes, the Quail Motorcycle Gathering is a very different breed of motorcycle show, and its genteel, rarefied atmosphere is proudly flaunted. The price of admission is testament to moderate exclusivity, with a day-of-the-event ticket price costing $95 (early purchase savings are available, and children are admitted for only $15), which may seem high until you consider the location, free parking, and a nicely catered lunch with silverware and linen napkins for all attendees. Another prevalent aspect of The Quail event is the consideration afforded its patrons. It’s a motorcycle show that embraces those who appreciate the illustrious machines gracing the property.

Careful in its selection of machines, The Quail limits the number of entrants and strategically curates a balance of brands, models, and years of manufacture to ensure the most diverse and engaging display. Keeping the number to 400 machines, the staff culls the final arrangement into one that reflects the evolution of design, engineering, and significance. The classifications for official competition cover a good range: American, British, Italian, Japanese, competition (on road and off road), custom modified, and more. Evolving from what was once a purely vintage event, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering now includes motorcycling’s past, present, and future. Featured themes this year were Café Racers, Electric Motorcycles, and the Arlen Ness Collection. There was a significant increase in OEM participation, too, with Honda, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, and Zero presenting new wares alongside the vintage fare. The result, an alluring indulgence in all things two-wheeled, enough to satiate any hardcore enthusiast’s metallurgical lust and entertain any of the merely curious pilgrims.

1913 Flying Merkel Twin

In addition to the cadre of vintage motorcycles from all over the world, from the weird to the revered, from the legendary to the ill-fated, there were hints of things to come. Curtiss Motorcycles unveiled their new electric machine, the Zeus, and Arch Motorcycles displayed their bespoke machine, of which only 23 will be built. Ducati used the event to honor the 25th anniversary of the Monster. In the end, “Best of Show” for 2018 was a beautifully restored 1913 Flying Merkel Twin, and the Spirit of the Quail Award went to the 1920 Indian Streamliner made famous in the movie, The World’s Fastest Indian.

Perhaps the most engaging element of The Quail event is its ability to kindle the recollections of many enthusiasts about their earliest experiences with motorcycles. Each year I’ve attended, I’ve stumbled upon a significant motorcycle from my past. This year I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of an immaculate 1971 Honda Trail 70, my very first bike. Farther on, around the wide circle of Hondas, was a 1972 CB 350, the motorcycle I rode the summer I acquired my learner’s permit at the ripe age of fifteen and a half. And looking around, I noticed others standing and staring with wistful expressions, obviously replaying equally fond memories the sight of a particular bike had conjured. I was also delighted when that Honda Trail 70 took the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Heritage Award.

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is a one-day event that provides an exceptional excuse to escape to the Central Coast each May. The surrounding region, renowned for its many motorcycle-friendly roads and dramatic landscapes, offers a host of great destinations, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cannery Row to The Steinbeck Center in Salinas, and much more. Additionally, Carmel Valley is the gateway to Highway 1, perhaps the world’s most superlative motorcycle road (which is set to open again in September following a recent bridge collapse, allowing riders in Southern California to make the journey without detour to next year’s event). The 2019 Quail Motorcycle Gathering is slated for May 4th. Don’t miss it.

Text: Jeff Buchanan
Photography: Alfonse Palaima


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