An array of beautifully restored motorcycles is set out on the greens of the exclusive Quail Lodge & Golf Club for the 13th running of The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel Valley, CA. As I walk among them, I can’t help but think that just beyond that mountain range to the north is a significant location in the annals of motorcycling—one that greatly contrasts the setting I am enjoying. c
Over that small range, just 47 miles away, is the sleepy agricultural town of Hollister.
Now, most motorcyclists are aware of the somewhat infamous events that took place there 76 years ago, but to recap—in 1947, Hollister had been chosen by Gypsy Tours as the location for a July 4 celebration. Some 4,000 bikers descended on the hapless town and proceeded to have a good time with street races, drinking, partying, and the works.
Yes, there was some trouble, yet most residents recall it as being relatively peaceful. The famous folklore of bikers taking over the town was primarily the work of an overzealous freelance writer trying to secure ink in the newspapers.
He took poetic license and sensationalized the event, turning it into a full-blown riot. He went as far as to have a drunkard pose for a now infamous photo, sitting on a Harley-Davidson with empty beer bottles littering the pavement beneath.
This became, for all intents and purposes, our Christmas card to the country as to what motorcyclists were all about, cooking the image of inebriation and hoodlumism into the collective consciousness of America. There’s still a small residue of that erroneous persona lingering, though it does seem to have finally dissipated.
Jump ahead to 2023 and here I am, walking the greens in front of the exclusive Quail Club House. The Quail has welcomed 200 vintage motorcycles onto the property, which a crowd of respectable guests ogles appreciatively.
The only booze here are the drinks being sold by bow-tied bartenders and the champagne bottles waiting to be handed out to the winners of various classes. Thanks to the widespread presence of modern bikes and law-abiding riders, the mystique of trouble surrounding motorcycles has been pretty much replaced by acceptance.
When stopped at gas stations, little old ladies and curious tourists often approach me to compliment the machine I’m riding or to simply inquire after where I’m headed. I don’t see a lot of fear in the public’s eyes these days. Amen.
This brings me back to the contrast between the Quail and Hollister. After all, here we are, in the bastion of old wealth and new money, being welcomed onto the perfectly manicured green of the Quail Golf Links.
That speaks volumes to what has transpired over the past 76 years—despite the rash of films that perpetuated that mythical biker image for so long.
Maybe it’s because we’re getting older. After all, like buildings and prostitutes, if you stick around long enough, you get respect.
I think it goes deeper. I honestly believe that the good has prevailed over the bad in the minds of the general public. Of course, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Honda for shaking up perceptions by crafting pretty motorcycles—and a TV ad campaign to go with them.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the Quail event is to be gradually slowed in my pace as I come upon one example after another of bikes that shaped my earliest motorcycling memories. The various machines take me back to my youth, when I eagerly turned magazine pages to learn about all the wonderful motorcycles, being drawn in by who knows what to certain bikes.
Wondering why certain bikes stir people is always fascinating to me. Like music, what moves one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.
What is it in the metal of certain motorcycles that attracts? It’s like love. There’s just no measurable aspect—it just is.
Why did I fall in love with the Honda Trail 70? It’s not really a very attractive bike. In fact, it’s kind of funky. But, like millions of others, it captured my fancy.
Why are some collectors devoted solely to Nortons and other to Indians? Why do yet others lust after a Matchless or a Brough?
There is an air of appreciation among the attendees for all things two-wheeled, but we all certainly have our own preferences. Personally, I have always been enamored with Triumph Bonnevilles. They are, in my opinion, perhaps the most perfectly balanced motorcycle in terms of aesthetics.
I wonder if the guy who frequently rode past our house on a black Bonneville when I was 12 created that influence? I looked at him as a symbol of manhood, of freedom.
Later, my love of motocross left me with an absolute obsession for Maicos, CZs, Bultacos, and Husqvarnas. Naturally, when I come upon these various machines restored to their proper glories, I melt into the daydreams of my youth when I coudln’t wait to be tall enough to ride one.
And the 1973 Honda Elsinore 250? I had one of the first 200 sold in America. Coming upon one of them is enough to quiet me in the same way as coming face to face with a secret crush back in my school days.
The attraction game. What is it about the curve of a steel fender, the shape of a gas tank, or the sweep of exhaust pipes that sets in motion this indelible sense of beauty and want? What is it in the design flow, the colors, the attitude of the machine—virtually an inanimate object—that stirs us into a frenzy on par with those of the flesh?
As a kid, a neighbor of mine, a teenager, marveled at his Ossa Stiletto, saying: “Isn’t it strange? It’s just metal, but we treat them as though they are living things.”
Connecting to the Past
I can recall years simply by associating them with the bike I was riding at the time. In 1970, it was the Trail 70; in 1972, Yamaha 100; in 1973, Elsinore 250; in 1974, Penton 125; in 1975, CZ 250, in 1976, RM250, and so on and so on.
I love the fact that each machine on display here at the Quail represents passion, a heartfelt connection with its owner. Most collectors will regale you with stories about the bike on display, a love lost somewhere along the path in life, reclaimed by finding one and restoring it. Or, perhaps they have multiple such bikes, as so many collectors do.
I love the emotion behind all this rolling stock, each one fueled by some private desire, some pleasant memory that has been revisited by carefully reassembling the past.
I will say this—in these trying times, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to return to the simple times of years gone by, when, for the most part, a motorcycle was all I was concerned with. There is a shared bond here among the collectors, the restorers, and the spectators. You see it in their eyes.
All have a sparkle that tell of fond memories of a motorcycle from so many years ago.
13th Quail Motorcycle Gathering Results
In honor of all who participated, here are the Best in Class awards granted in each of the 14 featured classes from the 13th Annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering.
- Antique 1st Place (Presented by Bonhams)
1929 Indian Four Cylinder 402
- American 1st Place
1946 Indian Chief
- British 1st Place (Presented by Heidenau Tires)
1939 Triumph T100 Tiger
Richard & Jill Scardigli
- Italian 1st Place
1974 Laverda SFC
- Japanese 1st Place
1981 Yamaha RD350 LC
- Other European 1st Place
1937 BMW R5
- Competition On-Road
1986 Suzuki RG500 Gamma Walter Wolf Edition
- Competition Off-Road
1971 Bultaco Pursang M68
- Choppers Award
1947 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead
- Custom/Modified 1st Place
Hazen Special Velocette Custom
- Extraordinary Bicycles & Scooters Award
1962 Vespa Gran Sport 160
Rob Fuller & Megan Ful
- Arlen Ness Memorial Award
1975 Honda 550 F
- Hagerty HVA Preservation Award
1961 Ducati Racer (Competition On-Road)
- Why We Ride Award
1976 MV Agusta Mini Bike (Italian & Single)
- AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Heritage Award
1971 Yamaha Mini Enduro 60
- Bring on the Baggers (Presented by MotoAmerica)
1972 Moto Guzzi El Dorado
- 1970s Vintage Muscle
1978 Honda 750 Seeley
- Italian & Single (Presented by Top 1 Oil)
1956 AeroCapriolo Corsa 75
- Spirit Of The Quail Award
1956 AeroCapriolo Corsa 75 (Italian & Single)
- Best of Show Award
1939 Miller-Balsamo 200 Carenata