The Quail Motorcycle Gathering Returns!

·6 min read
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

It’s true: Being a motorcycle enthusiast requires something more than just being a car guy. In a car, even an old car without ABS, ESC, and CAD-designed crumple zones, you have at least a little protection and a lot of stability. To ride a motorcycle requires not only that you balance well and smoothly through corner after corner, marking an apex with equal parts verve and inner ear, but that you put yourself out there among the sheetmetal and spinning tires of the highway as you dive and squirt your way through traffic that often doesn’t see you and sometimes doesn’t particularly like you.

So it is that motorcycle gatherings are slightly more special things, and those who attend them—and ride hundreds of miles to get there—are an entirely different breed of enthusiasts.

We few, we happy few.

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

For one thing, there are nowhere near as many motorcycle guys as car guys (and gals—20% of riders are women), so everyone has more elbow room. And because a motorcycle takes up about a fourth the space of a car, everyone gets a great parking spot.

So it was as The Quail Motorcycle Gathering held an appeal and, dare we say, a magic that couldn’t be matched by all the events that have come to define Monterey Car Week, held three months later on this same peninsula. While you’d be hard-pressed to find even a parking space during Car Week—let alone a cheap hotel room and a restaurant with room for you better than Taco Bell—during the single day of The Quail Motorcycle Gathering you and a band of merry riders had your pick of the peninsula last week.

“The collector motorcycle scene is about where the car scene was 30 years ago,” said Quail founder and lifelong rider Gordon McCall.

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

Indeed, you could strike up a conversation with just about anyone at the show about pretty much any two-wheeled topic and have a very pleasant exchange, didn’t matter if you were a multimillionaire or a parts-scrounging moto-mutant. Not that you can’t do that at car shows—it’s just that there’s a higher sense of camaraderie among the bikes.

And what bikes they were: 280 of the most interesting and intriguing motorcycles you’re likely to see anywhere, until, maybe, next year at this same spot.

“We try to bring things no one has seen before,” said McCall. “At a typical collector car show you will have heard of or read about, or at least be aware of most everything you see, but here there are things I guarantee you’ve never seen before.”

The Custom class was full of those. Our favorite may have been TV star Bryan Fuller’s Custom 1951 Series C Vincent replica.

"This is, we call it the Black Flash," Fuller said. "It's got hand-formed alloy bodywork that I shaped. We did a 3D-printed windscreen on the front, which, as far as we know, is a first. It's got a 3D-printed titanium intake and stacks which are really cool. So, you know, it's kind of a nice mixture of hand-formed and 3D-printed."

Fuller figures he’s been customizing metal on both bikes and cars for 30 years. He and his team used all that experience, plus modern things like 3D printing, to make the Vincent.

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

Across the lawn were three Bimotas brought all the way from Ireland by collector Paul Murphy.

"I bought this bike and it changed my life, completely changed my outlook on motorcycles and how the systems come together and work in unison together," said Paul Murphy of his SB4S. "I'm a machinist by trade and I absolutely love the design and the execution of the components that they make.

"I've had this bike for over 30 years. I've tracked this bike for years, I've ridden on the road for years, I've crashed it once. I love the design. I think for the early bikes, they were so far ahead of everything else in their chassis construction and the performance of their chassis."

In between those two were Harley-Davidson XR750s. “The Harley XR750 was made from 1970 for dirt-track racing but also for road racing in the XRTT variant,” show literature said. “It became the most successful race bike of all time, according to the American Motorcyclist Association.”

A strikingly smooth Ducati Panigale 1098 S slathered in carbon fiber and Martini Racing livery sat off to the side of the fairway.

"Ducati North America made one of these for an event, a Porsche event over at Laguna Seca, and they had a shop here in Monterey do it," said owner Alan Galbraith, whom you may know as the founder and Head Gasket of the Concours d'Lemons. "They threw everything in the performance catalog at it: all the carbon fiber, crack the cases, titanium rods—the whole shebang—and then put custom paint on it. While it was in the shop, a Ducati collector walked in and said, 'I want one of those.' And Ducati said, 'Sorry, that's a one-off.' He waited until Ducati left, went back to the shop and said, 'I want one of those.' So the shop made it."

When the original owner passed away, Galbraith saw the bike on, of all places, Facebook Marketplace. He called Ducati and asked how many were made. Ducati said one.

"So I called the shop. I said, remember that Martini-liveried Ducati you made back in the day? He goes (squeaky voice), 'Yeah.' I said, 'How many of those did you make?' He said, (squeaky voice) 'One.' I said, 'You're sure you only made one? Because I'm sitting on number two.' He goes, "All right, we made two."

Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn

There was a class for minibikes. Minibikes!

“The stories you hear over there,” said McCall. “Everyone here started out on a Sears minibike or a Honda Monkey or something like that.”

And everyone moved on from minibikes to all the bikes you see here, if you click on the gallery.

If you’re wondering what car collecting was like before it was taken over as a commodity, check out motorcycles. There’s a real sense of collective joy expressed in a hundred different ways or, in this case, 280 different ways as represented by the total bike count.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

  • King Henry addressing his army on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, from Act 4, Scene 3 of Henry V