Pebble Beach for Bikes | Roll Me Away

By John L. Stein, Photography by John L. Stein

Emboldened by their first robberies, Bonnie and Clyde struck again and again, no doubt giddy with delight at their own daring. Similarly, I suppose, on a smaller scale 80 years later, throttling a Manx Norton on the Quail Motorcycle Tour motivated me to seize other opportunities to exercise washed-up racebikes on public roads. Such an invitation arrived last spring. The 61st Annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance would include Italian sports and racing bikes, and my 1972 Ducati Imola racer made the list. Last ridden by Paul Smart at Willow Springs for a story in Motorcyclist’s June 2008 issue, it needed exercise. And I craved a fresh heist.

Equipped with a one-day DMV trip permit, liability insurance and a mirror, the Ducati was ready to go. But its open megaphones gutted the powerband below 6000 rpm and set my inner ear ablaze, so on went a pair of baffled high-pipes that knocked out decibels and put the powerband on Valium. With a rubber horn and a brake light, this load could be totally street-legal!

The Tour d’Elegance was slated for 69 miles from exclusive Pebble Beach along remote two-lanes, through Birkenstock State Park (a.k.a. Big Sur), and then back via a lunch stop in you-can’t-afford-it Carmel-by-the-Sea. The day, at first, seemed to promise some righteous backroads fun. But the processional instructions issued before the start explained, “The Tour d’Elegance is not a race.” Then came scores of CHP officers directing traffic, a modest aggregate group speed and predictable summer traffic. Mostly, though, with the 137 cars (plus several motorcycles) likely worth a few hundred million dollars, as a whole the group didn’t seem energized to “get it on.” So in aggregate, if the Quail Tour was Bob Seger’s inspiring “Roll Me Away,” the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance rang more like a sleepy Mozart concerto. It was, in essence, a see-and-be-seen tour—albeit a prestigious one.

It’s a known fact that even hyperactive whippets will settle down if you put them in a kennel, and eventually so did I. Which was a good thing, because the genteel Tour provided a unique chance to ride amidst a short stack of Ferrari 250 GTOs (at $25 million apiece), a teardrop-shaped Talbot-Lago, an elegant pre-war Stutz and other world-class cars. Then here came John Pera from Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage aboard a buzzing little Rumi twin, its high-frequency exhausts blaring like a Fender Stratocaster turned up to 11!

The buzz on the auction circuit is that collector bikes have become hip for moneyed car guys, and perhaps this explains why they’re now integral to the prized Pebble Beach weekend. For instance, while one Brough Superior SS80 sold for $65,000 at the MidAmerica motorcycle auction, another hammered for $160,000—nearly $100,000 more!—at the Gooding & Company car auction right next door. So in the end, participating in the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance was more than just a tour. It was a short ride into an automotive parallel universe. MC

By John L. Stein
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