Quail Motorcycle Tour & Gathering | Rolling Concours

“Motorcycle” as Verb at the Quail Tour & Gathering

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

Talk about a wet dream: When I looked down at my Manx Norton after our 100-mile ride, it was so covered in castor oil that a nearby match would have set it ablaze. But that’s what you can expect from the only known motorcycle to include a valve-train sponge as factory equipment. And so my first try at the swanky Quail Motorcycle Tour & Gathering proved to be a fantasy experience all right—a really oily one!

This two-year-old Central California event is inching closer toward must-do status. All the key elements are in place: a Friday backroads tour around the fetching valleys of Carmel and Salinas; a multi-course dinner replete with celebrities (this year including Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Mert Lawwill, Craig Vetter and Danny Sullivan); and a really nice Saturday motorcycle gathering on the driving range at the Quail Golf Club. The idea, says promoter Gordon McCall, is to elevate the motorcycle experience to the level attained by premier automotive events long ago.

Any chance to ride Monterey County backroads should never be missed, especially among the anticipated group of neat bikes. Nor should the promise of a few laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. And, for that matter, neither should the opportunity to connect with some of the greatest racers and inventors of our generation.

And so I signed up. But what to ride? Digging into the nether regions of the Stein Monastery for Delinquent Motorcycles produced the aforementioned 1961 Norton Manx 500, race-ready but hardly fit for the road. Or was it? A taillight, horn and mirror were easily enough affixed, but a license plate and compulsory insurance would be another matter. A call to Hagerty added liability to the bike’s existing fire-and-theft policy for a whopping $9, and a quick trip to the DMV netted a one-day permit for $18 more. Twenty-seven bucks to ride an old Grand Prix bike on the road for a day? Tell me I’m dreaming!

About 40 bikes lined up in front of the Quail clubhouse on a pleasant Friday morning, and I’ve never seen a more diverse group of machines in one setting—from the intricate 1959 Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport to the overbearing Motomorphic JaFM; and from a Ducati alloy special hand-hammered by Shinya Kimura to a freshly minted Lawwill Street Tracker owned by Sullivan. Rides also included modern Indian and Harley cruisers, vintage Honda Gold Wings, older BMW and Royal Enfield sidecars, various contemporary sportbikes and several 1960s-’70s classics, including an impeccably restored 1960 BMW R50/2.

Bump-starting a 500cc racing single requires a powerful sprint, a quick side-saddle leap and split-second clutch timing. And with that done, I joined the parade of baggers and racers, relics and tourers making its way south out of sleepy little Carmel. CHP Motor Sergeant Ray Faulk led the way on his BMW R1200RTP, proving his worth almost immediately as a pair of semis hauling a mobile home lumbered along the narrow, twisting road. Ordinarily bikers would take turns squirting past the big vehicles in whatever space they found available, but Faulk got them to pull over and our group sailed past.

But so much for the fantasy of whisking an old GP bike undisturbed along the backroads. With no chance to test the Manx’s top end, the only thing to do was drop back and enjoy the day. I did this for a while, riding next to or behind most every bike in the group. But then it occurred to me: With a CHP officer sweeping the road ahead, and stragglers bring up the rear, that left a pretty sizable chunk of roadway in the middle. Dropping back to the rear guard, and then spiking the Norton ahead in a jangle of noise, vibration and oil spray from the exposed cam followers and springs produced a reasonably satisfying outing.

By John L. Stein
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