There's Something Special About the Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Splendor on the Grass

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering©Motorcyclist

I have the good fortune of attending lots of motorcycle events during the year. Often they coincide with some form of racing and are usually built to maximize revenue by reaching out to the broadest clientele possible. Because more equals better, you get mega events like Austin and Indy MotoGPs or biker havens like Sturgis and Daytona—all great places to drink in the culture we love and see some really cool bikes.

The next Quail Motorcycle Gathering takes place on Saturday, May 14, 2016. Tickets are on sale now at quaillodgetickets.com.

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is simultaneously all of that and none of that. For one thing, it's small. While attendance was the highest it's ever been, this year just 2,500 people sampled the 300-plus bikes on display. There are probably more fans in Rossi gear alone at Austin or Indy—to say nothing of the European races, which put ours to shame in terms of size, intensity, and pure crazy fandom.

There’s something special about the Quail. I think it’s a combination of laid-back attitude and an unusual breadth of motorcycles on exhibit. I stood transfixed for a few moments watching a 1918 Harley-Davidson run. You don’t realize how mild those early motorcycles were until you see one in action. Exhaust more like a gentle exhalation and valves that barely open—how much lift is that?—and a gentle shiver in the frame all make them seem like an eon away from the brusque but insanely powerful engines we have today. I also watched the owner of a 1985 Suzuki GS1150E start and run his survivor for the crowd; the distinctive bottom-end noise of this roller-bearing engine took me straight back to my first ride on one, reveling in the locomotive-like torque delivery.

An unrestored 1941 Indian 741B (left) was part of the Quail’s tribute to military motorcycles.©Motorcyclist

This year Honda brought a gaggle of Gold Wings to celebrate the model’s 40th anniversary. In addition, Quail had a tribute to military motorcycles as part of the event, as well as a special section set aside for Formula 750 racers. I also spent a wonderful few moments poking around an early ’80s VF750-based Superbike and an example of the RS750 dirt tracker that Honda used to break Harley’s stranglehold with four straight AMA championships starting in 1984.

Variety is, indeed, the spice of the Quail. Unrestored barn finds rest side by side with perfect Broughs and Triumphs, plus a few marques I barely recognized and even a Munch Mammoth! This year, there seemed to be more 1960s BMWs than I think I’ve ever seen in one place. At breakfast on Saturday in downtown Carmel, my wife and I chatted briefly with a trio of riders on really lovely R69s, Earles forks and all, and daily riders. “Totally reliable,” one owner said. This generation of boxer, all rounded engine cases and reserved black-with-white-pinstripe schemes, looks both older and newer than it is. My wife immediately said, “Oh, I’d love one of those…” There seemed to be so many of these stately BMWs on display at the Quail that I was taken aback.

Perhaps my favorite part of the Quail—aside from the superb venue in Carmel Valley, California—is the total lack of hucksterism. The $75 admission fee seems outrageous until you realize that lunch is included. And it’s not just catering-truck fare; we’re talking really good eats along with artisanal ice cream and an enticingly sooty espresso, should you be so inclined. Freedom from the $18 hamburger just like you’d eat at a softball tournament turned out to be a surprise highlight for me. Between the food and the unpretentious way the bikes are arranged, allowing you to get close and see them from all angles, the Quail’s organizers have this little show figured out. It’s become a must-do for me. See you next year?