Quail Motorcycle Gathering 2019 - 1969 Honda CB750 Sandcast - Sam Roberts

The 2019 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, or How I Didn’t Win a Damn Thing in Carmel

At last year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering, along with a variety of top-shelf moto-finery, there were a couple of Moto Guzzi V11 Sports. Actually, one of them only looked like a V11 Sport, and only if you were due for an updated prescription—the 2001 LeMans featured a MotionTekV four-valve engine where the Italian twin used to be. The other bike was a pretty straightforward, standard-issue V11 Sport.

Cool bike, but The Quail material?

Not knowing much about the entry process for The Motorcycle Gathering, I’d always assumed access to the green was strictly restricted, but the burgundy bike had me saying to myself: “My Rosso Mandello is cooler than that thing. Maybe I should enter next year.”

So when Master of Puppets Angelica sent me the link to the signup form for this year’s Gathering early this year, when I was still splitting my time between a wheelchair and crutches thanks to an extremely unpleasant experience with a barely-insured Civic in the wilds of Oakland, I submitted my application as something a goof. There wasn’t even an appropriate class for the bike, so I applied for the Vintage Italian class even though the bike is over a decade too new for the class. I figured some staffer would have a good laugh and send me a nicely worded “nope” email.

Instead, my Rosso Mandello was accepted, which meant I had to figure out the charging system gremlins that had been bedeviling the bike, and also get it cleaned up. Not like it was dirty, exactly, but it sure wasn’t golf green clean.

Prep Life

I started with getting the bike fully functional, as a point of pride and because it’s easier to rumble up a ramp than it is to push—it’s not like all the bikes that roll on to the green need to run or even be complete. More (complaining) about that later.

After some long-delayed troubleshooting with a multimeter resulted in a fairly solid hypothesis regarding the source of the issue that conveniently coincided with a bout of “I ain’t got time for this shit,” I handed the Rosso Mandello off to my pal Lawrence Giardina at LG Moto in Richmond. Lawrence is a knowledgable specialist in all bikes Euro, and a few days later, the bike came home with the electrical system about as completely functional as can be expected of a Guzzi of this vintage.

Devon and Stephan from The Devil’s Detail spent a couple of afternoons here at World Headquarters, painstakingly cleaning and polishing the bike. These guys put their devilish touch on a lot of Quail bikes, including some recent winners, and they’re serious business. Their work is almost meditative: methodical, purposeful, and very detailed.

When they finally declared the bike done, the V11 looked better than showroom, minus a handful of what I’ll call “beauty marks,” reminders of a life well-ridden. I nearly lost myself in the deep shine of the carbon fiber bits and the seductive, shimmering red of the tank, which would turn out to be highly visible from across the green, glowing in the sun.

I was almost afraid to touch it, but fortunately, Devon shared some tips for last-minute touches once the bike was positioned on the green. I’d already packed a pile of the microfiber rags we use to spiff up bikes on photo shoots, but I added a small, very soft paintbrush and a Swiffer duster to knock any dust off the bodywork and out of crevices before a final rubdown.

Friday morning, after doing very little with my Moto Guzzi myself, I rumbled it into our truck, secured a cover over it in hope of protecting it from airborne shit, and headed for Carmel.

Loading In

We were going to be staying at an Airbnb in the hills above Carmel Valley, a unique and relaxingly remote converted barn at the end of a steep dirt road, so I’d booked a load-in time slot Friday evening, hoping to keep the Devils’ work intact by dropping off the Guzzi before dusting it up in the hills.

We roll into the loading zone outside the golf course late Friday afternoon, and as I’m pulling the ramps out of the truck, an old-timer on a Honda Cub motors up.

Speaking in that slow drawl common to old dudes from the South: “You guys loading or unloading?”

In my head: “Why would we be loading? The show hasn’t even started!” From my mouth: “Unloading. Cool Cub. How you doin’ man?”

Over the course of what seemed like forever, he tells me his name is Steve, and he’s forgotten his ramp… in Kentucky.

“No worries, Steve. Lemme get this thing unloaded and you can borrow one of my ramps.”

I ask what he brought from Kentucky, besides the Cub.

“Triumph Bonneville”

Long pause. In my head: “Another Bonneville. Haven’t seen enough of those here at the Quail… every year.”

“…that just happens to have two engines in it.”

From my mouth: “Oh shit, that sounds pretty wild. Like a drag bike?”

The conversation is cut short by a shout from a car on the road. In the car: Corey Levenson, the former and original owner of my Rosso Mandello, in from Texas to judge the Custom/Modified class. He snaps some photos of me unloading his old bike, and I bring him up to speed on its post-Corey life and times. I also tell him about Fish’s SnoMoChop, which just so happens to be in the Custom/Modified class.

Once the bike is out of the truck, Steve grabs one of my ramps. Turns out the van containing the double-engined Bonnie is a good ways down the road. I offer to give him a hand, but he shrugs off my help, climbs aboard the Cub, dragging the ramp along with him.

Now, Steve is pretty old, ancient even, and my ramps are beefy as fuck, probably 40 pounds each. I fumble for my phone, figuring I ought to at least document what is sure to be a hilarious (if tragic) catastrophe, but Steve just sort of balances the ramp on his toe and burbles away on the Cub like it ain’t nuthin’.

I finally ride my Guzzi on to the green, which I later learn isn’t “allowed.” There’s still lots of available space, but I chuckle and place the bike among the actual vintage Italians, including a lovely Laverda that I lusted for last year.

As I’m congratulating myself on such a prime placement, Steve moseys up, having backed his van into a non-sanctioned loading spot. He asks if I might help him unload his Bonnie, so I limp over to his van just in time for a talking-to from staff, something about how he’s not supposed to be unloading there.

As Steve unhooks straps, another old-timer asks if we’re having any trouble.

A Bonneville with two engines? Holy shit!

I laugh. “Nah, this guy was in trouble, and now we’re in trouble together, I guess. But we’re cool.”

He asks: “Whatcha got there?”

Steve drawls: “Bonneville…”

The other guy stifles a yawn, apparently struggling with the same Excessive Classic British Bike Boredom as me, but I point into the van and warn him against walking away before taking a peek. He leans in, shakes his head in amazement, and utters what will become the typical response to Steve’s Bonneville: “Holy shit!”

Not surprisingly, Fish says the exact same thing when I text him a photo of the bike. The bi-motor Bonnie is something to behold, a work of precision and excellence.

Saturday on the Green

I wake up Saturday morning, worried about how my recently rebuilt right knee and foot will hold up to a full day of walking—at the One Show back in February, I barely made it three hours before the pain became unbearable. But I figure if the going gets too excruciating, I can perch myself on my Guzzi, blaring beautiful music from its curvaceous Magni pipes now and then.

We mash down the hill in the truck, I give the Guzzi a final Swiffering and a bit of buffing, and we start checking out the bikes arranged about the green.

This year’s featured classes: the 50th Anniversary of the Honda CB750, the 100th Anniversary of the Brough Superior, and Off Road Wonders Through the 90s. As a former owner of something like six thousand CBs, 750s and others, I am particularly interested in the Hondas. To my eyes, the SOHC 750 motor is a near-perfect vision of a multi-cylinder motorcycle engine, and the cheapness and abundance of Honda 750s in my youth made the so-called original superbike almost synonymous with the word motorcycle.

Although I figure loudly repeatedly mispronouncing Brough Superior amongst the big-buck Brough bros will be good for some fun too.

Fortunately, it’s not all not-quite-over-restored CBs, which candidly (and blasphemously to some) have become almost as common and boring as box-stock Bonnevilles. There’s a variety of oddball Hondas, reflective of the bike’s broad use—and misuse—by the moto-riding populace.

It wasn’t just CBs, though—this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering could have been renamed “Hondas of Editor Surj’s Youth.” There was this awesome ATC90, very similar to the one I had to drag out of a creek, floating upside-down, after I threw the bike through a corner a little more quickly than the balloon tires and zero inches of suspension travel could handle. Came in too hot, had to cool off.

I eventually graduated to an ’83 ATC250R, which I still recall as some of the funnest fun I’ve ever had, but somewhere along the way, one of these weird little Honda kick scooters showed up in our household. My brothers and I kicked the shit out of that thing—the fun didn’t stop until the chain finally disintegrated. If I’d known I could shine it up and show it on a ritzy golf course a few decades down the road, I might have hung on to it.

This year’s event also featured a strong showing of late Seventies/early Eighties racers, one of which took home the Competition On Road Award.

Over in the Custom/Modified section, Fish’s SnoMoChop was very popular with attendees.

As always, the Custom/Modified area of the green was host to a lot of next-level stuff, like this trippy board track-inspired, XL500-based build, which took home both First Place, Custom/Modified and the Design and Style Award, Significance in Racing that was sponsored by ARCH Motorcycle.

Speaking of Arch, Keanu’s moto-co had a couple of very expensive bikes on display. Every year, I surprise myself by thinking the Arch machines are actually pretty cool—the craftsmanship is stunning, as it should be for such massive piles of money. It’s shame about the forward controls on most of ’em, though, which turn what could be a very rideable machine into an accessory.

Not so Kind Words

And speaking of questionable design choices, Revival Cycles’ Birdcage was there. Revival was commissioned by BMW to build something to showcase an engine that many believe will power BMW’s next foray into the big cruiser market (like the Zon-built R18 at the One earlier this year). There are always a handful of bikes at The Quail that are swarmed by crowds all day, and the Birdcage was one of ’em this year.

It’s an interesting, intriguing machine, but only a machine in the broadest sense of the word. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually run—there’s no sign of fuel lines, for starters. Call it art, call it sculpture, call it the obvious product of BMW’s well-funded attempts to buy buzz.  What it shouldn’t be called is a motorcycle. It’s more like an expensive engine stand.

Similar to how I grumbled about incomplete builds on display at The One, I believe bikes ought to be functional to grace the green at The Quail (with perhaps some rare exceptions for truly special stuff). Never mind bullshit excuses like “we’re preserving the cases so we’re not gonna start it.” If you’re not willing or able to fire that motherfucker up and ride it up on to the stage if you happen to win, you should go show your “bike” at the “Vaguely Motorcycle-esque Sculpture and Pop Art Show.”

I mean, come on… Fish built a special stand for the Quail, just so he could run the SnoMoChop and show the CVT in action.

While I’m complaining providing feedback, I can’t help but point out that this year’s Quail was held on International Female Ride Day. With that in mind, here’s a picture of the judges:

Sure, there was an all-woman Fireside Chat, but I counted precisely two women on stage during the awards ceremony, and that includes the high-heeled trophy girl. Yeah, the Quail is largely the domain of wealthy white dudes, but I’ve said it before: we can do better. With women supposedly getting more involved in motorcycles, it shouldn’t be that hard to find at least a few female judges.

Anyhow, stay tuned for our photo-roundup of the winners. In the meantime, here are more shots of stuff that caught our various eyes at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering.