Riders geared up on an ideal day for a 115-mile ride through California’s scenic Carmel Vally and a handful of parade laps on history-rich Laguna Seca during the 2013 Quail Ride.
There were plenty of streamliners and various other oddities prepared to take on the ‘Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge’ at the 2013 Quail Ride.
Ever seen a flying motorcycle prototype? Rocket scientist Dezso Molnar brought his out to the 2013 Quail Ride.
Many of the motorcycles were museum-caliber collectibles, worthy of being thrown upon a dais and enveloped in glass cases. But this would contradict the spirit of the Quail, the mantra “made to be ridden” our battle cry, so like warriors we mounted our motorcycles and set out to conquer the day.
It’s not every day you get to ramble with such an eclectic collection of machinery. In one corner you had Craig Vetter and his air-splitting streamliner next to Fred Hayes’ diesel-powered counterpart. We couldn’t take our eyes off a racy red, all-original Dunstall Norton and the several Commandos that flanked it. We loved listening to the two-stroke, three-cylinder “Water Buffalo” of Dimitri fire up, the Suzuki GT750’s note like an angry tribe drumming as it exited its three-into-four exhaust. Motorcycle Cannonballer Mike Vils was still running strong on trusty old No. 13, a resilient 1929 Harley-Davidson JD that continues to chug away the miles. Then there was Dezso Molnar on the Molnari GT2 flying motorcycle prototype, the rocket scientist trying his hand in the “Vetter Fuel Economy challenge.” Where else would you get the chance to ride with such a menagerie – unless you’re at the Quail.
Riders were divided into two groups, the vintage motorcycles setting out a half hour earlier than their more modern accomplices. The antique group was kind enough to leave a trail of smelly, burnt two-stroke oil and pillowy smoke clouds for us to follow. Lurking in our group of riders is 1985 Indy winner Danny Sullivan, who fortunately didn’t have to pull out a miraculous save like he did in front of Andretti back in ’85. Soon the procession was beyond Carmel Valley Village and the road began to twist and bend as it cuts between the rolling hills of Central California. I ride sandwiched between Jeremy Johnstone’s 1972 Laverda 750 SF and a 2010 Harley Road King with the duo of Eric and Nancy Andrews aboard. Though the pace is spirited thanks to our California Highway Patrol chaperones, before long I see the red blur of a Magni R3 blow by me. Soon the chap from Bonhams on his Triumph Speed Triple follows suit, and I can’t say I blame either rider because if I was on either of those bikes, I’d be wanting to stretch their legs, too.
Twenty-six miles in we take our first break on a scenic crest where East Carmel Valley Road turns into Jamesburg. I lag back behind the lead pack and notice among the bikes in the intimate group I’m riding with is the Dunstall Norton. As we move along, the moss-draped oaks and naturally canopied roads yield to sun-baked hills and immaculately-rowed vineyards. The Dunstall Norton snakes its way past a handful of slower riders until all that lies in its path is open road. I shadow the narrow-framed rocket, watching the rider deftly work the right-side shift lever with his foot, the classic motorcycle cutting through turns with amazing grace. Fortunately, the 2013 Triumph Bonneville I am riding is doing a fine job of holding its own, allowing me to take in the magic of the Dunstall in front of me as I bathe in the wake of its raspy exhaust. Before long we spit out at a steep chasm above a canyon carved out of the landscape by the river that’s been running through it for thousands of years. This is followed by wide sweepers through the fertile fields of Salinas Valley as we enter the heart of American agriculture. Workers in the fields pause as our procession rolls by, offering enthusiastic waves and blasts from the horns of work trucks, so we wave back and likewise blip our horns.
We make our way through the valley and arrive at our second pit stop, the lovely grounds of Robert Talbott’s Sleepy Hollow Vineyards. Talbott is riding with our group and graciously offers up his estate to allow riders to stretch their legs, get a water break, and pick up a bottle of Cab from the tasting room if so desired. During the break we got a chance to
talk to Jim Carducci about the 883 Sportster-powered dual-sport he created. Carducci designed and built the bike after thinking about the project for about ten years. He extended the bike’s wheelbase by making his own swingarm out of 7075 T651 billet material and constructed a rear fender subframe out of aluminum so it’s lightweight yet strong. The Dual-Sportster has an eye-catching Evan Williams gas tank, notable for its hand-formed, raw metal finish and its massive 6.3-gallon size. Suspension duties are provided by heavy duty Ohlins units, the 48mm USD fork teamed to a Scotts steering damper while twin external reservoir shocks anchor the rear. Carducci made the triple clamps, bar riser, crash bars and windscreen for it. The foot controls allow for a really good standing riding position according to Carducci, a must-have for off-roading. We saw the motorcycle in action and Carducci was moving right along in the canyons and we applaud him for his out-of-the-box creativity, a theme that is common at the Quail event.
After spending a sociable half hour or so at Talbott’s wonderful winery, it was on to the highlight of the day, three laps on the vaunted racing grounds known as Laguna Seca. The fabled track oozes with history, from Rainey’s Curve to the Corkscrew and to be able to take to the track where legends have ridden is a great honor. Riders were unleashed in intervals, but because of the disparity in the performance of bikes, it soon became a free-for-all. The Triumph Bonneville we rode set a lively pace and gripped the corners tight as the racing spirit that haunts the grounds crept into riders and what was labeled as “parade laps” quickly had everyone jockeying for position through the turns. For many, it was their first time to get to twist a grip on the world-famous circuit and we heard more than one rider they could now cross it off their bucket list.
The 115-mile ride concluded with a jaunt back to the Quail Lodge for a sumptuous lunch at the Baja Cantina. It was there that we tracked down the owner of the 1971 Dunstall Norton, Brent Lenehan from Alameda, and talked to his friend Jeff who had the pleasure of riding it. Lenehan told us it has the full suite of Dunstall parts. They bought the bike from Michael Billius from Detroit who had a catalog of Dunstall parts and made a “shopping list” of Dunstall components, checking off every box in the catalog, including the five-speed gearbox, alloy rims, the 810 cylinders and big carburetors.
This 1971 Dunstall Norton was all-original and owner Brent Lenehan had the papers to prove it.
Jeff (left) had the pleasure of riding the Dunstall Norton owned by Lenehan (right). He had to work for it though, helping restore and get it in running order.
Innovation is commonplace at the Quail Ride. Case in point, Jim Carducci’s Harley 883-powered ‘Dual-Sportster.’
“Everything he ticked off in that catalog is on this bike,” Lenehan assured us.
The duo shared the story about the original owner, Mr. Billius, who ironically lived on Norton Avenue in Detroit. Lenehan said Billius is about 80-years-old now, so he must have been about 40 when he bought the original Dunstall. Lenehan has photos of the bike in a crate in the back of pickup truck, Billius with crow bar in hand opening the crate and the Dunstall lettering on the tank peeking out. The bike was originally blue the day he received it but has now been repainted racing red.
There’s a great back story of getting the bike ready for the Quail as well. Jeff said he walked into Brent’s garage last year and saw the Dunstall corroded and dirty, sitting in a corner. He said, “Hey Brent, when you get it running sometime, how about letting me ride it,” to which Lenehan replied in standard Australian fashion, “Bugger off, if you want to ride it, you fix it.” The idea sat on the back burner for a while but when the 2013 Quail started to roll around, the desire to get it running again started to burn like a flame so Jeff dug into the project. What started out as a few hours on Saturday and Sunday turned into a Thursday-through-Sunday ordeal for three months straight until just before the day of the Quail. Lenehan guesses it hadn’t been started in about 25 years and had his doubts if it would turn over but to his astonishment, on the about the third kick it fired up.
When we asked Jeff how it rode, he said “It ran great. A little rough down low but evidently, after talking to other Norton aficionados, it doesn’t go until you hit about 3500-4000(rpm) to 7000. It did, on the track, it jetted.” Indeed it did, Jeff, indeed it did.
The Quail Motorcycle Ride concluded that evening with a reception and dinner at the lodge. The night was highlighted by many guest speakers, including 1977 Daytona 200 winner and revered motojournalist Cook Neilson, who shared a wonderful story about his favorite motorcycle of all time, surprising the crowd when he announced it was a Harley Sportster. Until they heard the story behind the Sportster and how Neilson had used that Sporty for everything, from touring the country to converting it to a full-blown 160-mph drag bike.
Attendees were also privy to the world premiere pre-screening clip from an upcoming motorcycle documentary called “Why We Ride.” With James Walker serving as producer and Bryan H. Carroll both producing and directing, the video is said to be the first documentary shot in stunning 4K. The project started about ten months ago in Sturgis and includes footage from the Salt Flats to Daytona Beach. It includes
interviews with industry greats, from Brian and Laura Klock and their racing family to larger-than-life personalities like Jay Allen to racers like Mert Lawwill. Carroll said the crew aims to release the film in August and after seeing the brief vignette Carroll shared with us, we can’t wait to see the finished project. The footage was incredible and we feel that “Why We Ride” has the potential to be an instant classic.
The Quail Motorcycle Ride left us with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Maybe it was the good wine we had at the dinner, but more so it was the camaraderie we got to share with other enthusiasts and the opportunity to share the road with such incredible machinery from the annals of motorcycle history.