It was a star-studded affair, where chance meetings with former world champions like Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson and Doug Polen were common. It was a celebration of speed, the sixth annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering celebrating “100 Years of Speed Trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats” with contenders for the title of “World’s Fastest Motorcycle” sitting side-by-side, Mike Akatiff’s 376 mph Ack Attack next to Denis Manning’s 367 mph BUB Seven streamliner, the Triumph Castrol Rocket casting its 25-foot-long shadow nearby.
The 2014 Quail Motorcycle gathering was a celebration of the industry’s past and present, from Gene Brown’s “Best of Show” winning 1932 Vincent HRD Python Sport to Lightning Motorcycle’s 200-horsepower electric superbike. In all, over 260 motorcycles spread about the verdant grounds of the Quail Lodge and Golf Course as an estimated 2000 enthusiasts and collectors gathered for this year’s event.
The 2014 Quail event kick-started Friday, May 16, with the annual Quail Motorcycle Ride, a 110-mile romp through Steinbeck country, from the rich soils surrounding Salinas and Central California to the vineyard-lined hillsides of Carmel Valley. It included approximately 115 riders taking a few “parade” laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the rare opportunity to ride on the same hallowed grounds as motorcycle legends. Pit stops at places like Talbott Winery provided an opportunity for quick adjustments and splashes of fuel for cantankerous old machines with tiny tanks and temperamental engines. The ride is one of the few places you’ll see museum-quality motorcycles like a 1927 Scott Flying Squirrel fired to life the first day, oil once again circulating through its veins, a trail of smoke in its wake, and then polished up to compete in the concourse the second day.
While there were many exemplary machines in this year’s Quail Gathering, none were finer than Gene Brown’s 1932 Vincent HRD Python Sport. The striking black Vincent features a 500cc Rudge Single engine sporting four-valve heads, the radially-mounted valves opening via a double rocker arm system. An Amal carb injects the good stuff while Highgate “silencers” eject the bad. In addition to “Best of Show” laurels, Brown also received a TUDOR Fastrider Blackshield Timepiece for his victory. Gene is no stranger to the Quail podium as his 1938 Brough Superior SS-80 also won ‘Best of Show’ honors back in 2011.
After riding up to the show from LA with our buddies from British Customs (BC) on a bunch of their custom Triumphs, we were excited to see them receive the “Industry Award” for their 2014 Triumph Scrambler. The BC Scrambler received special recognition for being probably the only motorcycle ridden up from LA to the Quail Gathering shod in knobby tires. “Why We Ride” producer Bryan Carroll had the pleasure of wheeling it up California’s historic Highway 1 Wednesday before bravely taking it out on Laguna Seca the following day during the Quail Ride. Though on the surface it looks like a vintage Scrambler, the addition of a British Customs’ Slammer Seat, airbox kit, new exhaust and upgraded suspension provide a more modern ride. BC also debuted its new flat tracker at the Quail, a clean little ripper modeled after Sonny Nutter’s Triumph racer. “Sliden’ Sonny,” the California State Speedway Champ in 1968 and hotshoe rider extraordinaire, has been advising British Customs on its latest venture.
“Form and function and easy design has always been a constraint in everything we do. This is the first one we’ve actually cut the frame and done something a little outside the box, but we think we’ve figured it out how to make it so everybody can do this at home or at a local shop. But it’s a bike to me that’s now bringing a new era to British Customs and what we’re doing,” said British Customs Jason Panther.
A year after filming the Quail Motorcycle Gathering for the documentary “Why We Ride,” Carroll and fellow director James Walker were able to put down their cameras this year and enjoy the show from the other side of things. This included sponsoring a special category at the 2014 gathering.
The producers of ‘Why We Ride’ presented a special award chosen by children at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering.
Mert Lawwill awarded the ‘Competition Sport Award’ to Jeff Palhegyi’s 1981 Yamaha XS 650.
Gene Brown rides up on stage to accept the ‘Best of Show’ award for his 1932 Vincent HRD Python Sport.
The Ack Attack crew caught getting a peek at the competition, Sam Wheeler’s EZ-Hook streamliner.
“Most importantly what we have going this year is the ‘Why We Ride’ trophy. The ‘Why We Ride’ trophy is voted on by kids 12-and-under, and this is a first that I know of any motorcycle event where children 12-and-under get to vote on the motorcycle that most inspires them to be a rider, a restorer, or just an enthusiast,” said producer and director Carroll.
A 1973 Honda XR75 owned by Clayton Benedetti was the recipient of the “Why We Ride” award. Fittingly, Benedetti said he’s owned the bike since he was five. Carroll said several kids chose the vintage Honda dirt bike because “It’s the same bike my daddy learned to ride on.”
While there were too many commendable motorcycles to give all their due, one bike we kept gravitating to was a rare 1928 Indian Overhead Valve Hillclimber. With its rear tire wrapped in chains, it looked like its 45 cubic-inch engine was ready to be fired up and ridden with the same abandon as the old black-and-white picture sitting next to the bike of a rider on the Indian cresting a hill doing a wheelie.
We were also fond of a 1932 Rudge Special owned by Jeff Brown. The cool British classic featured a 499cc Single with four-valve cylinders, cutting edge technology for 1932. The “Best of Show” winning 1932 Vincent HRD was also outfitted with a Rudge Single with four-valve heads. Brown’s Rudge-Whitworth motorcycle had other interesting aspects to it, from linked braking to an unusual, off-set spoke pattern. It also ran a set of “Brooklyn Cans” named for Britain’s era of racing on the Brooklyn track.
In addition to British Customs’ flat tracker, the 2014 Quail served as the springboard for other notable debuts, foremost the preview of Lightning Motorcycles 200-horsepower electric superbike. Lightning is creeping ever closer to production of its LS-218, a direct descendant of the bike they’ve raced at Bonneville, the Isle of Man and Pike’s Peak. Lightning states it is competitive with internal combustion engine motorcycles right off the showroom floor.
“Our focus has been building electric bikes that were not a compromise, that could go head-to-head with gas-bike technology and hold their own,” said Lightning Motorcycle’s CEO, Richard Hatfield. “It’s a three-phase, oil-cooled 82-pound motor that the way it’s set up in the streetbike, is about 200 horsepower. It’s a fun bike to ride.” The Lightning LS-218 runs on a lithium-polymer battery with 180 cells and weighs about 495 pounds.
“One of the things we’ve found out is, we were surprised is that an electric motor has a lot less gyroscopic effect than an internal combustion engine so it (the LS-218) transitions very well side-to-side and we think it gives a competitive advantage on a tight course,” added Hatfield, who said Lightning aims to have production bikes on the market by this summer.
Hot Rod Conspiracy also used the 2014 Quail to debut its Dunstall-style side fairing for Triumph Thruxtons. Made from carbon fiber, the racy fairing was designed by Matt Markstaller, one of the players in the development of the Triumph Castrol Rocket.
This year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering helped raise money for a couple different causes, including the California Highway Patrol 11-99 Foundation that provides benefits to California Highway Patrol employees and their families in times of crisis. Another beneficiary was the My Museum Monterey County Youth Museum, a local interactive museum with hands-on exhibits and craft stations designed to stimulate creative young minds. My Museum set up a special play area for children at this year’s gathering and held a fund-raising raffle with prizes that ranged from vintage motorcycle posters to a weekend getaway at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club.
The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is a cultural event where historians and restorers roam, where collectors come to scout for future prized possessions, where enthusiasts can come and soak in the Carmel Valley sunshine and wander the lush grounds of the Quail Golf Course while checking out incredible motorcycles. This happens while music fills the air along with the smell of sumptuous meats grilling. Every year brings a new wrinkle, a new theme, and a bevy of incredible machines.
“For those of you who haven’t been to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, this is the mecca of motorcycling. We have everything here from collectibles to kid’s motorcycles,” noted Carroll.
This year’s event not only shed light on the history of motorcycling, it also promoted the next generation of riders through avenues like the “Why We Ride” award, the participation of My Museum, and the promotion of MiniMoto USA. As I watched a little blonde cutie who couldn’t have been more than five years old shining up her blue Texas Devil Racing MiniMoto superbike, I couldn’t help but wonder if she might be the next Elena Myers or Shayna Texter. Kudos to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering for not only honoring the past but for also realizing the need to foster the next generation of riders.