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Turning Back Time - Quail Motorcyle Ride 2011

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
This rider looks ready to do the ton-up on his classic Laverda.
This rider looks ready to do the ton-up on his classic Laverda during the third annual Quail Motorcycle Ride in Carmel, California.
Friday morning it was easy to mistake the Quail Lodge for the Ace Café in its heyday as Dunstall Nortons and Mike Hailwood replica Ducatis sat ready to join the ton-up club in its circular driveway. Not far from this dynamic duo of yesteryear, an orange Laverda 750 SF, its clip-ons tapering low and back, waited for the kick that would fire its feisty Twin to life. Soon the cacophony of Singles stroking and the smell of pre-mixed fuels burning would fill the air as the ensemble of vintage motorcycles pulled out of the third annual Quail Motorcycle Ride to embark on a run around the Monterey Peninsula. Not long afterward, their modern counterparts would join them as 76 motorcycles, an eclectic mix of machinery from almost all manufacturers, toured the vineyard-laden hills that fueled the tomes of one-time resident John Steinbeck. I almost felt guilty attending the rally on a 2011 Kawasaki Vaquero with its push-button starter and ensemble of electronics. Almost.  

A precursor to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, the Quail Ride provides an opportunity for motorcycles generally kept under lock and key as museum-quality pieces to let the pistons pump, the oil to circulate and carb needles to squirt fuel into combustion chambers once again. What good does it do to own a vaunted Vincent if you don’t fire it up on occasion and flog it on the open road? A bike in running order is more prized, anyways. Many of the motorcycles would take their rightful place on the lawn of the Quail Golf Course the next day during the concours, but on this day, it was all about the ride and allowing these progenitors of modern machinery a chance to once again carve turns with surgical precision.

With nothing but blue in the sky overhead, the charge over Carmel Valley Road was led by a pair of CHP officers on their BMW sport-tourers. It’s hard to say who was having more fun, us or them as they gladly demonstrated their riding skills on the terrific twisties along the route. It doesn’t take long before passing traffic slows to a trickle as the landscape rotates between grassy green hills and brush-lined roadway. Whole mountainsides are covered in yellow wildflowers as we rumble past farms with white picket fences. Bikes bend around corners as far as the eye can see. Ahead of me, Craig Vetter’s yellow streamliner and a customized Kawasaki 250 with a fairing-wrapped front tire and a giant wind-cutting fin mounted in place of a topcase compete for the title of most efficient vehicle in the Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge. I see the red trellis frame of a Ducati 1098 in my side view mirror and feel the pulse of its potent L-Twin engine each time its rider gives the throttle a little twist.

Lined up and ready to get the party started at the Quail Motorcycle Ride.Old meets new. The Vaquero parked next to a Vincent. An eclectic assortment of motorcycles line Carmel Valley Road.
(L) Motorcyclists are lined up and ready to get the party started during the vintage bike run. (M) Old meets new. Vaquero, meet the Vincent. (R) An eclectic assortment of motorcycles line Carmel Valley Road.
Forty-minutes into the ride, the road crests. We take a break over a scenic vista, allowing old engines a breather from the demands of a steep grade. Participants walk between the lines of bikes, sharing in conversations about restorations and memories of long-forgotten rides. We chat with our friends from AFT Customs, builder Jim Guiffra and spokesmodel Shelby Thompson. Guiffra is enjoying spending time again in the saddle of his first motorcycle, an immaculate Honda CB750 with a Kerker exhaust while Shelby is sharpening her riding skills on AFT’s ground-up custom called Kemosabe. Soon we mount up again, dropping back in to vineyard-filled hills. Seems like Napa isn’t the only areas vintner grapes flourish in California. One winery’s fields stretch beyond our line of sight as sun peeks through the perfectly spaced rows in our periphery as we travel down Arroyo Seco Road.

Shelby Thompson of AFT Customs was all smiles as she rode the ground-up custom called Kemosabe on the 2011 Quail Motorcycle Ride.
Shelby Thompson of AFT Customs was all smiles as she rode the ground-up custom called 'Kemosabe' on the 2011 Quail Motorcycle Ride.
The old bikes soon test their engine’s limits with a short stint on Highway 101. Single-cylinders thump maniacally trying to keep up with the likes of a carbon fiber-wrapped MV Agusta F4 and a Ducati/NCR New Blue. It’s not long before we exit off Old Stage Road as our route winds through the rich-soiled farms of Salinas’ back roads. Workers in the fields pause from picking fresh produce to watch and wave as the motorcycle parade passes by. Tim Stafford rides ahead of me on his restored 1954 BMW R68. I can’t help but chuckle as I watch him absorbing the brunt of the uneven road with his legs instead of leaving it to the old Beemer’s antiquated plunger suspension. But he looks damn cool decked out in his tall, black riding boots and period correct garb riding a perfectly restored Beemer.
Our ride leads us through the gates of Rancho Cielo for our second pit stop. Rancho Cielo is a 100-acre ranch in the foothills of Salinas that has been converted into a youth campus which gives at-risk teens a place to develop vocational skills. Some of the students in Rancho Cielo’s cooking program baked cookies for participants in the Quail Motorcycle Ride. Others filtered among the bikes, admiring the odd collection of vintage and modern motorcycles. A group of local teens were digging the muscle car styling of the Vaquero. They liked it even more when they heard it is equipped with XM satellite radio.

So far the only incidences during the ride have been stubborn magnetos in need of bump starts and a few small dirt tracker tanks that have run dry. This speaks volumes about the care owners and restorers have taken into breathing new life into antique machinery. We chart a course for Laguna Seca on Highway 68, the final pit stop along our ride. It’s not long before the sign to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca comes into view. We congregate outside the gate to the front straight, a randy group of wannabe racers staring at the track through the gates like kid’s pressing their faces on the window of a candy store.

The Quail Motorcyle Ride gave me an opportunity to spin my first lap at Laguna Seca - on a bagger  no less.
The Quail Motorcyle Ride gave me an opportunity to spin my first lap at Laguna Seca - on a bagger, no less.
The piece de resistance of the Quail Motorcycle Ride is the opportunity to take a touring lap around Laguna Seca. If ever there were a testing ground for the handling characteristics of the 2011 Vaquero, this was it. I find humor in the fact that my first ride ever around Laguna Seca will be on a bagger. I figure these vintage racers with featherlight frames will have the edge in corners, but I’ve got the horsepower to make up for it on the straights.

I wait for the gate attendant to point his finger at me telling me to enter the track. Though it’s only a fun lap, adrenalin is coursing through my veins. To ride the hallowed asphalt of the revered race track is an honor, regardless of circumstances. I am about to enter the dominion of Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner. The pace car takes off at a brisk speed and I open up the throttle and unleash some of the big Vulcan’s 1700cc of power. It’s a free-for-all as square-cased Ducati Super Sports and Triumph dirt trackers dodge and weave into the first turn. I take an inside line on a turn that banks almost 180-degrees and have the Vaquero leaned over about as far as it will go. I can’t help but appreciate the speed GP racers attack this turn with even more after banking into it myself. Soon the raceway rises just before it enters the Corkscrew and though I’ve never ridden it I can envision the turn up ahead. I can’t count how many race photos I’ve processed from the Corkscrew, from classic battles between Mat Mladin and Ben Spies to Rossi’s unforgettable pass on Stoner. I crest the rise positioned on the inside line and edge past a couple of other riders who swung out high. Making a pass on the Corkscrew now ranks high on my bragging list. Bikes are diving into the final corners from all angles as riders gain confidence with time on the track. The session ends way too quickly as they signal us back in to the gates, but not before I’m able to cross “Riding at Laguna Seca” off my bucket list. Afterwards, we congregate on the hill outside of the Corkscrew to enjoy a catered lunch before making the final run back to the Quail Resort.

The festivities of the Quail Motorcycle Ride didn’t stop there, though. A few hours later riders would meet again in the resort’s Peninsula Ballroom for a champagne reception and the opportunity to get a peek at the motorcycles in the Bonham’s & Butterfields auction scheduled for the next day. The dinner room was filled with legendary names like Wayne Rainey and Don Emde. Legendary motorcycle film-maker Peter Starr was on hand to announce that his epic pic “Take it to the Limit” has been remastered and for the first time will be released on DVD in celebration of its 30th
This unique looking Kawasaki 250 was a competitor in the Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge which aimed to see which motorcycle could get the most miles out of the least amount of gas.
This unique looking Kawasaki 250 was a competitor in the Vetter Fuel Economy Challenge which aimed to see whose motorcycle could get the most miles out of the least amount of gas.
Anniversary Edition. The crowd was then treated to a clip from the movie of Mike Hailwood’s incredible run on the Isle of Man at break-neck speed. Considering the theme of this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering pays tribute to the Isle of Man, showing a scene from Starr’s movie was a fitting ending to a memorable day.

We asked one of the founders of the Quail Motorcycle event, Gordon McCall, how this year’s ride fared in comparison to past events.

“It was a better ride this year. We’re at capacity. The roads and weather were great,” he said.

McCall participated on the ride aboard a 1975 CB400F. He originally was going to ride his 1972 Ducati 250 but loaned it to his friend Paul D’ Orleans who had just flown in from overseas. In all, 91 people on 76 bikes had the pleasure of taking a memorable ride around the Monterey Peninsula, culminating with the opportunity to spin a lap at Laguna Seca. Seeing the road filled with vintage motorcycles was like turning the hands of the clock back on time, complete with the sight of bump starting bikes, the smell of oil-burning and the raspy rattle of old exhausts.
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