Quail Motorcycle Gathering 2018

Text + Photos: Mike Blanchard

Feature | Gearheads in California are blessed to have some of the world's best automotive and motorcycle events take place within driving distance. Arguably the most prestigious motorcycle event of this type, on the West Coast anyway, is the Quail Motorcycle Gathering held in Carmel Valley at Quail Lodge. 

This year, 2018, is the 10th anniversary of the event. It is a whole weekend of events that starts Thursday with a dinner. Then Friday there is a ride out the valley ending up at Laguna Seca for some laps and a dinner later that night for participants and exhibitors. The ride is very popular and sells out quickly. That is just the warmup for the main event held on Saturday. Show time, the concours: Get up early and push your bikes out onto the golf links to show them off to your peers.

Unlike the Quail automotive event held during the weekend of the Monterey Motorsports weekend, the moto event has a much more proletarian feel. You can enter your motorcycle or collection. It costs money, sure; but it is not ruinous by any means. You will rub shoulders with GP stars, moto journalists, wealthy collectors, custom builders, the guy next door restoring his '68 Bonnie and a smattering of the rich and famous. It’s a really good mix, and people are happy to tell you their story and show you their bike. 

Rob Talbott with his unrestored 1955 MV 175 CSTL. "It is important to me to see where they start," said Talbott. "And it will never be touched." The bike was parked next to a fully restored version of the same bike. As is often the case the unrestored version garnered much more attention.

There is a sort of continental circus of people who go to these events like the stations of the cross. So far this year, on the West Coast, it has been One Moto, Born Free, and the opening of the Custom Revolution show at the Peterson Museum. You see many of the same people and run into friends from all over the country. There is a reunion aspect to it.

The fact that Quail is so low key for a concours event is what makes it so cool. There is something of the hooligan in every rider no matter the background or economic circumstance, and that, to a certain extent, makes us all brothers and sisters of the same tribe. 

All the same, I did run into some guys who were lightly grumbling after the show about not winning an award. Most of these people have put in a great deal of effort and money to restore or build their motorcycles and have a lot of emotion wrapped up in the whole thing. I am sure it is very difficult to be in the judges' position, picking between a bunch of essentially perfect machines.

You will see everything from a humble Taco mini-bike to the first Brough Superior ever made. Italian exotica? It’s there for your viewing. Tweedy British iron? Check. Honda single-cams, Yamaha and Suzuki two-strokes, world championship winning race bikes, BMW airheads, Harleys, Indians: You will find much of the vintage motorcycle world represented on the green. You will find all of that as well as vendors with new motorbikes and prototypes. 

The bikes are judged by what head judge Somer Hooker, writing in the event program, calls “the French System with structure.” I personally have no idea what the “French System” is exactly. I think it means you have judges instead of being judged by your peers. 

Each category is judged by a crew of judges expert in each particular marque. You have just as good a chance of winning with an original-condition machine as a fully restored bike. It seems that very significant historical motorcycles have a bit of an advantage. I would say there is nothing particularly wrong with this. These types of machines are what the attendees are there to see in the first place. I will repeat: I don’t envy the judges.

For 2018, the show was celebrating the work of Arlen Ness and the anniversary of the Ducati Monster. It also saw the reveal of the new Curtiss electric motorcycle. Wayne Carini and his TV crew were filming an episode for his TV show "Chasing Classic Cars." Apparently he has discovered motorcycles. 

Lee Hoffseth snagged second place in the Italian category with his stomping 1974 MV Agusta 750s. He has owned this bike for 30 years and, despite how valuable it is, still gets it out to ride it. It can occasionally be seen parked on the street in Santa Cruz. He gave it a good workout at Laguna Seca during the Friday ride. The engine has only been opened up once when it recently broke a spur gear in the transmission. The crank features very unusual roller main bearings with split outer races. Lee was having a great time revving it up for the crowd.

At many shows or concourse events the parking lot “show” often rivals the iron inside the ropes, and the Quail is no exception. This year, and probably all other years, high-end modern bikes were the norm given that many attendees ride to the show. But there are charming vintage bikes scattered in and among the plastic and Öhlins that provide a thrill for the person willing to walk the line.

In addition to the official Quail events, there are interesting motorcycle things going on all weekend on the Monterey Peninsula.

As has become tradition during moto events, Saturday night there was a gathering of motorcycles on Cannery Row for an informal street show. On the weekend of the Superbike races at Laguna Seca, the famous tourist spot is a riot of custom motorcycles.

A bit farther into Carmel Valley is the Moto Talbott Collection (check out the article on the Moto Talbot Collection elsewhere in Rust). Robb Talbott’s non-profit museum collection represents some of the most significant motorcycles anywhere in the world. Not huge like Barber, but really nice stuff in a beautiful building that is perfect for hosting rides and moto events. They do restorations and maintenance in-house from a nicely equipped shop. 

Moto Talbott hosted a fundraising dinner Saturday night and was the destination for a charity ride on Sunday. There was also an event at Jameson's Classic motorcycle museum in Pacific Grove. The Quail Motorcycle Gathering has become the anchor for what is working its way toward a week of moto festivities. There are rumored to be some changes coming for the Quail moto, but the organizers are not looking to push it out to a weeklong thing themselves. 

If this all sounds a bit “gushy,” well, I guess maybe it is. Sure, there was the usual loopy classic rock band marred by comically bad sound mixing and an attempt to mix in a celebrity chef who owns a motorcycle. It is interesting to compare an event like One Moto put on by a bunch of guys who run a motorcycle shop and an event put on by a bunch of high-net-worth folks. Each has a feel that reflects the taste and outlook on the moto life of their organizers.

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is about really high end world-class collector bikes and it delivers in spades. This is a fantastic event that is well worth the time and loot of any motorcycle nut.


The True American Heroes Ride

Sidebar | Sunday after the Quail Motorcycle event, I popped over to the Moto Talbott Collection to take a look at what might have shown up since I had been there last. First thing, I ran into Jerry Kaplan, who had been judging the Norton class the day before at the Quail. 

As we were talking and looking at bikes, a group of riders pulled into the parking lot outside. A few minutes later the unmistakable Kenny Roberts was walking through the museum with his son Kenny Jr. As the riders pulled off helmets and jackets it became clear that this was no ordinary ride. There was Eddie Lawson stepping off his Gurney Alligator; over there Bubba Shobert talking with friends and family. Road racer Shelina Moreda was hanging out, and some Hollywood folks were digging into the catered lunch.

It turned out that I had stumbled onto the end of a charity ride organized by Mike Anderson of Modesto in honor of his son, Marine Corporal Mike Anderson Jr., who was killed in the battle of Fallujah in 2004.

Anderson Sr. was determined to honor his beloved son. “The whole thing started 13 years ago to commemorate Mike,” said Anderson. “He was a great kid; he rode and raced motorcycles and rode skateboards. It’s important to me to remember the sacrifice of my son.”

The first year, Anderson wasn’t sure if anyone would show up, but he was determined to have the ride even if only two people participated. Held on the second weekend in May, the ride went from strength to strength. Law enforcement and local veterans' groups got involved, and eventually hundreds of riders turned out each year to honor Cpl. Mike Anderson’s sacrifice and raise money for the Welcome Home Heroes Foundation, which helps veterans returning from our wars.

Anderson, who had been a car dealer before going into politics, had known Roberts but not really well. “One year Kenny showed up. He calls me three or four months later and said, ‘I want to do something for vets,’” said Anderson. “He said, 'Let’s have a dinner at my ranch and museum.'”

Roberts got his friends from the racing world involved, and the dinner was a smash hit. Eventually the dinner went from motorcycle-racing legends to a night of Hollywood legends. But Anderson was quick to point out that it was not all about celebrities.

“Every year there have been kids that were with my son when he was killed,” said Anderson. “The thing has morphed every year. It finally became unmanageable. We had to downsize so we changed it up. Last year Kenny sold the ranch just after the ride. We had the opportunity to take it to the Quail, and now it is back to racers and Hollywood celebrities.”

This year the True American Heroes Dinner honoring Cpl. Anderson was hosted by Roberts at Quail Lodge on Saturday night after the concours, with the ride held the next morning. Approximately 65 bikes took part, with some people riding two-up. 

“Bubba Shobert and Kenny Roberts led us through the rolling hills and countryside between Carmel Valley and Salinas: 118 miles overall,” said Anderson. "Kenny and I spoke about next year’s event with Eddie Lawson after the ride. 2019 could be much bigger and better.”

Interested parties can check out trueamericanhero.org and welcomehomeheroesfoundation.org