While the Quail, A Motorsports Gathering commands steep ticket prices and jam-packed crowds amidst the hullabaloo of Monterey Car Week, another gem of an event slips quietly into Carmel Valley every spring with far less fanfare. The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is like a two-wheeled equivalent of the hot indie rock band opening for the headliner—lesser known, but no less cool.
The event is spearheaded by Gordon McCall, the Quail’s Director of Motorsports, who also founded the Motorsports Gathering. The Carmel resident and motorcycle lover sees bikes as a common tie that binds. “The event is a reflection of the motorcycle community,” he told Robb Report. “This is a brotherhood, there’s no doubt about it, and enthusiasm amongst motorcyclists is really what keeps us going.” He adds, “I haven’t met a person yet that finds their treasure, rolls it into the garage, shuts the door, and enjoys it in a vacuum. That feeling permeates the motorcycle world, and that’s why we come back every year.”
On May 6, the 13th annual edition drew around 3,000 spectators who enjoyed an eclectic array of over 200 classic bikes, including the 1939 Miller-Balsamo 200 Carenata named Best in Show. While the featured hardware was stunning, a fireside chat with McCall and race legends Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, and Bubba Shobert cemented the camaraderie and rich history that binds moto enthusiasts in this shared passion. With an eye towards the intricate beauty of these old school two-wheelers, here our favorites from the day.
1929 Indian Four Cylinder 402
While Harley-Davidson earns props for being one of the original stateside motorcycle manufacturers, Indian Motorcycle actually claims credit for being the first U.S. bike builder on record, having been founded in 1901. Mike Lynch’s 1929 Indian harkens back to a great American era of manufacturing in the same way that Cord and Duesenberg set new standards for automobile building.
Powered by an inline-four engine that’s descended from the 1911 Henderson, this model features elaborate engineering and premium craftwork that priced it out of reach for most enthusiasts in the 1920s. The beautifully tidy example on display received a well-earned top prize in the Antique Class 1935 and Earlier category, bolstering the reputation of these once underappreciated bikes.
1935 Motoconfort MSC Grand Sport 500
Earning second place in the same category as the Indian Four Cylinder 402 is this far-lesser-known 1935 Motoconfort. The French manufacturer’s obscurity might be explained by the fact that it existed for a mere five years before being acquired by Motobecane. That rarity lent it an air of intrigue amidst the many household names which were featured on the fairways of the Quail, especially since its styling hints at stalwarts like AJS and Triumph. Owned by John Goldman of France, the bike is noteworthy for its lavish details, scalloped chrome, and intricate pinstriping that all recall a long-lost era of imaginative motorcycle design.
1937 BMW R5
BMW was easily the most well-represented marque at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering, constituting what motorcycle historian Paul d’Orleans half-jokingly suggested could be a full 30 percent of the field. Scott Smith’s 1937 BMW R5 took first prize in the Other European class, distinguishing itself from an array of entries from other notable manufacturers.
Featuring a number of innovations for its time—including the first use of telescopic forks, overhead engine valves, and adjustable damping—the R5 was a watershed motorcycle whose appeal continues to this day. This rare stateside-market bike is an ultra-clean and original example that deserved distinction from the crowd.
1939 Miller-Balsamo 200 Carenata
The bike that earned Best in Show honors this year is an exceedingly rare example from short-lived Italian manufacturer Miller-Balsamo. Presenting a monocoque frame and streamline art deco bodywork enveloping a 200 cc two-stroke engine, this motorcycle was uniquely advanced and expensive for its time.
Interestingly, “Miller” was incorporated to the manufacturer name because the company’s Italian founders thought the British-sounding moniker would make their motorcycles more sellable. Unfortunately for the boutique firm, World War II brought a swift end to production before it could gain notoriety. Owner John Goodman says he only knows of three such bikes, making his award-winning machine all the more remarkable.
1947 Harley-Davidson “Stardust” Knucklehead
“Stardust” is Richard Best’s incredible Harley-Davidson Knucklehead—a custom chopper for folks who don’t like custom choppers. With remarkably long forks, formed from sinuous expanses of chrome, that blend seamlessly into streamlined handlebars, this elegant execution combines beautifully curved metalwork with bold color combinations of a teal hombre and gold.
Like any proper chopper, it’s powered by an ornately constructed V-twin, with enough front-fork rake to lend it a majestic stance on the road. That alchemy helped earn the outlandish creation the Chopper award at the Quail this year.
Wayne Rainey’s 1971 Yamaha Mini Enduro 60
The career of legendary racer Wayne Rainey was fueled early on by his father, who put his promising 9-year-old son on a nitromethane-powered bike. This hopped-up Yamaha Mini Enduro was evidence of his dad’s drive: papa Rainey heavily modified the dirt bike by lowering the engine for an advantageous center of gravity, lengthening the swingarm, and beefing up the suspension.
“We didn’t see a lot of checkered flags,” Rainey recalls, “but we did look cool.” Rainey’s career would eventually speak to his natural-born talent, as he accumulated 94 starts, 24 wins, and three 500 cc Grand Prix championships. Here at the Quail, Rainey said he got “a little emotional” when his humble Mini Enduro 60 was fired up. “I can definitely feel my dad’s presence,” he added.
1975 Honda 550 F
Keith Young spent no less than three years building this outrageous machine from scratch in his Santa Cruz shop, resulting in a creation that transformed a 1975 Honda 550 F into a stunning steampunk concept. It’s easy to lose oneself in the bike’s labyrinthine details, which include maze-like hydraulic lines, various obscenities spelled out in copper, and darkly humorous touches (like a hand lever that consists of a middle-finger salute). Mechanical complexity is upped with its pneumatic suspension system, which drops the bike from a low to pavement-scraping stance. Young’s arduous work earned his bike the Arlen Ness Memorial Award.
Bubba Shobert’s 1985 Honda RS750D
American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Hall of Famer Bubba Shobert earned notoriety as one of only four racers to win every form of AMA race championship: road race, mile, half mile, short track, and TT. Shobert’s grandfather, who had fought at Pearl Harbor, wasn’t pleased when he signed with Honda. But the 1985 Honda RS750D was a fresh design, while hometown favorite Harley-Davidson’s designs were decades old.
This particular race-spec model was so special that only nine were built. The Texan’s winning ways helped put Honda on the map, cementing an enduring partnership. “In the end it all worked out,” Shobert told the crowd with a smile, referring to his second-place standing in 1984 followed by championship titles the next three years in a row.
Ducati Supercharged Custom “Dr. B”
“Dr. B” is Craig Rodsmith’s wildly executed custom, which started life as a Ducati ST4. The power plant is a four-valve Desmoquattro engine, the same that was originally utilized in the brand’s gorgeous 916 superbike. Rather than leaning on the model’s existing tech, Rodsmith set out to “take a modern bike and make it as unmodern” as he could. That meant replacing niceties like electronic ignition and fuel injection with throwbacks such as mechanical fuel pumps, magnetos, and a carburetor.
With a protuberant bevel-driven supercharger that resembles something out of an H.R. Giger sketchbook, Dr. B comprises fantastical mechanicals countered by a polished-aluminum monocoque that’s attached to the body via a rear hinge. While Rodsmith has displayed the bike at the Mama Tried show and here at the Quail, his land-speed-racing plans suggest this supercharged monster is more than a show queen.
Hazan Special Velocette Custom
The word “impossible” comes up a lot when describing Max Hazan’s custom creations. The Long Island–born founder of Los Angeles–based Hazan Motorworks is notorious for building outrageously sleek and minimalist bikes, and his Special Velocette Custom is no exception. With fluid metal surfaces and bogglingly intricate details, this build incorporates a series of features which are both mechanically complex and aesthetically elegant.
Powered by two 70-year-old Velocette single-cylinder engines running in tandem with a TVS supercharger, this custom’s power train features beautiful hand polishing on one side, and exposed belts on the other. Despite its handlebar getting damaged in transit and breaking off while being demonstrated to judges, Hazan’s incredible one-off still earned the top prize in the Custom/Modified class.
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