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The male-dominated Quail Motorcycle Gathering is reserving front seats for women

Scenes from the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, Calif. on May 6, 2017.
The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, Calif., on May 6, 2017.
(Steve Burton)

The next Quail Motorcycle Gathering, traditionally a principally male bastion, will turn its focus on women for the first time — as they increasingly move up from being “biker chicks” in the passenger seat and grab the handlebars from men.

The annual Carmel show convening May 4 will host its first discussion panel on women in motorcycling. The decision not only portends an increasingly diverse attendance at the 11-year-old event, but reflects the growing role that women are playing in an industry that could use a lift.

For the record:
10:15 AM, Apr. 01, 2019 An earlier version of this article said the Quail Motorcycle Gathering starts on May 3. It is held on May 4 but is preceded by some events the prior day. The article also said a panel discussion about women in motorcycling would be held on May 3. That event has been moved to May 4.

Female riders now make up 19% of all U.S. bike owners, according to a recent study by the Motorcycle Industry Council trade group — up from under 10% a decade ago — with ownership at 22% for Gen-X riders and 26% for Gen-Y. And there’s other evidence to reinforce the numbers.

Women riders can now choose from multiple female-owned or -operated motorcycle instruction companies, riding groups and touring companies. Annual events like the Babes Ride Out desert tour in Southern California and the Sisters Centennial Motorcycle Ride across America are massive, sold-out affairs.

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Andria Yu, the Industry Council’s director of communications and a rider since 2001, credits manufacturers of gear, apparel and motorcycles with providing more options that suit the female consumer.

“It’s almost a chicken and egg thing, but there are just so many more choices today than when I started. There are more choices in gear. There also so many more motorcycles in the 300cc to 500cc range, which are not so intimidating for new riders, especially riders of smaller stature,” Yu said.

“We are chipping away at old images of what a ‘biker chick’ looks like and replacing it with: “I’m a (fill in the blank: journalist, lawyer, mom, teacher, college student) who also loves to ride, and my bike and gear reflect my personal style,” she said.

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is considered the premiere annual concours-style bike show in the country, an event where bike owners show off their vintage and classic machines. Not surprisingly given men’s domination of the sport and industry, it’s long been dominated by older male motorcyclists and their machines.

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This year’s show, which is preceded by a ride and invitation-only dinner on May 3, will include a Saturday “Fireside Chat” discussion of the role of women on two wheels featuring a panel of significant industry names, promoters say. Motorcycle apparel designer Ginger Damon, who will host the discussion, is a Quail veteran attendee and vendor, and applauded the move.

”The Quail symbolizes a lot of people coming together to show what they have — their motorcycles, their apparel and their legacies,” she said. “I’m delighted that they’re broadening their scope to highlight women.”

The more inclusive agenda is laudable, and overdue, said industry analyst Robert Pandya. He established the Discover the Ride initiative to bring new riders to a sport that has seen its U.S. sales drop by almost half since its high point a decade ago. Women, he said, represent the fastest-growing segment of riders in the U.S. and the industry’s only markedly improving niche.

“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s necessary,” Pandya said. “There is no other single thing we can do in the short term to increase motorcycling than to increase the number of women in the sport. If we all did that, we would fundamentally change our numbers.”

In addition to more senior figures, Damon’s Friday night event will include a conversation with Kayla Yaakov. The Pennsylvania-born rider two years ago became the youngest person in history to win a sanctioned full-size motorcycle race competing against adults — at age 9. Now 11, she has 300 career wins and 35 championships to her name, including two AMA Grand National Championships.

Working the other end of the age spectrum, this year’s Quail will also honor off-road racing champion Malcolm Smith as its 2019 Legend of the Sport.

The California-based desert racing pioneer co-starred with Steve McQueen in the 1971 documentary “On Any Sunday” before beginning a very successful career as a motorcycle parts and equipment manufacturer. He joins race icons Kenny Roberts, Mert Lawwill, Gene Romero and Reg Pridmore, as well as the late custom designer Arlen Ness, in the Quail Legends pantheon.

It’s a well-earned honor, said Quail founder Gordon McCall, who is also Director of Motorsports for the events division of the Peninsula Hotels. The chain is hosting the gathering, and is also behind the respected Quail Motorsports Gathering during the annual Pebble Beach automobile festivities in August.

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“His career and legacy have done more to promote the sport of motorcycling than almost anyone else,” McCall said. “He really is a legend.”

The 78-year-old Smith was a six-time winner of the Baja 1000 off-road race, four-time winner of the Baja 500, an eight-time gold medalist at the International Six Day Trials and a two-time participant in the grueling Paris Dakar Rally. He is recovering from a golf cart accident that sent him to the same rehabilitation facility where his son Alexander, also a racer, was being treated for injuries from a motorcycle crash in Mexico.

In a statement, Smith called the Legend designation “one of the highlights of my career.”

The Quail, as it is familiarly known, is considered the premiere American motorcycle event. Featuring prize competition in classes that embrace classic motorcycles, custom bikes, race bikes and many other two-wheeled variations, the Quail annually takes over the grounds of the Quail Lodge and Golf Club just east of the Monterey Peninsula. Several thousand enthusiasts pay top dollar to enter bikes into competition or simply ogle other collectors’ machines.

Quail awards have become for motorcycles the equivalent of the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance prizes for classic cars. This year, among the 300 or more bikes on display, special categories will include the 100th anniversary of the Brough Superior, the 50th anniversary of the Honda CB750 and a class called “Off-Road Wonders.”

Attendance last year topped 3,000, and is expected to be a similar figure this year. But the Quail is competing for attention with an increasingly crowded motorcycle event landscape.

In addition to the six annual industry-driven AIMExpo and Progressive International Motorcycle Shows, the bike calendar also features custom or alternative events like the One Show in Portland, the Handbuilt Show in Austin, Texas, the Outlier’s Guild Moto Show in Los Angeles, Mama Tried Motorcycle Show in Milwaukee and a variety of activities tied to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

The Quail has attempted to distinguish itself by highlighting excellence in all motorcycle genres and niches, McCall said.

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The “Wonders of Off-Road” class will feature Maicos, Husqvarnas and Pentons classic motorbikes, McCall said, right across the lawn from 100-year old Brough Superiors, considered the most highly prized of the vintage motorcycles. Also on the grass will be entries in ten other classes, including competition on-road motorcycles, competition off-road motorcycles, and “extraordinary bicycles and scooters.”

“I like that kind of contrast, because we try to represent everything in the motorcycle world,” McCall said. “We’re all about contrast.”


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