Vintage motorcycles may rattle. They may shimmy, shake or stall, but decades-old machines are unparalleled in their character and artistry — and, for one day this weekend, they are also on display for the public. Almost 200 vintage bikes will dot the green during Saturday's Quail Motorcycle Gathering at the Quail Lodge Golf Club in Carmel.
Topping the list of must-sees are the Bathing Suit Bike, which Rollie Free rocketed to 150 miles per hour (and a motorcycle speed record) in 1948, wearing a helmet, bathing suit and borrowed shoes. The Black, from L.A.-based Falcon Motorcycles, will also be unveiled at the event; the Black is an original modern bike built around the engine of a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow. Additionally, local hot rod builder So-Cal Speed Shop will debut its first-ever motorcycle. The Miler, which will go into limited production in September, is a vintage take on a flat-track racer with a modern engine.
The Quail "isn't a big parking lot full of motorcycles. It's collector bikes, custom bikes, race bikes. It's a first-class motoring event. It's everything that we love on four wheels but on two," said Bruce Meyer.
A Petersen Automotive Museum board member, Meyer is also an avid motorcyclist and motorcycle collector who plans to introduce 200 of his car-loving friends to this weekend's Quail.
Now in its third year, the motorcycle gathering is the two-wheeled spinoff of the Quail: A Motorsports Gathering, a rarefied car show that takes place every August on the same manicured grounds.
The motorcycle gathering, says founder Gordon McCall, is more inclusive.
"We've got priceless bikes there — really over-the-top, seven-figure bikes. But we also have relatively modestly valued Nortons and Triumphs and BSAs," McCall said.
The only exclusivity to this weekend's event, he added, is the nature of the enthusiasm. It's people who love bikes.
Gordon said he's expecting about 2,000 attendees who represent the breadth of motorcycle enthusiasm, from grizzled Harley guys and custom builders to MotoGP racing fans and classic bike riders, restorers and collectors.
The common thread is an appreciation for bikes with a pedigree. The theme of this weekend's Quail is the Isle of Man, the tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea that, starting in 1907, has been running an annual motorcycle race on public streets. Among the bikes on display this weekend is a 1929 Sunbeam Model 90 TT that won the Isle of Man TT that same year. Among the bikes to be auctioned by Bonhams & Butterfields at the gathering is the 1971 Husqvarna 400 Cross that Steve McQueen rode shirtless for a 1971 cover of Sports Illustrated.
"You know you're in the right place when you pull in with a big trailer that's almost impossible to turn around and instead of someone saying, 'Buddy, get this thing out of here,' they say, 'Where would you like to park?'" said Herb Harris, a Texas-based Vincent motorcycle collector and restorer who is bringing three bikes to the Quail, including a red Vincent Rapide with cream-colored upholstery he's dubbed the Creamer.
Harris has owned several storied bikes, including the Bathing Suit Bike. He takes them around to shows because "You can't just own a motorcycle like that," he said. "You have to display and share it. People won't let you just put it in a room and turn the lights out."