Monday, May 11, 2009


Motorcycle contrarian and motojournalist John Joss filed this guest column

Getting to Quail Lodge is always entertaining. It entails a left turn off the Salinas-to-Monterey highway (68) up the Laureles Grade of varying memory, then a right turn at the bottom to reach the Lodge.

Varying memory? Yes, the well-engineered, constant-radius, slightly banked curves are enticing and have encouraged, ahem, ‘enthusiastic’ riding on the part of some riders. Moi? Never. I’m sooooo slow. The ‘varying’ reasons are cited below.

My problem started with trying to turn left and being unable to ‘trip’ the lights on my VFR. I moved up, into the center of the intersection, and turned on the red after the traffic cleared. Annoying, but not observed or ticketed. Then there is the grade itself. Beyond the problem several years ago when locals sick of speeding bikes poured oil on the road and caused a massive pileup of Kawasaki Press machines, the road surface has deteriorated to the point that it’s unpleasant. Maybe they’ll fix it one of these years when county budgets permit. On a sport bike with race suspension, it’s bone-rattling.

The Lodge itself is remarkably fine but beyond my pay grade either as a visitor or attendant at events there (the ‘Gathering’ was $65 without Press credentials, which presumably deters the riff-raff). I know my place, as a card-carrying peasant and ink-stained wretch. Note that we motojournalists still get ink stains, no longer from our quill pens but from our printer cartridges, another costly habit (what would HP’s profits look like without the iniquitously priced ink they sell).

After visiting Jared Zaugg’s magnificent Legend event in Half Moon Bay for three consecutive years, the Quail field was comparatively sparse, with perhaps 60 bikes on display and another 40 or so in sponsors’ and club booths. Jared Zaugg has attracted a lot of wonderful bikes to the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, perhaps three times as many [Actually, FIVE times as many, but who's counting...pd'o]. But in terms of weather there is no comparison. Half Moon Bay offers brass-monkey weather, while Carmel Valley is benign. The Lodge staff seem genuinely pleased to see us biker visitors, and their barbecue was sensational.

Official entrants included 15 marques from 1913 to 2009: 12 Triumphs, eight BMWs, four each Crockers and Harleys, three Nortons and Velocettes, two Bultacos and singletons from makes such as Indian, Vincent and Honda, among others. Even older bikes were being auctioned, including the 1884 Copeland Steam machine which Bonhams & Butterfield was auctioning.

The ‘Deco Scoot’ (see pic) should have been called the ‘Deco Hoot,’ so amusing was it to see. It was one of the 70-odd bikes B&B brought to auction (if you can, get the catalog, which belongs in any sensible person’s book shelf for the pix and copy). The B&B catalog described it as a’virtual Fabergé egg on wheels,” [That was not my writing, although I did write about half the catalog...pd'o] and seeing it about to dock or mate with the mother ship was a high point. Many of the sponsor-booth bikes were interesting and fun, including the Protons and Craig Vetter’s ‘Tweetie Bird’ high-MPG machine (see pic). Memorabilia on auction included McQueen’s International License, with Steve’s diabolical, crooked grin right there on the paper.
One of my favorite bikes was Chris Hodgson’s 750/5 special cobbled together from stuff in his parts bin. I write ‘cobbled together’ but in fact it was a lovely concept machine, 100% BMW, which Chris persuaded to 130.3 MPH at Bonneville last year—pretty damned good for a 30-year-old pushrod machine that is street legal. Chris says he’s going to breathe on it some more and fit bigger Mikunis, now 34 and going to 38mm, and no doubt go back to the Salt for more fun and games.

Another nice machine, if a bit overcooked, was the ex-Gary Nixon 750 Triumph, basically a bored/stroked (couldn’t find anyone to ask) Bonnie in a North frame. Details were wonderful, including sealed ‘old’ plug holes replaced by center-of-the-combustion-chamber alternatives for improved burning. Gary won the Vintage Daytona on this machine in 2005 and pretty indeed it was (pic).

HDT (Hayes Diversified Technologies) brought its turbo-diesel, in Bonneville trim and a world record holder for speed in the diesel category. Hayes has been doing diesel bikes for more than two decades, successfully, and has a Marine Corps machine that you can find on his website ( I am proud to say that his diesel technology comes from my homeland, Great Britain.

Since I have been called a contrarian in the past, I want to whine and snivel about over-restored machines. What’s the point of painting, polishing and chroming an innocent machine to the point where the ‘investor’ would never dream of riding it for fear of damage. Factories cannot afford to make machines like that.

Bikes (cars, too) are kinesthetic devices meant to be ridden and enjoyed, not used as paperweights. Sure, they look pretty but their basic purpose has been destroyed. There were several machines in this category at Quail and I want no part of them or the philosophy behind the money-grubbing, antiquity-defiling process.

My analogy is that over-restoring is like taking a clever, lively and intelligent 60-year-old woman, lavishing costumes and cosmetics on her and posing her on a pedestal for a carefully lit photograph that will make her look 30. I much prefer the living, breathing person with all her intrinsic patina of looks, character and conversation. One good 60 trumps two mindless 30s, anyway and I can think of several of my acquaintance.

A final word about Quail. Sir Michael Kadoorie, Quail chairman, has a chain of brilliant luxury hotels around the world and makes vehicle events at Quail possible because of his enthusiasm, bless his heart. Interviewed for SPEED-TV last August when the cars were at Quail, he apologized for the sun reflecting off his bald head but I reassured him that it was perfectly okay: “Sir Michael, under their hair everyone is bald.” He is one of the really good guys, a modest and charming billionaire. We need more like him. Maybe Richard Branson is his emotional and behavioral heir.

It has been a pleasure to write this guest column for Paul, whom I thank. Anyone who wants to cross swords with me on anything in this material should feel free to do so by writing me at En garde!

Many thanks to John for writing this report! Photos courtesy John Joss and John McCoy.


David Blasco said...

Outstanding photos, as usual. This is a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the great pictures and comments. I keep threatening to get out there for the 'art show' but my finances have recently gotten worse ... so thanks for the glimpse at the creme de la creme.

mpls, mn

Anonymous said...

creme de la creme my arse what a bunch of slappers , i did love the offhand snide remarks but you could have put the george washington,s axe joke in with the derek minter norton , ie it,s another head and the handle has been replaced twice but its still the original axe, and as for the super vw hauler, well what a cock up , 65 mph downhill , who was that south african guy with the mk 7 jag that was converted into a bike hauler ,

Anonymous said...

paddy driver that was the yarpie from cape town who had the mk 7 jag hauler i read its still around , belive it or not i read it on a f1 blog page ? anonymous dave

John Joss said...

"Ride them as the maker intended!"
Bloody hell, yes! If it's a race bike, race it. If it's a road bike, ride it on the road (taking its characteristics into account for safety--hint, drum brakes). But please, oh please, don't make a paperweight out of it. Thus don't chrome, polish and 4,000-coats-of-paint it until no one would ever use it.
Rant over.