Thursday, May 19, 2011


Another Quail cooked and eaten...The grass never felt crowded, even with significant increases in attendance, and if you happened to spot a former National or World Champion (Lawill, Emde, Leonard, Rainey), legendary film maker (Peter Starr), or custom bike builder (Falcon, So-Cal, Speed Shop Design) you didn't have to wade through a scrum of admirers to say 'howdy', as the vibe was entirely casual, being a literal field of one's peers.
Fantastic works-built Harley midget race car, to show off their new-for-1915 gearbox.  This car was owned by Charles Howard, of Seabiscuit fame.
The pre-show banquet Friday night was decorated with the cream of the Bonhams sale, including two mega-dollar machines, the ex-Steve McQueen Husqvarna and BMW R32, plus a lineup of racing Nortons and replicas of the 'Easy Rider' choppers.  No bunting or flowers necessary; for this crowd Bonhams was the perfect interior designer.
Steve McQueen's Husky brought $144,000
Even for those bored by dinner speeches, Kevin Cameron (tech editor for Cycle World) gave a surprisingly emotional talk on the value of 'sense memory' in motorcycling, the sounds and smells which connect the present and the past, and managed to weave his highly technical perspective into the very human reasons we love motorcycles.   If I can get a copy, it will be posted here for your delectation, although his quiet delivery will be missed.   A tough act for yours truly to follow, but what a pleasure; my own talk will be posted shortly.
Watching Peter Starr's film of Mike Hailwood at the Isle of Man TT; this film brought Mike out of retirement to ride a Suzuki around the Island at 185mph!
Saturday, show day, defied the weatherman and was perfectly mild, while alternating cloud cover and sun made for a variety of lighting conditions to view the crazy range of bikes displayed.  From Craig Vetter's 'gang' of super-high fuel economy experimental machines, to Broughs and early American iron, to the latest Custom masterpieces, there was a bike for every preference.   This year the Quail became a proper Concours d'Elegance, with 7 categories, 10 judges, and several special awards given by esteemed guest judges.   As a true Concours, the Quail is now in extremely rare company; is there another prestige Concours for motorcycles only? While the big auto Concours (and I'm on a plane to Villa d'Este at this very moment, courtesy of sponsor BMW) are scrambling to make a place for two-wheelers, the stand-alone motorcycle event which aspires to such a level of judging and quality of entrants is still far too rare.
Historian Michael Lynch awards the Heritage trophy to Frank Recoder and his Velocette Thruxton
The Quail is attempting to strike a balance between a casual atmosphere, inclusion of local clubs and riders, reasonable gate price, and a serious appraisal of motorcycles by a judging committee, without inclusion of the money/prestige that the 'car world' can muster with ease.  They show is yet evolving, as organizer Gordon McCall's strategy is to organically build up to a Pebble Beach standard as word about the Quail brings participation from further afield.  They certainly deserve the support of the broader collecting world, if for no other reason than the Quail could easily be a place to see the best motorcycles in the world.
Original paint 1911 Flying Merkel
Highlights of the show included several original-paint American machines, a century old, and looking like they needed only a good kick to ride away.  The event was heavy on European makes this year, with BMW and the Italian mob present in force.  My favorite Teutonic machine was BMW's first ohv racer, an R37 of 1924, so rare I've never seen one outside a museum, yet one could crawl all around the machine to investigate, as I did, without disturbing the owner...too much.
Don Emde aboard his 'big base' Indian Daytona Scout... it sounded great!
As noted in the Quail Ride report, a 'ridden not hidden' Ducati '74 750SS shared the field with many other Italian twins, 750GT and Sports, Laverda twins and triples, plus a tasty selection of lightweights from a dozen different marques. I barely had time to look/photograph them all, as my judging duties were somehow combined with being the show time I'm simply going to judge bikes 'on mike' to save time.  Or not.
The So-Cal 'Miler'
The Quail has also become a place to see the latest from several Custom/modified/artisanal motorcycle builders, and this year So-Cal Speed Shop displayed a range of new Triumph Bonnevilles which had morphed into dirt-track, flat-trak, and café racer guises, very effectively too.  The advent of tiny LED head- and tail-lamps means a bike which appears full-race with number plates and straight pipes is actually road legal; clever stuff.

My ride review of the 'love it or hate it' modified BSA A65 'Beezerker' by Speed Shop Design is short and sweet.  I've seen this motorcycle on all the Custom photoblogs for the past year, yet apparently, nobody had ever asked for a ride!
Clutch twistrip connects to a quick-thread release in the primary cover, and works surprisingly smoothly
Beezerker's charming builder, Chris Fletchner, explained the details of the machine, which is impressive in the skill and cleverness of its execution, and cleanliness of the overall design.  Chris went way out on a limb with the aesthetics, landing somewhere akin to a prop for a Flash Gordon movie, filmed in 1968.  With lights hidden behind oval grilles, exhaust routed through the frame tubes (exiting the rear oval grille), a non-hydraulic caliper rear sprocket-disc brake, and a twistgrip clutch (!), the bike is not only radical, but registered for the road.
Riding the Beezerker; David Folch photo
Beezerker fired first kick with a robust bark - there's no baffling in the frame tubes - and Chris was concerned about my unfamiliarity with the twistgrip clutch, but this proved very easy to master, and in fact, I finished my short ride wondering why more bikes don't use this device?  It would relieve carpal-tunnel torture on bikes with he-man levers.  The engine was sweet and smooth, the ultra-narrow 'bars being no particular impediment to weaving around a golf course full of static bikes and moving pedestrians.  The sheetmetal girder fork worked well, and the riding position, with my ass fully cradled in that seat, was far more ergonomic than it looked.  No worse than my Velo Thruxton, and much better than a Ducati 748.  A wild show bike one can actually ride, surprise surprise, with good ground clearance and a healthy engine.  if you're looking for something a little different, Beezerker is looking for a new owner.
Falcon designer Ian Barry with the Black
Falcon Motorcycles expands their patch of grass every year as the latest of their 'Concept 10' series of ultra-labor-intensive prototypes débuts; this year the 'Black' was created around the engine of a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow which had been modified in the 50s and 60s for dry-lakes speed runs and drag racing.  The radical cylinder head porting and carburation is 'as found', while everything but the engine was built by Falcon in Los Angeles.  Put simply, the Black is a tour-de-force; there is nothing else remotely like it, and even the Vincent purists were overawed by what Falcon has achieved.

The Black's intake; breathe deep...
I'll post a full report on this outrageous machine shortly, with documentation of the evolutionary process over the year of its design and construction.  Plus of course, a ride report, which you'll not find anywhere else.  Stay tuned!
Norton, Zero
"We all ride on a Yellow Submarine"....
Design legend Craig Vetter, of the Triumph X75 Hurricane
Bultacos, standard and café style...
A Sporty anyone would be proud of; KLR racer
The Quail's Sarah Kruse with her Secret Service detachment...
Chinese red Touring Vincent Rapide
Bonhams décor in the banquet hall...
Paul Hudson wins the Competition class with his '24 New Hudson, ex-Isle of Man TT
My favorite bike at auction; just how you want to find a Knucklehead...
DomiRacer at the Bonhams sale
All set for a ride to New Orleans.
Home-built Harz diesel bike
"Matchless in Name and Reputation", but matchy-match in helmets...
John Player Norton Commando
When HD was sexy; KRTT at Bonhams
'Hmm, maybe it should be Concept 11'...
Tasty BMW R51/2 café racer in later /2 frame with /5 engineering!
Cycle World's Kevin Cameron
Symphonium in Aluminum
Hot Ducatis with custom transporter; 750S and SS
Chasing Shadows; Free and Black


Ty said...

Great pictures, you are everywhere, one day in London the next in the USA. This has to be the best motorcycle gathering in the world. Thanks for sharing.

The Vintagent said...

Yes, I'm in 'everywhere' mode right now; London, Montlhery, Quail, Villa d' only defense is, 'its a job, and someone has to do it'.

Anonymous said...

go ahead...

OcchioLungo said...

Hi Paul

RE: Twistgrip Clutch control. It can be done, but only for a light clutch. There is trouble in getting the right amount of force vs the range of motion. It is the age-old tradeoff of a lever that has troubled design engineers since Archimedes' time. There is a twist grip clutch on my 1916 Excelsior, but it cannot be used to open the clutch, only to hold it open after the foot lever is used for the heavy lifting.

RE: The Quail. I'd love to attend, but that weekend is already overbooked with great vintage bike events in Caleeefornia: Indian vs. Harley Run, Velocette Spring Opener, El Mirage dry lakes racing, etc. Maybe next year the calendar can be cleaned up a bit to allow those folks to attend. Imagine that! Indian Chiefs, Knuckleheads, KTT racers, Shinya's Spike and Hoogerhyde's racer, all added to the bill at the Quail.

see you in June.

David R said...

Fabulous photos Paul - thanks for posting them. The green Bultaco 'bout dropped me to my knees.

I'll be there next year without doubt.

matt Smith said...

I would like to put in an application for that job. Need an assistant? Great pictures and coverage.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the quality pics and words man! What a cool event.