Cinco de Mayo and the Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Here's how one person decided Cinco de Mayo might be best spent at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering near Carmel, CA.

By Robert Valenciano

Being Chicano, I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in a lot of different ways. This holiday, which is recognized more by Mexican Americans than it is by Mexicans and today is more about culture than it is about the battle at Puebla, gives us an opportunity to get together with a lot of people and have a great time embedding ourselves in a culture we all share and love. This year, I did something completely different. I attended the 2018 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, which meant I spent the day with people of all backgrounds who share the love and bond of two wheels.

What’s it like attending this event? What’s it like attending any event in Carmel? This part of the world is blessed with some of the most incredible natural land spaces you will ever see. Add curvy roads, the exclusivity and panache only the Quail Lodge and Golf Club can offer, then mix in two wheels and open the doors and welcome everyone in with open arms, and you get absolute motorcycle nirvana.

I started my morning by trying to decide which bike to ride. I am blessed with two touring bikes: a show worthy 2014 CVO Road King and a 2015 K1600 GT. Both absolutely wonderful bikes that do all types of things extremely well. Ultimately. I decided on the K bike. Like many such decisions, it was based on how much gas was in the tanks. I didn’t take the one with more. I took the one that would need to be filled up right before coming home. I like having both bikes ready to go on long rides at a moment’s notice.

Today’s ride would be relatively short as I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I often make my way down highway 17 and 1 to ride the backroads in our area, but I could sense today would be extra special. Any time you attend a motorcycle event you experience what I like to describe as “Bizarro” world. Today’s experience was no different.

After lane splitting in Monterey, I started to see more and more bikes. All kinds of makes and all kinds of riders, both young and experienced. Before too long the world was flipped. As I turned into a quaint neighborhood and went across a bridge, the ratio of bikes to cages went from one to four, to four to one. Then quickly 20 to one, then 100+ to one. If you have ever been to Sturgis or any major motorcycle event or rally you know exactly what I am talking about. The world is flipped and in a moment you go from being one motorcycle surrounded by cagers to being on a motorcycle with your fellow brothers and sisters surrounding.

Bikes ridden in by "bikers" attending the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, CA

After parking my bike, I met the first of many great people I would meet that day. A rider on an adventure bike. Judging by the GS, he’d seen his share of adventures. Although brief, I did have the opportunity to learn from him about the comfort of sheepskin, and how it breathes better than vinyl or leather. I have had all sorts of seats in my time -- Ultimate X, beads, Russel Day Long, Corbin -- but I have never tried sheepskin. After that short convo, I told myself that I would have to try it someday.

As I made my way to the main gate, I pondered how the fairways and rough would handle all of the traffic, the people, the tents, and some of and the large vans. I could only imagine that the greens keepers were the only unhappy people on this beautiful day. But even they could not deny the electricity in the air. I was greeted by many wonderful people who helped me find my way to the main entrance. With program in hand, I walked in and my first thought was, “You have to be kidding me!” Complete disbelief and aww was all I could think of as I gazed across the fairway at motorcycle after motorcycle. Unable to wipe the smile off my face, I looked around and realized everyone else had the same expression.

Directly in front of me were motorcycles with Wankel engines. To my left, vintage BMWs. To my right, custom Curtiss motorcycles. And as far as I could see, people making their way across the perfectly kept fairway to enjoy everything on two wheels and each other.

A custom Curtiss motorcycle attracts onlookers at the main entrance.

I quickly realized I needed some sort of plan as I had pre-scheduled a test ride with Zero Motorcycles in about an hour. I buzzed around going from bike to vendor and vendor to bike, then to another great bike and yet another great bike. I enjoyed the Drum Line which was laying down some cool cadences performing on stage. I stopped at the Clearwater Lights booth to see how incredibly bright these lights are and learned about the wonderful integration they have for the BMW K1600s. These people are riders and the design of their systems reflect that level of understanding.

I looked at the time and decided to grab my gear and head over to Zero Motorcycles.

After a short safety briefing and explanation of controls from Zero’s representative, we were ready for the test ride. I have a Schuberth C3 Pro helmet, so I was excited to see how quiet my ride would be. That excitement changed quickly to panic as I got on the Zero SR and hit the front brake with the bars turned to the right. More dive than my BMW or Harley, and I almost dropped it. Being that it is an incredibly light bike (all Zero bikes are well under 500 lbs. in all configurations), I quickly recovered, gathered myself, and was set to go.

I nearly dumped this Zero SR but it made me think an electric bike could be in my future.

The Zero SR has three riding modes that you can change on the fly -- Eco, Custom, and Sport mode. The Custom mode works through a smartphone app which lets you set the torque curve where you want it. Great for people starting out. Even better for experienced riders. Maybe it’s raining and you want a little less power, just like rain mode on any number of bikes with different ride modes. Or maybe you want full on power and just want to go fast. You can set the Zero SR to have the characteristics of bikes you are familiar, which makes it an even better and more intuitive ownership experience.

As I followed the other people on this test ride down the street, I really noticed th sporty riding position. I tend to ride more upright and was thinking maybe testing out the Zero DSR would have been closer to the riding position I am used to. But I made the most of being on this model.

This bike was incredibly quiet. I love hearing the 6 cylinders of my BMW K bike. It sounds like a race engine when you get the RPM up there, and that can really get your blood flowing. I also love hearing my V-Twin. There’s nothing like the heartbeat of a Harley. It induces a Zen-like state for me every time I hear it. So hearing nothing was different for me. Not bad, just different. It allowed me to hear other things I don’t normally hear, like my own thoughts. Which turned to the oil changes, plug and air filter replacements, clutch and valve adjustments that would be non-existent with an electric bike. Just tires and brakes. And even brakes wear slower since you can use regenerative braking to charge the battery a bit.

For those people who do not do their own maintenance and always complain about the cost that a dealer or mechanic charges, or how far you may live from one, if the range of these bikes fits your needs, then this is the bike for you. Combined range on some of the electric bikes is up to 150 miles, while highway is up to 112 and city is up to 223.

If you’re like me or live where I do, those numbers can still be a problem. I need a bike that can still get me home after commuting to work or various places in a given day. And my ride home includes going uphill 10 miles on Highway 17 outside of Santa Cruz. Given that I might drive to various clients in a given day, I need a bike that I can ride most of the day without having to worry about plugging it in. A bike with a range of 112 miles at “conservative” highway speeds has about half the range of my touring bikes at “my” highway speeds. While being able to plug in at night would mean I wouldn’t have to gas up ever, what would I do on those days when I get close to home and realize the remaining battery life won’t get me home?

Instead of choosing the long range setup, the Zero rep asked me to consider opting for the rapid charge. He showed me on a smartphone app all the different places I could get a quick charge. Since I often stop to get milk on my way home, I saw that I could stop and plug in in a variety of places, go run my errands, and have enough rapid charge to make it the last 10 miles up the mountain and home. Very, very interesting.

I’ve been monitoring the Zero’s range since it first came out. I always thought I needed a long- range bike. But given the availability of plug-in locations, especially here in the Bay Area, I could do a rapid charge option, keep the bike lighter, and still go where I needed to go. While the test ride was too short to really write more about the bike, it did get me interested in an extended test ride, and the possibility of having an electric bike somewhere in my future.

Okay, back to the show.

Sometimes you attend a show and it’s more about the vendors than it is about the bikes. That’s not the case with the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. This is a show that is definitely about the bikes. Hundreds of them – Indians and Harleys, café racers, former on and off-road racers, Italians, Japanese, and British. What most have in common is that they have to have been made in 1979 or earlier. Anyone who loves motorcycles and appreciates the craftsmanship of older bikes and what it takes to keep them running will appreciate this show.

One of the cafe racers on display at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

A 1930-something Triumph was one of several older British marques on display.

A Wankel powered Hercules!

1920 Indian Streamliner entered in the Competition On Road category.

Room for the new - the ARCH Method 143. That's 2,343 cc or 143 cu in. of power plant!

In between my bike and vendor visits I had to eat. This is an inclusive event and the caterers at the Quail Lodge did not disappoint. Sometimes when you have food included in admission, it’s not that great. But everyone seemed to enjoy the Mexican cuisine served here.

The lunch break gave me the opportunity to talk to other people about their bikes. I met one guy who owns over 20 bikes. He told me that sometimes a year goes by before he rides one of his bikes. Seriously?

As if bikes, gear and food weren’t enough, there was also live music and interesting interviews. The latter included an interview of the Ness family conducted by Wayne Carini of TV’s Chasing Classic Cars. Arlen Ness looked cool as cool can look sitting on stage overlooking the sea of bikes. And he gave one piece of advice that I stood out: “Every rider at some point in their life has to make it to Sturgis.”

Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars interviewing Arlen Ness.

And now that I’ve been here everyone at some point should make it to the Quail Motorcycle Gathering. It’s an experience that can only be described as similar to what you feel when you connect with that biker coming in the opposite direction and you both do the biker wave. For a brief moment you connect; it’s all about the bike, it’s all about the road, it’s all about the ride. The Quail Motorcycle Gathering gives you that connection.

I leave you with these infamous anonymous words, “you don’t stop riding when you get old, you get old when you stop riding”. So ride safe, ride often and make plans for the 2019 Quail Motorcycle Gathering. And happy Cinco de Mayo!

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