Bikes on the Green

California’s popular Quail Motorcycle Gathering rides on.

Do you feel like Italian or Japanese tonight, or perhaps American, English or German? Held on May 16, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, Calif., provided all of these choices and more for some 2,500 attendees – except it was all about riding, not dining. Now in its seventh year, for 2015 the Quail motorcycle event at the upscale Quail Lodge & Golf Club featured some 366 motorcycles on the same green used by The Quail Motorsports Gathering during the big Monterey car event week each August.

The term “gathering” really is appropriate here, as the Quail event is far more than merely a bike show and concours. Besides a wide breadth of motorcycles, from a lovely old 1912 Pope to newly crafted “classics” based on current bikes, the event began with a 100-mile back-roads tour on Friday, plus an evening dinner honoring national champions Gene Romero and Mert Lawwill, both of whom appeared in the 1971 film, “On Any Sunday. But the centerpiece was the Saturday show. Just six hours long, you really have to hustle – if you want to see all the bikes, you’ve got just 59 seconds each. And you’ve still got to make time for friends and an astonishingly good barbecue.

I found the Japanese class to be among the most interesting, mainly because these bikes were popular and attainable when I was growing up. Fast-forward several decades, and it was interesting to see how perfectly restored examples stand up as classics today. The Japanese class had 30 bikes ranging from a 125cc 1961 CB92 Benly and a 305cc 1962 CB77 Dream – among Honda’s earliest offerings in the U.S. – to a late-model 750cc 1994 Kawasaki ZX-7R sportbike. Most bikes in the class were Hondas, and most models were from the 1970s. Although the focus on mass production means most Japanese bikes will never occupy the same niche as a Vincent or an MV Agusta, some models do present well indeed.

Particularly stunning was the Japanese class winner, the 1972 Honda CB500 K1 of Herb Meyer. With its air-cooled four-cylinder engine, balanced lines and GP-esque quad megaphone exhausts, the CB500 Four was considered a jewel of a motorcycle in its day, and a five-year restoration brought Meyer’s bike right back to showroom condition for its long-term owner. Meyer paid $1,000 for the used bike back in 1973, and invested another $5,000 to $6,000 into the restoration a few years ago. He reckons the bike is worth $10,000 today, and its Quail award certainly will help here.

Opposite the built-for-the-multitudes approach are the Formula 750 racers of the 1970s. For a few years it was the most exciting formula in bike racing, with manufacturers from Ducati and MV Agusta to BMW and Harley-Davidson, BSA and Honda, and BSA/Triumph and Yamaha all participating. The ultimate derivation of the formula was Yamaha’s liquid-cooled TZ750, which was a game-changer in the same way that Honda’s CB750 Four streetbike reset the game-board in 1969. A highly original 1976 example owned by designer Jeff Palhegyi won the F750 class at the Quail. “After owning a lot of Yamahas, I noticed the racing bikes appreciate more than non-racing ones,” he says. “Besides, they are way more interesting. I enjoy the old racing parts, the magnesium and titanium and the safety wire.” Collectors have already zeroed in on the big TZ’s allure. Palhegyi bought his first one 15 years ago for $5,000, and the most recent in 2013 for $42,000. His show winner is valued higher still.

If all of this sounds like motorcycles have followed collector cars right into the silly-money troposphere, don’t worry. There are still thousands upon thousands of survivors and projects waiting to be discovered for “nice dinner out” money. From a few hundred dollars for a war-torn dirt bike to six-figure blue chips like Vincent and Brough, the classic motorcycle universe really does offer the same broad appeal as cars.

Best of all, there’s always room for one in the shed.

Click here for a full listing of the award winners.

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