I walked the grounds of Carmel California’s Quail Lodge, host of the seventh annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering, trying to pick favorites. I had sympathy for the judges. Attempting to interpret and evaluate the cumulative quality of effort exerted into a painstaking bolt-by-bolt restoration, or a fabrication borne from pure imagination, is a daunting task. Crowning one example over another is an act of measuring quality, evaluating emotion, and attempting to separate subject from object in the hopes of quantifying spirit. In short, it’s near impossible. This is art, pure and simple, and it doesn’t become judging.

I’m not the only one who had trouble picking favorites. In the chopper section, just off to the right of the clubhouse, I asked one of the event judges just how they do it. He was scrutinizing a pastel-purple creation with a forward rake that would make Captain America blush. He told me, “I look for uniformity and flow. Obviously not all of these bikes are designed with the same intent, so I try to discern whether that intent is clear. From there, all of the details need to line up,” he explained. “Like the ruffled tufts in this seat here…see how they seem to sprout from the points of the outer diamond stitch patterns? And how the diamond stitch is symmetrical throughout the seat? The lines mimic the spine and downtube of the frame. That doesn’t happen by accident.” He was right. In my blind and blanket appreciation of the creativity surrounding me, I was missing out on the tiniest of metrics that one could use to measure. I made another round, followed by two more.

In the end, I picked consistently with three of the 23 first-prize winners. The Spirit of the Quail Award went to a stunningly restored 1965 BMW R69S that looked as if it has just rolled off of the factory floor. The Custom Modified prize went to Tony Prust of Analog Motorcycles with his cafe racer version of a 1949 Indian Scout — a bike I drooled over while Tony watched and smiled. Finally, the Industry Award deservedly went to Texas-based Revival Cycles. The exhaust work alone on their hand-crafted, 1997 Ducati-based machine would make most machinists weep. Motorcycles are more than just an exhilarating mode of transportation, and the precision on display showed a passion for two-wheelers that runs deep.

Art in Motion

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While the custom Ducati from Revival Cycles would fight for wall space in any teenager’s bedroom, the fleet of one-off creations on display from British Customs was equally staggering. Working strictly with Triumph motorcycles, the Gardena, California crew brought everything from a Salt Flat Record holding homage and Flat-Track tributes to a hard-tail Bonneville and cafe racer-turned-scrambler conversion. Even better, I was given the chance to ride a few of them.

While my own Thruxton is far from stock, it pales in comparison to the levels of refinement executed by true professional builders. Throttle response — from the very same engine I have — was face meltingly quick on every bike I rode. Handling, especially on their Flat Track Eddie Mulder Tribute — owned by Mr. Mulder himself — was sublime. Cruising PCH through Big Sur and across the Bixby Bridge with the Pacific in my periphery was a bucket list ride, and I knocked that one off in epic style.