A spectacular Dunstall Norton at the 2018 Quail, the bike I most wanted to ride back to San Francisco if I wasn’t on the Scrambler.
When I first got into motorcycling, a major draw was the solo nature of riding, the opportunity to head out on my own to discover the world around me. I was already in love with riding on two wheels — my first job in junior high school was at a bicycle shop — and the self-powered part of the equation just made the proposition that much sweeter. What I didn’t appreciate when I first got into motorcycling was the incredible community of motorcyclists I’d get introduced to, the folks who make this the coolest corner of the universe, a place filled with talented, interesting people driven by a shared passion for motorcycles.
You get to see that passion in action at the hundreds of shows held across the country every year, dynamic reminders of the singular nature of our community. Unfortunately, so far in 2020 there have been no shows, and we all know why. Although I’m sure there are small, unofficial gatherings happening here and there, all the shows and races I look forward to every year have been cancelled. And even the ones scheduled for later this year have a big question mark hanging over them. Right now, I should be in Monterey, California, walking the manicured lawn of the Quail Lodge and ogling the incredible bikes always on hand at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering.
My last visit to Quail was in 2018, when Jean Denney, editor of sister publication Fermentation, and I rode from San Francisco to Monterey and back on a borrowed Ducati Scrambler (thanks Stewart Ingram). The Scrambler’s probably not the first bike you’d tag for a two-up ride down the California coast, what with its highish saddle and, at least stylistically, offroad pretensions. But beggars, as the saying goes, can’t be choosers, and although I’d never ridden a Scrambler before, I had ridden a Ducati Monster two-up from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay for the late and deeply lamented Legend of the Motorcycle event (thanks again Stewart; do you see a pattern here?), so I was pretty certain we’d have a good time, regardless of how the bike worked for our trip.
Getting ready to leave San Francisco’s quirky San Remo Hotel for Monterey. The Scrambler proved a comfortable and fast back road mount for two. Just don’t expect to carry much gear.
It was a spectacular trip, and the Scrambler proved to be an incredibly competent machine, for my money far more fun than the Monster (a decidedly uncompromising proposition in terms of ergonomics), carrying the two of us with absolute aplomb. The 803cc twin feels more powerful than it actually is, with gobs of torque and surprisingly good throttle response, thankfully lacking the abrupt, just off idle light switch-like throttle response of many modern drive-by-wire fuel injected bikes I’ve ridden. Frankly, it exceeded my expectations, proving itself equally at home whether riding up and down the steep streets of San Francisco or diving into the twisties heading down La Honda Road from Alice’s Restaurant toward San Gregorio and the coast.
At first blush it might look uncomfortable for two, but first looks don’t tell the tale. The riding position is aggressive but comfortable, and Jean never once complained riding pillion (something you couldn’t say for the Monster). By the time we got to Monterey, we were ready to get one of our own, and the return ride was just as sweet, shooting up La Honda Road for one last thrill before heading back to San Francisco and handing the Scrambler back to Stewart.
For 2020, Jean and I were looking forward to another Quail adventure, this time amped up a bit with a longer planned ride with Motorcycle Classics regular Dain Gingerelli. The scheme was to borrow a couple of new modern retro bikes, ideally a Royal Enfield twin and a Triumph twin, and blast up the coast from Los Angeles to Monterey. I got to participate in judging at the 2018 event, and was really excited to get invited again for 2020, making this a true pinch-me opportunity, combining an awesome ride with great people to an incredible event for a weekend of vintage motorcycle immersion.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, because the Quail was cancelled. Ever the optimist, I’m pinning my hopes on a return in 2021, because surely by then all this will be behind us? And with any luck, Stewart will have yet another interesting Ducati. Ride safe.
— Richard Backus/Founding Editor