Little Bikes Shine at Quail

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by Margie Siegal
A beautiful small-displacement Mondial.

To many, a show bike means a motorcycle that was top of the line when it was new, but the display of small machines at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering, taking place in Carmel, California on May 14, proved that a machine does not need to have been expensive to buy or difficult to locate to get a lot of attention from showgoers.

The small displacement bikes made in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s have always been appreciated as works of industrial art. The Montesa Cota won the Best Industrial Design award in 1968. A 1971 version of this bike was on display at Quail and won the Mini Bike award. Mini bikes, the first powered two wheeler of many youngsters in the late Fifties through the early Seventies, are starting to show up at classic bike auctions.

Gilera is best known for its multi-cylinder Grand Prix winners, but like other Italian firms, its bread and butter was economical single cylinder machines intended for the home country commuter market. A racing version of the Gilera single was on display at this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering next to a small capacity Moto Guzzi, both gathering appreciative eyes. Moto Guzzi had a somewhat different business plan than the majority of Italian factories. The company made bikes for the Italian highway patrol, and, starting in the late Sixties, for American police forces. However, Moto Guzzi always produced small displacement motorcycles for Italian riders, and more than a few of these stylish machines have wound up in the USA, like the silver bike with the forward facing cylinder and “bacon slicer” external flywheel on the Quail putting green.

One of the smaller Italian manufacturers, Mondial, known for its  wins in 1950’s GP racing, was also known for its elegant singles. One, with an artistically sculpted tank, graced the Quail lawn.

Japanese manufacturers Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki established their American market with small displacement machines, and many people enjoy looking at cleaned-up versions of the bikes they learned to ride on. Some of the thousands of Honda scramblers sold in the US, restored and beautiful, joined larger bikes in the Japanese motorcycle section at the Quail.

Some of the more unusual Japanese lightweights are now going for surprising prices. After hearing complaints from American dealers that its 350 and 450 CL twins were boring to look at, Honda produced tank and side cover sets with psychedelic paint jobs. These sets, trademarked Flying Dragon, are very rare, and bikes with authentic Flying Dragon paint sets are setting records at auctions. The hammer recently came down on one for $58,000! That is a lot of money for one of the most common motorcycles of the early 1970’s. A purple and silver Flying Dragon attracted a lot of attention at the Quail show.

However, one of the most popular little bikes at the show was, in fact, a little bicycle: a 1928 tricycle with an attached sidecar made by an unknown manufacturer. It was often mobbed!

Motorcycle Classics Magazine
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