The luxury bike show with a dress code
by Brian Day
Break out the champagne flutes, Jeeves, we’re going to the concours d’ elegance. Not just any event: rather, the world’s first and only international motorcycle concours. Legend of the Motorcycle was presented at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay; a 19th Century-style grand resort located on the ocean bluffs 28 miles south of San Francisco. Just 3 years young LotM is already creating a huge buzz, maturing spectacularly like the machines it reveres. Nearly 300 breathtaking motorcycles glittered like gemstones on the Half Moon Bay Golf Links’ Old Course velvety 18th fairway. Exceptionally high standards insured that only unusual, original or accurately renovated runners were accepted. It was a fine mix: some were flawlessly restored, while others wore their patina like an ancient waxed Barbour jacket.
Why did the concours concept take so long to trickle down from multi million-dollar collector cars to rare bikes? Both qualify as rolling works of art and have proven to be excellent investments. One dual-event judge (LotM and the Hillsborough concours ‘d elegance) I spoke with thought a 1958 Ferrari 250 TR racecar might sell for a surreal $25,000,000 if one were available. By comparison, the most mouth-watering vintage bike brings only a fraction of this sum. Financial appreciation can be significant percentage-wise— a 1975 Ducati 750 SS round case, $3600 new, made $117,000 at the LotM Bonhams and Butterfield auction. Machines with a documented history or racing pedigrees command more, but are still tremendous values.
LotM Co-founders Brooke Roner, and Jared Zaugg; both media-savvy ad agency pros, have tapped the best aspects of the concours organizational model for their extravaganza. In short order they’ve created a richly layered show by offering up a spectacular setting, the best two-wheelers, and sensational personalities. Staying away from the “let’s please everyone” concept, Roner and Zaugg actively court high-end sponsors and oversee all details of the elite show. This insures a high-level event where very few people sport cheekless leather chaps.
Naturally, the best costs more and Roner commented that getting big players in the motorcycle industry was difficult, while luxury goods names proved early and consistent sponsors. She hopes that the major Japanese manufacturers will come on board soon with the muscle needed to allow LotM the expansion she and Zaugg seek. They envision a multi-day celebration complete with classic parades and races, like the Monterey Historic Races, Pebble Beach concours and The Quail car events a few miles down Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay.
LotM’s current setting boasts great riding. Years ago I learned about cornering physics on the snaky, tree-lined roads that bisect the nearby Santa Cruz and Coast mountain ranges. Thrashing old bikes that have miraculously ripened into valuable classics, I scared myself stupid until becoming a decent rider. A life list of machines that once graced my garage stings in light of todays’ escalating values. I usually bought cheap and sold cheaper, like the $900 Shadow-ized Vincent Rapide “imported” from Detroit. Tired of adjusting its’worn-out parts, I dumped it for $750 in the early ‘70’s. Many motorcycles followed; some notable by the curses I swore when they broke down or blew up. Good, bad or indifferent, they were part of my life-long fascination with all things two-wheeled. Legend of the Motorcycles’ success is a long-overdue acknowledgement that bikes are indeed fine art.
No news flash here. Serious car collecting has become a “Type-A Masters of the Universe” competition. Rich guys buy trophies by acquiring a perfect, highly valued machine, already glamorized on the inbred concours circuit. Cars travel from show to show in enclosed transporters, fussed over by professional detailers who insure no dust motes sully their waxy perfection. Long-running concours like the 52-year-old Hillsborough event (presented one day after Legend of the Motorcycle) can be tres clubby for those outside the anointed inner circle.
Worry not; LotM was fairly bursting with a fresh, energetic, friendly vibe. Yes, many bikes arrived in trucks—including one semi packed to the gills with MV Agustas —but the emphasis was on camaraderie and shared fun, not gawking at super wealthy owners and their garage queens. Despite overcast weather, some 6000 people attended the ’08 show; up from about 4000 in 2007. LotM is likely to grow by the proverbial leaps and bounds in the future.
My own stellar experience made it hard to gripe. The luxury-level admission fee ($50 advance, $65 at the gate) covered gratis Cohiba cigars and Ardbeg scotch, but the cigars ran out around 2 p.m. While spectators’ bikes could be ridden almost to the hotel entrance, car parking became problematic as the afternoon wore on. The cigar issue is easily solved, but where’s everyone going to stash those cars when LotM continues to expand? And extra cash was required to take home some pricy offerings from the two auctions.
The vibe was mostly European and British, although an original Indian Torpedo-Tank racer won 3 top awards. Featured marques were MV Agusta and Norton, with dozens of mouth-watering examples displayed. The classic “Gallarete Fire Engine” style MVs, in particular, were worth the price of admission. Lawns were awash in a sea of Italian red paint, MV singles, twins, Giacomo Agostini’s three and many fours (but not the fabled factory six) all glowed brightly in the crisp sea air. Stir in Castiglioni-era bikes plus spectator rides and well over 100 MV Agustas were on hand. If I won the state lottery, a bunch of almighty fast MVs would materialize in my garage instead of Jay Leno’s.
Loads of British Nortons also graced the field. Venerable Manx OHC singles were highly successful on international circuits, including the Isle of Man, for decades before and after WWII. Other examples of Norton innovation (the Featherbed frame, Roadholder front forks, 70x100mm “classically proportioned” engines, Isolastic engine mounting and notable rotary-engined bikes) were present. It was hard to pick a Manx from the many displayed, but one favored twin was a highly polished Ron Wood flat track racer. This snared Best of Class in the Norton Competition category.
LotM’s claim to be an international draw was no idle boast; people arrived from five continents. As in the previous two years, the show offered up so many personalities that a full listing of their combined accomplishments would require a book. Some of the notables included Ago, Leno, Phil Read, Claudio Castiglioni of MV Agusta and Cagiva, George Beale, constructor extraordinaire, Erik Buell, Malcom Smith, Art of the Motorcycle curator Ultan Guilfoyle, Kenny Dreer, Michael Lock, CEO of Ducati North America, Jesse James, author Mick Duckworth, Craig Vetter, Ken McIntosh, Norton expert George Cohen, Brian Slark, Tom Purvis of BMW US, Matt Chambers, founder of Confederate and many others. With so much collective knowledge and scrutiny, I’d hate to be showing a bike with incorrect valve stem caps.
Master of Ceremonies, Alain de Cadanet, who fairly bursts with boundless enthusiasm, kept the crowd entertained and moving between interviews, presentations and unveilings. Giacomo Agostini, the legendary MV factory rider and winner of more races than anyone else in history, was presented with a Lifetime Achievement award. Wandering the grounds, this great competitor inspected some of the classic MVs he’d ridden in anger so long ago.
Fine examples of almost every kind of motorcycle abounded, from the only remaining Merkel U-board track racer, to a custom, Laverda-framed Norton Commando flown in from France. Sponsor tents on the fairway included Dainese and MV Agusta. TV chopper builder, Jesse James’ brightly painted truck and transporter appropriated a large patch of lawn for their invitation-only bar-b-que.
The Dainese exhibit showcased leathers and helmets worn by famous racers from the past. There was also the “Mars Biosuit,” created in anticipation of the first manned expedition to that red planet. Dainese’ equivalent to a Volvo station wagon was the bizarre D-air system suit, festooned with multiple airbags. It’s currently being race-tested, but trickle-down being certain, look for one at your local motorcycle shop soon. Or you could just learn to ride better and not fall off…
Dominating the Legend Lounge and created just for LotM was an exhibit of photos, a video presentation and artifacts from Ewan McGregors’ and Charlie Boormans’ Long Way Down. This epic 15,000-mile trip took the two friends from the northern tip of Scotland to the end of Africa. The exhibit featured Boormans’ BMW R1200 GS, complete with zebra-pattern saddle. Sculptor Jeff Decker displayed his 1930 Harley Davidson DAH Factory Hillclimber. A sanctuary from the activities swirling outside, the Lounge offered a haven where cigars were smoked, scotch was sipped and tall tales were swapped with abandon.
Contemporary custom builders enjoyed their own display area on the upper lawn and terraces fronting the Lounge. Represented were specials from Jesse James, Roger Goldammer, Paul Cox, Billy Lane, Shinya Kimura and Ian Barry. James’ collaboration with Airstream trailers, unveiled for the first time at LotM, was a blinding confection of polished and riveted alloy panels, copper highlights and obsessive attention to detail. Predictably, the engine was a generic Harley-style yo-bro twin with the expected foot-wide open belt primary drive. Hey JJ, whatever happened to funbag power plants like that multi- cylinder aircraft style radial?
My favorite bikes were every MV ever made save the 1967 600 street tourer, which looks more like an accountant on a bad hair day than the flowingly graceful racers from Count Dominico Agustas’ factory. A black, chrome and polished aluminum ’72 Triumph-powered Rickman restored from corroded lumps by Ron Peck was blatantly menacing. Vince Martinico’s highly original 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank racer pleased everyone, snaring the triple crown of Sculptor’s Award, Preservation Award and the coveted Best of Show award. I hope Vince went home happy. Virgil Elings brought Mike Hailwoods’ 1967 Honda RC-181 four-cylinder 500 racer, all cobby welds and rough castings. Before he walked off with the Class 4 1950-1977 Competition first place trophy, Elings said if they gave him an award he’d fire it up and burn donuts on the putting greens. Not gonna happen, Virgil.
Multiple sub- events sweetened the deal, with some lucky souls enjoying a private tour of Leno’s garage before shredding Highway 1 in a two-day Ride of Legends from Southern California to Half Moon Bay. Racers Read and Agostini led the privileged pack with flowing lines and form. A $200-per-head dinner with Ago capped Saturdays’ fun, and a 44-mile loop ride, Tour of the Legends, ended Sunday morning at Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside. A near-mythical destination for Bay area bikers, Alice’s’ parking lot boasts some of the juiciest two wheeled masterpieces around on any given weekend.
Two auctions allowed high rollers the chance to flex their platinum Amex cards. The Bonhams & Butterfields sale featured motorcycles and collectibles ranging from a $94 early English liquor flask, to the one-owner, 1975 Ducati 750 SS roundcase which made top dollar at $117,000. A 1955 Vincent Black Knight sold for more than $65,00 and Steve McQueens’ 1940 Indian 45 cubic inch Scout brought around $56,00. At the more reasonable end of the scale, someone rode away on a Honda Trail 90 for $878.
Whatever changes the future holds, Legend of the Motorcycle is unique, exuding a rarified, yet accessible cachet. Roner and Zaugg display the best bikes, rely on the industry’s top experts and surround themselves with smart, accomplished people. The setting could scarcely be better, with a crowd that was appreciative, intelligent and well informed. I’d say the brass ring has landed perfectly on this particular peg.
That dress code? LotMs’ web site suggests age-appropriate vintage attire, but the overwhelming color was black leather. Oh alright, there were some tattoos and piercings, but in spite of looking everywhere I saw no exotic dancers in acrylic high heels, bikinis or straw cowboy hats. So whatever color or style clothes you wore, motorcycles were finally the real stars of the day.