Certainly every motorcyclist knows something about this motorcycle legend. A 1947 Fourth of July weekend Gypsy Tour gathering of bikers in Hollister, Calif., was embellished by the fanciful imagination of a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and became “4000 Touring Cyclists Wreak Havoc in Hollister.” The story is picked up across the country, culminating with the infamous staged photo of a slovenly, drunken biker in Life magazine, who became our unelected representative. The image was burned into America’s collective cornea and we’ve been dealing with the fallout ever since.
Close to six decades since the famous “riot” introduced our bad boy image, we have been invited to a gathering that underscores how times have changed in the years since. We are headed to a small costal town—not too far removed from where the brouhaha began all those years ago—where hordes of bikers are converging to enjoy themselves in a weekend of motorcycle-related festivities. Although the basic premise has striking similarities to the Hollister event, I doubt there will be much hooliganism this time around. The event is the inaugural, Legends of the Motorcycle, being held at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay. Yes, times have definitely changed. (Click image to enlarge)
Further eroding the residue outlaw stigma, we are part of a contingent of riders participating in another inaugural event, the Quail Motorcycle Tour. The tour was created by the management of the Quail Lodge luxury resort in Carmel Valley to accommodate the increasing number of affluent motorcyclists with a taste for culinary excellence, fine wines, and upscale lodging. This happy breed of sophisticates, though content to rough it while in the saddle, catching bugs in their teeth over miles of open road, prefer to indulge in a little exclusivity when stopped for the night. This segment of enthusiasts represents an interesting detour from the miscreant image established in the annals of Life. The tour would cut a lazy, zigzagging route from Los Angeles to Montecito, up through the Central Coast to Carmel Valley, culminating in Half Moon Bay on the San Francisco Peninsula, where a bevy of exotic motorcycles were basking in adoration at the first-ever Legends of the Motorcycle.
We used the sinuous tour as a long-distance test bed to evaluate two examples of the upright/standard sport category. Although we had tackled this extensive labyrinth of back roads numerous times, we had never done it on naked bikes. The 900-mile plus round trip presented us with a unique opportunity to stretch the legs of the streetfighters on a variety of roads and conditions.
On the one hand we had the industry’s established street bully, the Italian-built Aprilia Tuono 1000 R. On the other was one of the latest entrants into the fold, the Austrian-made KTM 950 Supermoto. Though the two bikes share V-twin engine configurations, with six-speed transmissions and 17-inch wheels, they represent the wide boundaries of the naked spectrum. The Tuono is a direct descendant of Aprilia’s World Superbike-winning RSV Mille, while the KTM evolves from the world of small displacement grand prix racing and off-road competition.
The tour began with an exquisite dinner at The Roof Garden Restaurant atop the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. Against a backdrop of the city’s neon landscape, we met our riding mates. The next morning we lane-split the lethargic traffic of Los Angeles, eventually making our way out of the city, escaping into the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, where we found twisting canyon roads that were much more to the liking of the two naked machines. The upright seating position of both bikes renders a high line of sight, with the wide handlebars allowing for exceptional maneuverability—attributes conducive to spirited riding, as well as commuting.
Since its electrifying introduction in 2003, the Tuono— Italian for “thunder”—has been a perennial favorite among many naked enthusiasts. The Tuono was one of those rarified motorcycles that burst onto the scene and instantly cut out a distinct niche for itself, ascending to the top of the throne. To date, Aprilia is still the only naked bike manufacturer that did little more than take the fairing off its superbike and install raised handlebars, before calling it a day.The KTM 950 Supermoto, even as the nascent entry to the naked realm, represents the first real challenge to the Tuono’s revered station. KTM gets into the naked game hot off its world titles in Supermoto and successes in motocross. Utilizing chassis technology garnered in the off-road disciplines, the company lades the all-new machine with its remarkable 942cc V-twin engine.
The KTM is carbureted, as opposed to the Aprilia’s electronic fuel injection. Although the Tuono’s motor produces a roguish 133 hp with a dry weight just over 400 lbs—compared to the KTM’s 98 hp and a dry weight of 422 lbs—the KTM possesses phenomenal punch and maneuverability with a much lighter feel than the specifications suggest. (Click images to enlarge)
We spent the first day zigzagging a route from Beverly Hills to Montecito’s lavish San Ysidro Ranch, where Vivian Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged wedding vows. Here, the theme of the tour was established—spend the daylight hours mucking it up on back roads, getting sweaty in hot leathers, taking turns playing follow the leader through endless twists and turns. At night, we experience the delicious contrast of transforming ourselves from backwoods hooligans into presentable table guests. At the Ranch we washed off the day’s accumulated grunge in our private bungalows and soaked in hot tubs. We then slipped into civilized clothes that betrayed nothing of the open road, gathering to sample some culinary brilliance and empty several bottles of the wine cellar’s best. When we retired to our beds we slid between the high thread-count sheets and down comforters of four-poster beds.
The next morning we ascended the Santa Barbara fog, skirting the Santa Ynez Mountains, dropping down into Solvang. Charging through the back roads of Los Olivos, we meandered down miles of two-lane blacktop lined with lazily drooping, moss-covered fences. We woke the endless, sleepy stretches of California’s premium vineyards with the thump of the two distinctively European V-twins.
KTM 950 Supermoto. RIDING STYLE
Helmet: AGV Ti-Tech Tattoo Silver
Jacket: Spidi Step-In Road H2OUT
Gloves: Spidi Sport Composite
Pants: Spidi Unit Leather
Boots: Sidi Strada Evo Te-Por. Photograph by Kevin Wing. (Click image to enlarge)
The KTM possesses the characteristics of a genuine supermoto machine on steroids—crisp handling with exacting response, taking to tight, choppy sections of road and long sweeping corners with equal zeal. The Austrian bike has the distinction of being ridden from two very different approaches. You can tap the traditional sport style, feet on the pegs and leaning your body into corners, or you can put your foot out in supermoto style and lean the bike over until the pegs drag. By contrast, the Tuono is a superbike best ridden as one, knee out, both feet planted firmly on the pegs. Although the scales tell a different tale, the Tuono feels heavier than the KTM. It has the solid, planted feel in corners that exposes its superbike heritage. Though it handles tight switchbacks with impressive agility, the Tuono works best on flowing sections of road.
We spent the day wandering through the backcountry from Montecito to Morro Bay. Myriad blind rises, hairpins and rough stretches of blacktop gave us ample opportunity to sample the brakes and suspension. Aprilia graces the Tuono with Brembo brake components in radial mount with dual 320mm discs, adding a nice touch with metal braided brake lines. Front forks are 43mm, upside-down Showa units and the rear is suspended by a Sachs shock through a rising rate linkage. The KTM Supermoto is also fitted with Brembo components in a radial mount, but uses smaller 305mm dual discs. Despite the smaller disc surface area, the KTM had slightly superior stopping power with a more progressive feel in the lever. For suspension duties 48mm WP inverted forks handle the front and a WP monoshock works the rear.
We picked up Highway 1 at Hearst Castle and bolted up the smooth, flowing pavement of the coast in a friendly game of cat and mouse. The day ended in Carmel Valley and a warm welcome at Quail Lodge. Once again, arriving at the upscale resort, I was reminded of the contrast to the rebellious counter-culture image motorcyclists have been shouldering since the likes of The Wild One and Easy Rider. When we were treated to motorcycle-specific massages at the Quail Spa, I knew the revolution was over.The Quail’s conscientious management had their masseurs create a treatment that concentrated on parts of the human anatomy that get worked and strained while riding. The result was an effective and expedient recovery from the burden of hours in the saddle. From there we hit the sauna and then transformed ourselves, once again, from road ruffians into a respectable presentation for another stellar meal with accompanying libation.
The next day we made the 70-mile dash up the coast from Quail Lodge to Half Moon Bay. As we drew to our destination, I noticed the road signs were conspicuously devoid of the traditional Swiss cheese perforation by .22s that tend to adorn rural areas—victims of boredom more than malfeasance. There was none of that on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay. It is a place that exudes small, coastal town quaintness.
We made our way down a road that dead ends at the stately Ritz-Carlton Hotel, perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The exclusive establishment was buzzing with a wide array of motorcycling aficionados. From traditional touring folk to well-tattooed Harley riders. Grey-haired gentlemen puffing on pipes to young sportbike riders cradling loudly painted helmets. They all shared in the collective excitement permeating the usually sedate hallways of the Ritz, inspired by the impressive collection of rare motorcycles gracing the immaculately kept grounds.
There was something to suit everyone’s taste. From an impressive collection of pristine Vincents and land speed record Indians, to ubiquitous Harleys. There were iconic BMWs and beautifully restored Honda CBs. Sidecars, boardtrackers, rigid flattrackers and vintage motocross machines. There were new customs and old experiments. There was an abundance of strange European scooters and, of course, the essential, almost mandatory presence of beautifully resurrected Italian racers from Gilera, MV Agusta, Ducati, Moto Guzzi and other legendary marques from the old country. The crowd strolled past the glorious representations of two-wheel history with enthralled appreciation. Even the attending celebrities seemed to understand their presence would play second fiddle to the revered guests of honor.
The Ritz-Carlton is not alone in its recognition of the accruing historical and social significance of motorcycles. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History currently owns four Harley-Davidsons. And, as witnessed with the continuing success of the Guggenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle, which smashed attendance records for the museum, motor-cycles have attained a kind of cultish, hip artistic status in addition to their enduring aura of freedom and rebellion.
After absorbing the history and magic of the machines in this appropriately fitting environment, it was time to go. The final test for the two naked machines was a 450-mile shot down US 101. Freeway speeds. Sixth gear. Constant rpm. Surprisingly, both machines lapped up the run with relative comfort (save the expected turbulence inherent with uprights and minimal fairing). It’s nice to know that, given the situation, either bike can cover a long-distance stretch.
The Aprilia Tuono 1000 R and the KTM 950 Supermoto represent how the naked/upright category is expanding. The two machines represent wildly divergent approaches with one striking similarity; they both deliver serious performance in a very practical package of rideability, and both motorcycles exude enough class and style to look quite at home parked in front of an establishment of the caliber of the Quail Lodge.I had an interesting moment during the Ritz-Carlton event. Standing at a marble basin in the men’s room, drying my hands, a prodigiously tattooed biker—adorned with steel-toed boots, leather vest emblazoned with club insignia—stepped up to the sink adjacent. There was something in the way the bearded biker carefully washed his hands under the ornate gold tap, plucking a fresh towel from the wicker basket and meticulously drying his hands, that made me realize we have, absolutely, come a very long way since that summer of ’47 in Hollister.
The quail Motorcycle Tour was designed to combine motorcycling with a fine culinary experience and the luxurious comfort of the resort. Catering to couples or individuals, the tour is ripe with options, allowing them to enjoy the hotel’s amenities or participate in the day’s planned ride. The Quail’s legendary golf course and spa offerings serve to keep everyone happy. The tour culminates with attendance at the Legends of the Motorcycle in Half Moon Bay. In 2007, the tour will begin and conclude at the Quail Lodge, eliminating the issues of logistics, packing and timetables. (Click image to enlarge)