Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail: Why We Ride

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail vintage bikes

The 2018 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

It is a perfectly brisk Southern California early May morning, cheeks flush, and I arrive on time at Lucky Fools Pub in Moorpark, near the headquarters of Ultimate Motorcycling.

Far from the hustle and bustle of the regular rat race going on to the east in Los Angeles, it is Thursday and the beginning of the two-day 4th Annual Why We Ride to The Quail event—the first part of a weekend extravaganza.

Saturday is the kickoff of the 10th Annual Quail Motorcycle Gathering, a motorcycle concourse at the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, with nearly 300 motorcycles on display. That is followed by the True American Heroes charity dinner and auction hosted by American three-time 500cc Grand Prix World Champion Kenny Roberts also at the Quail Lodge.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail a map

On Sunday there was a 100-mile loop riding thru Carmel Valley to the Moto Talbott Collection, led by Roberts and friends. These are all great reasons for a motorcyclist to swing a leg over a motorcycle and head to Carmel Valley

This is my second year participating in the two-day Why We Ride event—a very well organized ride founded by local Bryan Carroll, who produced the inspirational motorcycle documentary of the same name five years ago.

The ride is like the documentary, in that is a representation of riders from all walks of life on all types of motorcycles coming from other states and countries. This year was especially exciting for me, as there were many women riders, with varying degrees of experience, two of which would join me on Friday night for the charity dinner to share our Why We Ride stories.

I was a little nervous about the upcoming evening, for I have never spoken on a panel in front of a large crowd of strangers and peers. I reason I have two days to get to know the people on the ride to make it a little easier.

I am also feeling a bit guilty and excited because I decided to leave Walter, my 1983 Honda CB1100F home and instead ride a borrowed new Kawasaki Z900RS test bike.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail Z900RS

I call the Z900RS “A&W” because he is two-toned, metallic root beer brown and with wide orange side stripes, reminding me of the root beer float. Kawasaki calls the model color Candytone Brown, which makes me think of Jaffas—a popular Australian candy that is soft chocolate coated by a hard orange candy covering. It turns out the Z900RS really is a sweet ride!

Having ridden the first 20 miles through the twisting country back roads and I can tell this light trellis framed retro-modern version of the 1973 Kawasaki Z1 is going to be fun. So far the bike geometry works well, the bike is balanced, staying right where I put it.

I am 125 pounds, and normally motorcycle suspensions are set up for heavier male riders. No problem—the Z900RS comes with fully adjustable suspension, so I adjust the rear shock a bit softer as well as the 41mm forks.

Also, I am 5’ 5” and on tiptoes as the wider seat eats up a bit of my inseam. There is good news here as well—an Ergo-Fit reduced seat option is available.

For those who prefer Kawasaki’s traditional green, there is a Metallic Flat Spark Black version with green pinstriping, and the very new green Café version with retro-styled white stripes, that along with a retro-style Kawasaki emblem, compliments the old-school faux air-cooled engine fins, setting it apart from modern bike styling with uncommon good looks.

The two-day Why We Ride guided tour to The Quail Motorcycle Gathering show located on the grounds of the Quail Lodge is made up of 200-mile segments each day, primarily on back roads.

I invite two very experienced male riding friends who decide to ride their classic Yamaha two-strokes—Dan Nelson on an RD400 who has never ridden in an organized group ride, and Mark Rosenberg on a rare Japanese import RZ250 who has only participated in extreme riding tours in other countries.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail hanging in Moorpark

The first ride stop is in Ojai for gas, and then to the Cold Spring Tavern, an old stagecoach stop in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara for a tri-tip BBQ lunch. This is followed by a refreshment stop at the Riverbench Vineyard & Winery along Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley.

The ride up takes us through green rolling hills patched with yellow mustard seed in full bloom, the scent is relaxing, and is the warm sun as we wind through the California vineyards and countryside.

We eventually arrive at the tiny Pismo Beach neighborhood of Shell Beach, northwest of the famous dunes, for a catered BBQ dinner and cocktails. There is plenty of time to meet and mingle with the 50+ riders while we watch whales play and the sun set among rosy pink clouds.

I do a quick count—10 percent of the riders are women! I see them on adventure bikes, cruisers, and scramblers; this is a refreshing sight. I speak to a few of the women passengers. They are in awe, inspired by the women riding solo—a couple states that they have decided they want to come next year with their own motorcycle. I just love when that happens!

The second day goes very quick with an early start we head up U.S. Highway 101 for about 30 miles. The coastal fog lifts as we head north and stop for coffee and to warm our hands at the Cayucos Pier. We mount up and cut inland, the next stop is for gas at Nacimiento Lake and head to Mission San Antonio de Padua, which is surrounded by Fort Hunter Liggett.

This is a treat, as the road leading to the base is long and canvassed with old growth oak trees. We are reminded that this an active Army Reserve base as we come upon a clearing with very large military cargo planes parked off the road practicing drills.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail the coast

The Mission is worth a visit and open while getting earthquake retrofitted. We are treated to a gourmet Mexican grilled lunch.

California State Route 1—Cabrillo Highway (aka Highway 1)—is accessible from this point by riding down the very tight and technical Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

We are warned of the views and not to target fixate when you see the Pacific Ocean, wildlife, or the occasional oncoming car. This is where the ride guides experience shines, as does riding etiquette. With simple hand signals that we have been instructed from day one to pass down the line of riders, we all make it to the coast without incident.

The ride north on Highway 1 to Monterey through Big Sur is so enjoyable, a sun shining windless day, with clear spectacular views, my friends and I decide to turn around and ride back to a point called Lucia before the dinner banquet.

There is little to no traffic. Being tailed by a couple of classic Yamaha two-strokes ring-a-dinging along the coast was quite fun. I haven’t had reason to laugh out loud in my helmet so hard for sometime. I had the advantage with DOHC 948cc in-line four, slipper clutch, full disc ABS brakes and traction control.

Because Highway 1 has been closed due to two big landslides for well over a year, and since it is still partly closed it is rare to have open stretches of this highway to yourself. Better still, there was freshly paved smooth roads where normally there had been incredibly uneven pavement.

I discover the Z900RS really comes to life, as I am now able to focus on its turning ability and hear the unique sound of the exhaust notes as they pleasantly resonate off the coastal highway walls. I watch as the occasional tourist heads slowly turn my way as they gaze out over the ocean on my approach. The exhaust has two tones—one for low speed, and the second.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail classics

It’s a unique growl that I learn requires two-thirds throttle. It evokes an evil grin within as I ride by. Kawasaki says they made over 20 renditions to get just the right sound.

We reach the Why We Ride charity dinner on time; it sold out and the raffle a great success. The proceeds raise money and awareness for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, which helps families of children with brain tumors.

Joining me on the rider panel are Samantha Moore and Cindy Martin. Moore is a new rider who attended the event with her father as a passenger and was inspired to get her motorcycle license after his recent passing. Moore learned to ride last year and has now embraced the sport making his passion for riding her own, stating she felt his presence on the ride.

Martin is also a new rider. She learned to ride two years ago at age 60, inspiring her husband, her son, and now her grandson to get their motorcycle licenses!

I shared my personal story of riding that ended quickly on my first attempt. I tried to secretly teach myself on a boyfriend’s Vespa, resulting in wheeling into a neighbor’s wall. Embarrassed, I scared myself out of attempting it again until 10 years later.

I was inspired this time by a woman splitting lanes on an old Harley-Davidson with a spring seat while I was stuck in traffic on Highway 1. I dreamed of taking an overnight trip on a motorcycle—that was over 20 years ago.

Feeling the motorcyclist camaraderie with the group, I spoke about how we are all ambassadors to motorcycling and have the power to ‘infect’ others with our passion while we are riding. This is why it is important to encourage proper instruction, promote safety gear and to practice positive mentorship. You just never know who you are going to inspire and how.

Inspiration manifested itself across the lawn of the Quail Motorcycle Gathering on Saturday morning. As typical of this event, its ever-changing yearly display of motorcycles is neatly arranged in groups representing different marques, eras, classes and collections. The colorful contrast of brightly painted two- and three-wheeled jewels on the bright green natural carpet inspired smiles while spectators shot pictures of themselves with the functional art.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail Z1

The featured classes this year were Café Racers and Electric Motorcycles, as well as the career achievements of motorcycle designers Arlen Ness, his son Cory, and grandson Zach. The men were on hand along with several of their motorcycles, as well as those of others who were inspired and influenced by Ness designs.

The Quail show judging is performed by invited class experts coming from around the country and is determined based on the French Style, rewarding a blend of originality and beauty. There were over 20 first place awards presented.

Canadian builder Jackson Burrows, who was originally inspired by Ness, brought his first restoration project, a 1960 Harley-Davidson Super 10. Admitting he made some mistakes, and learned a lot about the difficulties of nickel-plating; nevertheless he won twice on what turned out to be his birthday—1st Place Custom/Modified and the Industry Award!

World famous New Zealander Burt Munro’s original 1920 Indian Scout land speed record streamliner was started up on the podium after winning the HVA Preservation Award. Another famous competition bike, Freddie Spencer’s 1981 Honda NS750 flat tracker took the Significance in Racing Award. The Innovation Award went to Curtiss Motorcycles—the new iteration of Confederate Motorcycles—for the 2020 Curtiss Zeus and its futuristic design.

Design and Style Award went to the makeover of a 1968 Ducati 250 with a narrow-case single motor entered by Analog Motorcycles. The Antique Class 1935 and Earlier winner was a 1913 Flying Merkel V-twin that also took home Overall winner. Owner Douglas McKenzie was very happy that he had bought this bike back after he regretted selling it years earlier.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail motorcycles

There were many more winners and a lot to see in one day with 300 motorcycles, many futuristic bikes and café customs, as well as the early generation Corbin electric motorcycles from the 1970s. Mike Corbin was a man ahead of his time, including his electric land speed streamliner.

A walk down the line of parked spectator motorcycles is a show in itself—several have For Sale signs. My favorite entrant was from James Benelli, an 80-something motorcyclist who had just restored a BMW R51/3 with an added Steib sidecar. The BMW has been in his family for over 50 years. It was a project he was inspired to do as a labor of love after he came to the Quail last year and subsequently found out he had cancer, saying it turned out to be his coping therapy.

Therapy and motorcycles do go together, and no one knows this better than Kenny Roberts. His True American Heroes Weekend is in its seventh year. The True American Heroes Dinner and Benefit Auction raises money going towards helping bridge the gap when veterans return home from battle and wait for DOD assessments of injuries resulting form chemical warfare and PTSD, working in conjunction with Welcome Home Heroes Foundation.

Roberts is very serious about this cause, as are his family and friends who come to support the effort. This year attendees included Kenny Roberts, Jr., Eddie Lawson, Bubba Shobert, Carlin Dunn, Chris Carter, Thad Wolff, Jeff Haney, and Shelina Moreda.

The True American Heroes Dinner held at the Quail Lodge Clubhouse sold out. Several donated items consisting of signed posters, clothing, wine, and a two-night stay and golf package, as well as an industry-sponsored custom Yamaha XSR700 that sold for $25,000.

Over $40,000 was raised with 100 percent going directly to the Welcome Home Heroes Foundation. The evening festivities were over early so that everyone could get a good nights rest and be ready and on time for the Roberts led ride in the morning.

The Sunday morning weather cooperated, and kickstands went up at 9 a.m. in front of the Quail Lodge. Everyone arrived with motorcycles fueled and stomachs topped off with coffee and pastries.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the QuailKenny Roberts BikesIt would be the first time for this crew, as in the past the event and ride took place near the Roberts ranch in Modesto. Eddie Lawson was there riding his very unusual Dan Gurney Alligator, while Bubba Shobert and Chris Carter were riding two up with their wives. Thad Wolff was sporting a Yamaha Super Ténéré, and Jeff Haney on a Suzuki DRZ400SM.

Several riders arrived on classic motorcycles, which was a treat. There was a 1960s Triumph Tiger, 1980s Kawasakis and Hondas, as well as newer Harley-Davidson cruisers and Euro adventure bikes.

The ride was made up many experienced riders who had been on the previous year’s rides and knew the drill. The 50-plus riders fired up their bikes on cue and headed out on the 100-mile loop. The route ran over Las Laureles Grade Road and down California State Route 68, south through the neighboring Salinas agricultural fields and Carmel Valley vineyards paralleling U.S. Route 101 before turning inland towards the hills leading to Carmel Valley Road and ending at the Moto Talbott Museum.

I decided try out the Z900RS traction control—a first-time feature experience for me. The Kawasaki traction control comes with two modes—one for full power, and the other slows down the throttle response in addition to holding traction more aggressively.

I felt the traction control kick in as I went through a slow-speed off-camber asphalt dip that had a two-foot-wide patch of sand, making me wonder what would have happened without it. I could see how one could quickly make this feature a friend, especially with big horsepower motorcycles.

Halfway through the ride I chose to hang in the back with Eddie Lawson. It was entertaining watching him manage some of the bumps on the Alligator; it appeared to be a wee bit stiffly sprung. It also allowed me to take a couple of pictures of the scenery and take in the sights. There is something very cool about seeing a string of motorcycles winding around county curves, purring along a nice clip.

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail show winnerThere was a little adventure involved whereby we practiced our U-turn skills, after a couple of wrong turns, but eventually everyone made it to the museum wearing big grins.

However, there was none bigger than mine when I was rewarded with the highlight of the trip, I had pulled up side next to Eddie Lawson and he flashed me the thumbs up when he saw the Kawasaki Z900RS—confirmation I had made the right decision riding the retro Z. I could hardly wait to ride it the 400 miles home. It was the he perfect ending to a four-day motorcycle weekend, letting the good times roll!

Photography by Wendy Newton

Riding the Kawasaki Z900RS to the Quail | Photo Gallery