Motorcycle heaven

Classics don’t die, they go to Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, Calif., May 3—Arriving for the third annual iteration of the Legend of the Motorcycle at the swanky Ritz-Carlton Hotel, its castle-like wings of luxury rooms and fringe of manicured lawns nuzzling the Pacific Ocean, one would be more than justified in asking, “Is this motorcycle heaven?”

That’s because this one-day event, billed as a motorcycle Concours d’Elegance (which is a hoity-toity way of saying “a pretty nice bike show”), features a cornucopia of what seems like every motorcycle ever built. Certainly some marques are missing among the 300 motorized two-wheelers here but it hardly seems like it. Among the swirls of light fog, and in neat rows spread across grassy slopes that normally serve as golf links, are bikes from every era of motorcycle history. Some, like a 1902 Indian, are more than 100 years old, while others—a sidecar custom from celebrity builder Jesse James comes to mind—were built just yesterday.

Whether ridden or trailered in, up for sale or just on display, vying for trophies or just paraded before the cameras and adoring fans, the cumulative impact of the Legend’s awesome assemblage of bikes is slightly overwhelming. The Legend Concours may not be motorcycle heaven, but it’s damn close.

Spanish Town rumble
San Franciscans Jared Zaugg and Brooke Roner are the pair who dreamed up the Legend of the Motorcycle concept. For three years running they have selected this sleepy little community to host a motorcycle love-in. Half Moon Bay may be only a few miles away from the gritty urban beat of the San Francisco Bay Area, but on the social and cultural map, it’s across a fairly wide divide. Nevertheless it serves as a nice backdrop for the eclectic combination of motorcycle enthusiasts who attend the Legend event.

Originally known as Spanish Town, Half Moon Bay and the surrounding area has a colorful history, conveniently positioned as it was for smugglers and bootleggers during Prohibition. Today, it sits in a region that easily mixes agricultural and maritime interests. One can walk the whole town from end to end in no time flat. Down on the main street, the local feed and grain shop exists cheek-by-jowl with arty boutiques and trendy dining spots. It doesn’t hurt either that California Highway 1, possibly the most scenic and best motorcycling road in the world, passes right through Half Moon Bay.

Shops and restaurants here cater to surfers, locals, retirees, and tourists with equal aplomb. Over at the Flying Fish, customers eagerly fill up the tiny dining area because the clams are great and the beer is ice cold. A relaxed bohemian vibe serves as an undercurrent for the whole scene. On weekend nights locals and visitors crowd the bar in the San Benito House for live music and a little two-step.

For this particular weekend, plenty of those cruising Highway 1 were headed for the Legend Concours (organizers later reported an attendance figure of 6,000, which seems pretty good for an event charging $65 admission). Naturally, parking at and around the Ritz-Carlton was overwhelmed. Motorcyclists could get fairly close but four-wheelers were shuttled in from faraway lots.

Whether or not the organizers like the analogy, the Legend of the Motorcycle really does resemble a three-ring moto-circus. Which is to say there is something for everyone; plenty of thrills (who wouldn’t be all atwitter to come across a 1913 Flying Merkel Twin?) and chills (the foggy weather ensured it was a button-up day), celebrity high-wire acts (among them Jason “My Name is Earl” Lee, who both helped with the award presentations and visited his Falcon bike on display here), lion tamers (announcer Alain de Cadenet attempting to get luminaries and bike show winners up onto and, more difficult, off the stage), and plenty of sideshow acts as well.

Anyone needing a break could visit vendors like the Dudley Perkins H-D tent, go inside for a free cigar and complimentary sip of Scotch, or take up a spot at one of the tables near the outdoor service bars.

And, while the predominant theme of the Legend event is derived from vintage bikes—including an eye-popping gaggle of Nortons, which shared the “featured marque” billing this year with MV Augusta—one of the most crowded corners was the one featuring contemporary chopper and custom bike builders and their work. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. James, builders Paul Cox, Billy Lane, and Japan’s Shinya Kimura pulled the tarps off some new work.

But near the end of the day, the best place to be was the bike show winners’ stage. Set against an ocean backdrop, announcer de Cadenet ably fought his way through a program that required dozens of winning bikes to be brought down from the show grounds and rolled or ridden up to the podium. Adding to the pandemonium, several of the awards were presented by luminaries from the wide world of motorcycling, including racers, actors, and industry folks. Some, of course, were all three.

With trophies designed by artist Jeff Decker three deep in 16 classes and a host of specialty awards, there were plenty of goodies to go around. Topping the program, the Lifetime Achievement Award went to legendary retired Italian motorcycle racer Giacomo Agostini. Two nods went to Gary Kohs, one for a 1966 Triumph T100R (the Steve McQueen Award, presented by McQueen’s son Chad), and the Founders Award for his 1956 MV Augusta.

Other special awards included the Bullet Falcon from Ian Berry and Jason Lee (a Custom award from Garage magazine); Paul Adams’ 1923 Norton (the Elvis Award sponsored by Lucky Brand Jeans); and Giacomo Agostini’s MV Agusta 500 Triple entered by Jeff Elghanayan (the Industry Award sponsored by S&S Cycles).

But it was an unrestored but perfectly running 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Racer brought to the Legend Concours by Vince Martinico that made the biggest trophy haul of the day. Vince’s tough little red racer topped the Competition 1908–’49 Class, took off with the Hippodrome Studio’s Sculptor’s Award, and then grabbed up the Meguiars Preservation Award. It wasn’t a big surprise when actor Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and the upcoming Hell Ride) presented the Dianese-sponsored Best of Show trophy to Martinico.

A couple of other award highlights include various Harley-Davidson models sweeping Class 2, American Production 1930–’77, and Class 10, Modified Custom, 1928–’54. Many, many more Legend awards were handed out in ceremonies that stretched over the afternoon (go to for a complete list of 2008 winners). Capping the day, Bonhams & Butterfield went inside to auction off some 100 vintage and collectors’ bikes. Scuttlebutt around this year’s award stage was that the Legend of the Motorcycle could well move to another location in 2009 (smart money is on San Diego). THUNDER PRESS will bring you the updated information as it becomes available.


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