Thursday, September 9, 2010


The Motorcycle Cannonball is a cross-country 'endurance run' featuring pre-1916 bikes, in the spirit of Cannonball Baker's record-breaking 1914 jaunt, which took 11 days.  'Cross-country' as in across the United States; yes, the premise is outrageous, and that's where the fun begins.  The riders are collecting in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to begin their theoretical two-week run over 3300 miles, averaging around 250 miles per day, over the fairly flat terrain of the southern US (to see their route, click here).

This ride has been planned well over a year now, with Lonnie Isam responsible the complexities required to feed, house, and manage the riders.  As you can imagine, with such old machinery (and a few old riders!), the cast of characters, mechanical and human, changes weekly, and it was anyone's guess who would actually fire up their engine on September 9th, 2010, and set off on a loooong ride.

The possibilities for mechanical carnage are endless, but the intrepid entrants have come generally well-equipped for the task, typically with a rolling workshop/trailer and multitude of spares - whole engines, wheels, frames, the lot.  Early motorcycles are simple, so an engine swap will take only a couple of hours.  Changing a frame, maybe four.

If you're getting the notion that the entrants are generally well-heeled enough to take a couple of weeks to ride an old bike around, with an entourage of mechanics, spares, masseuses, and a fancy-damn'd be generally right, but not all of them are well-heeled.   Most importantly, they're all intending to ride 3300 miles on 100 year old motorcycles!
I have many friends on the ride, and will rely on their first-hand photographs and notes for occasional updates on the progress of this puffing, chuffing, smoky circus.
  If you're using a drive belt, better bring a spare, as they're notorious for stretching and breaking.
Chabott Engineering means Shinya Kimura!  Shinya is riding a blue 1914 Indian.
Plenty of room for troubled machinery on this rig; that's 8 front wheel clamps!

 Note modern wheel rims and tires, plus bicycle mechanical disc brake - all encouraged

Our hero; Pete Young on his 1913 Premier.  Patrick Hayes, who is keeping Pete company and driving his truck, says:
"I think there are just over 50 registered with perhaps 45 ready to start.  There are a few bikes that arrived and won't operate.  Pistons and clutch bits laying about the parking lot.  One guy with an Indian twin spent 5K on an engine rebuild and spit out an exhaust valve in the parking lot!  I've just driven Pete's truck from SF.  I'm having a real hard time imagining these heroes tackling the eastern mountains and western deserts.  Actually, I'm in awe that most of them start.  Forget the regular runners.  There are pristine museum pieces here and their owners fully intend to try the full distance.  There are bikes here worth over 300K and they are just going to go down the road.

My only source of info on the owners is the reg list available on the website.  Look at my photos and find the guy who registered and then got a California vanity plate with his rider number!!  Now that is PLANNING.  You should see some of the trailers and tow rigs out here.  With Pete's truck I look like the Beverly Hillbillies."

 Indian with a few modern touches, but very few indeed.  It's still a 100 year old motorcycle.

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about...if you're bringing a trailer, bring a lathe, and a welder, and some spares, and a massage table, and perhaps your therapist too.

Fred Lange's trailer includes a lift!  For the man who makes these bikes every day from scratch, I would expect nothing less.

Advanced planning - registering your machine with your Cannonball entry number!

Yes they smoke a little, because they need oil to run, and the tolerances are kept loose...

Some detail on the Militaire; a museum piece to be road-tested over two weeks.  Rare!

Matt Olson spent months prepping and restoring his Sears.  Note the Triumph twin-leading shoe front brake!  Note complete lack of brake on comparable Sears!

Yes, there was a LOT of this in the parking lot; clutches, gearboxes, and whole engines being fettled.  Like I said, they're pretty simple beasts, meant to be maintained by enthusiastic farm boys

 Some of the gang on the Kitty Hawk pier.

Many thanks to Patrick Hayes and Pete Young for the photos!  Keep track of Pete's exploits on his blog: