Thursday, September 09, 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:


Justa Gurl said...

that is insanity in its most enjoyable form. COOL

Anonymous said...

I plan on greeting Pete Young on the Santa Monica Pier at the end of the Motorcycle Cannonball. I grew up there. In fact, in spite of your character assassination of my VM Endurance two years ago, I may just ride the entire 16th stage from Victorville. I will, however, carry plenty of oil. Just in case (or is it just A case).

Cheers, Jim A.

occhiolungo said...

Hi Paul. Patrick is a great guy, and great Guzzi mechanic, but I'm my own wrench! ;) I'm way too cheap/proud/possessive to have somebody else touch my junk. But Pat was very gracious in his offer to drive the pickup across the USA.

Good pics, we've got a lot more coming. I'm posting daily at


drsprocket said...

Paul, While it's true there are some high rollers involved there are some that are not. Some have just a van or pick-up with no spares outside of a belt or extra tires with a friend driving. The road will provide a very equal playing field as you well know. I plan to meet them in Victorville. It's pretty cool that beside the Cannonball there's a road run in Lake Tahoe, Pennslyvania, and that Max and two friends are riding to Brooklyn, NY. and back on pre-70 choppers in the next couple of weeks. Who says old iron is dead iron. Rich P.S. The wheels go round!

Anonymous said...

I understand that Matt Olsen did not restore that Sears, but litterally created it from only a few original pieces and all the rest was fabbed from raw materials. He has some blog somewhere to describe it all. "put the huffle in the shuffle" might be the name of his blog.

That picture of the open engine and exposed piston is the aftermath of the orange Flying Merkel. It has yet to run and we're about to go to bed.

Bike #31 JAP is a 1907, MORE than 100 years old. To be ridden by a German woman, Katrin Boehner.

I don't know the name, but tonight at dinner was announced a special award for the highest numerical total of rider age and bike age.
we have one rider over 70 so he'll get it a Maggie Valley and I'll get the name then.

Tomorrow morning is a grand photo op at the Wright Brother's memorial. I should be able to take a few more there and send them on.


mos atelier said...

Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Good day to you. Just wanted to drop a note to say “Great Site'. I met you some years back - before Craigslist! I purchased a Ducati and a half from you. I met you at your warehouse and I blame you for my addiction-ha just kidding. Your warehouse was full of motos. I have a super small collection of bikes-maybe 11 Italians.
I am still restoring the 74’ GT I got from you-still working on my mechanical skills…I welded up my first frame last year-a featherbed style piece for a modern 900 ss engine and hope to weld five more this next year.
Was always fascinated by your technical knowledge but where does your fashion sense come from? I have only just recently got wind of your blog-is your history buried back there some where?

Cheers and keep up the good work.
Willie B.

vintagent said...

@ Willie; I come by my fashion sense honestly - my grandmother was an editor at Vogue (and taught at Parsons), and my mother was a clothing designer. My daughter is a designer too! It's in the genes apparently.

Anonymous said...

'disc brake'!,the fellow is a cad.
Great to hear / see old machinery doing what it was meant to do.