The Motorcycle Cannonball II

Round Two of the Ultimate Antique Bike Endurance Event

By Michael Lichter, Photography by Michael Lichter

The 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball II Endurance Run had all the makings of an epic tale. It attracted participants from around the globe who shared a love for old motorcycles and were compelled to test themselves and their machines in a singular way. Nearly 70 bikes made it to the start in Newburgh, NY, creating an assemblage of museum-quality bikes the likes of which had never before been put together for a ride like this.

Could these antique machines survive bad weather, bad roads, and bad timing to make the grueling, 3956-mile coast-to-coast journey? Sleep-deprived riders dealt with seized pistons, flat tires, bad magnetos, bent forks, cracked frames, and left-turning drivers. Some had been through this before during the last Cannonball in 2010. Even though newer bikes were allowed in 2012 (pre-1930, compared to pre-1916 last time), the route was extended about 25 percent from the first run with bigger climbs, greater altitudes and longer days, all while keeping to the same 16-stage (plus one rest day) format. Points were awarded for miles ridden and deducted for penalties, with ties broken according to engine displacement (400-1000-plus cc), age of the bike (1913-1929), and age of the rider (20-70).

As we assembled in Newburgh, the excitement was tempered with a healthy dose of trepidation. Most teams made last-minute adjustments to bikes deemed Cannonball-ready weeks earlier, but some riders were still trying to get their bikes running. While one bike made it through just one mile and two bikes never left the start that day, 57 bikes successfully ran the entire 210 miles to Wellsboro, PA.

Stage one proved to be a good warm-up as the next two days got serious with increased mileage (320 miles on stage two and 300 miles on stage three), serious rain, some interstate riding, road closures, accidents, and a deadline to be at the ferry in Muskegon, MI. Serious challenges indeed, but they didn’t end there. Every stage that followed tested the riders in new ways as our pack crossed this great land.

There isn't really one tale of the Cannonball, but, rather, 69 tales, one for each of the incredibly diverse riders. Ages ranged from 20-year-old Buck Carson (#3) to 70-year-old Victor Boocock (#56), and motorcycles ranged from a very simple 1913 Excelsior single-speed twin to 1929 Harley-Davidson JDs or Henderson Inline-4s, the latter pair making up nearly a quarter of the pack. In addition to American-made Harley-Davidsons, Indians, Excelsiors, and Hendersons, other brands represented included Britain's Rudge, BSA, Triumph, Sunbeam, and Velocette, as well as German BMWs and Australia's Invincible JAP. Riders came from the U.S. and 10 other countries: Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, and South Africa.

The 2013 Victory Cross Country generously supplied for my use didn’t deliver the same wow factor as Carl Olsen’s 1953 Panhead that I shot backward from during the 2010 Cannonball, but the Victory offered something else—the ability to catch the best possible images from a smooth and powerful perch. Despite daily beatings due to quick accelerations and stops, and extended high-speed pursuit trying to catch riders miles ahead, the Victory did whatever my steady pilot Dave Przygocki asked. I also had help carrying my gear from Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage, and Cardo Systems’ Scala Rider TeamSet PRO Bluetooth headset allowed me to communicate with Przygocki. Lastly, Skeeter Todd at Orange Country Choppers set me up with two “Warp Drive Thrusters” to hold additional gear.

Each rider approached the Cannonball in his own unique way. Some had owned their bikes for many years and understood them inside and out. Some came with mechanics and trailers outfitted like mobile machine shops; others came with little more than a friend in a pickup truck. Diversity is the spirit of the Cannonball.

By Michael Lichter
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