The Motorcycle Cannonball II

Round Two of the Ultimate Antique Bike Endurance Event

By Michael Lichter, Photography by Michael Lichter

The youngest Cannonballer, Buck Carson, had worked on bikes with his dad since he was 6 years old. The low top speed and regular maintenance requirements of his 1927 BSA 500 single made Carson's days long. Then his motor seized, which required a complete teardown to split the cases. Thankfully, Carson had a great machine shop-equipped trailer and help from his dad and a number of friends-including fellow competitors. In the end the bike still got the best of Carson, but determined to make it into San Francisco, he got dropped off on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge and pushed his bike across the 1.7-mile pedestrian walkway into the city. That's the Cannonball spirit!

Another standout personality was Chris Knoop of Melbourne, Australia, on his Australian-made 1925 Invincible JAP. Knoop earned some miles in every stage and full mileage on more than half the days, but the JAP wasn't quite as invincible as the name implied. Knoop set out from Newburgh with his partner Christina Hemphill in the wicker sidecar that he made by hand, but the sidecar was more of a strain than this 1925 bike could handle. By stage four Knoop was riding on just two wheels, then he rode for two days without a clutch, until he could remanufacture the part in Lonnie Isam Sr.'s Competition Distributing machine shop in Sturgis, SD. Still, for all the problems Knoop encountered, his big smile never waned.

Shinya Kimura—the noted custom bike builder—participated not as much to win as to enjoy the journey. Kimura alternated riding days with his close friend Yoshimasa Niimi, despite the points deduction for sharing a bike. And Kimura’s 1915 C-3 Indian had not been internally modernized like many of the bikes on the Cannonball, so it suffered its share of problems. Still, both riders rode in period clothing every day of the run, including the 28-degree morning we left Yellowstone Lodge with Niimi wearing an ancient, full-length military wool coat. You could see the pain on his face as he rode through the chilling fog!

The foreign riders, perhaps because they travelled so far, sometimes seemed to be having the most fun. Andreas Kaindl of Germany seemed to never touch his 1924 Henderson Deluxe, and still covered every mile of the run. Hans Coertse, riding his 1921 Harley-Davidson J model, had to tear his bike completely down, missing one stage to weld a cracked frame, and he still achieved perfect scores on the remaining 15 stages. Claudio Femiano of Italy wasn’t so lucky, plodding along on his little 1926 Sunbeam until it finally gave out.

Gary Wright entered the run as a bucket list goal. He sold a truck and some equipment to afford a 1929 Harley-Davidson JD and a pickup camper so he could make the trip with his wife, Linda, and their aged Weimaraner dog. Wright wrenched every night and kept that bike running well enough to finish every mile and earn 17th place.

Victor Boocock crashed his 1914 Harley-Davidson in a wet second stage, and when I met him on the side of the road he was looking decidedly dejected. Boocock was looking forward to celebrating his 70th birthday during the Cannonball, but when his tire broke loose and bound up his back wheel it took the wind right out of his sails. Boocock was sounding like he would never ride again, but after arriving in California with him and his bike back in shape, he came out to ride for the last three days and was back to enjoying himself.

Bill Buckingham got his 1927 Harley-Davidson JD up and running with a borrowed front end the day after a car “left-turned” him during stage three, sending him to the hospital in an ambulance. Josh Wilson also had an inspiring story: He bought his nonworking 1929 Indian 101 Scout on eBay just weeks before the event and worked on it right up until the morning of the start to get it running. He had the least experience with his bike and a shoestring budget, yet his can-do attitude helped him complete every mile to finish fifth place overall.

By Michael Lichter
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