Some of the riders planning to compete in the 2010 Cannonball have extensive experience in long-distance riding. Some have even completed cross-country races on antique machinery before.
And then there’s Dave Fusiak, who readily admits, “I’ve never ridden cross-country on anything. The longest ride I’ve ever taken on a bike is about 150 miles.”
That’s not to say Fusiak is inexperienced. Since getting his first minibike in second grade, he’s never been without a motorcycle, progressing through a career as a motocross racer to become a serious collector of, and competitor on, antique motorcycles.
“I’ve been riding bikes my whole life,” he says, “but I never go anywhere. So I thought this would be a lot of fun, particularly if I could do it with about 60 other guys.”
Like many of the competitors in Class 3, Fusiak will be riding a 1915 Harley-Davidson twin with a three-speed transmission, the bike that represents the state of the art of the pre-1916 era. Currently, Fusiak is building his Cannonball machine out of parts he’s accumulated over the years.
“Basically,” he says, “it’s just stuff that’s gotten thrown into my garage. I just had to come up with a frame to build a complete motorcycle.”
As with many competitors, though, Fusiak is taking the opportunity to upgrade the machine a bit.
“We’re running a steel crank and flywheels, rather than the cast-iron flywheels they used then,” he says, “And while the standard stroke is 3½ inches, I’ve stroked it to 4 inches. I think it comes out to 68 cubic inches, which should give me a little more torque and a little more horsepower.”
That work was delayed after Fusiak faced a serious problem with the reproduction engine crankpins he had purchased. When torqued to the appropriate specifications, they broke. So Fusiak asked Harley engine guru Mike Lange to come up with a solution.
“He custom-made 10 crankpins and tested them all to 110 foot-pounds, much more than the standard torque,” says Fusiak. “And I bought five of them.”
That’s enough to supply Fusiak with one crankpin each for the engine he’ll have in his bike, plus a spare, assembled engine he’ll haul along on the trip, and another, unassembled engine that will be on the parts truck, in addition to two engines he’s building for fellow competitor Buzz Kanter.
Besides those engine upgrades, Fusiak is working on some safety improvements, changing to drop-center rims instead of the clinchers of that era, and adding a front brake, because, “It doesn’t matter if you roll into oncoming traffic at 50 mph or at 1 mph, you’re still going to get run over.”
In most respects, Fusiak says, this year’s Cannonball will be much easier than the challenge that faced cross-country riders nearly a century ago.
“When the pioneers of Indian, Harley and Flying Merkel did this stuff back in the teens, there were no roads. They were basically riding on dirt horse trails. We’re going to be riding on Route 66-type highways, so it won’t even be close.”
But he says those paved roads present their own challenges, particularly for the engine builder.
“It’s all going to come down to getting the lubrication dialed in,” he says. “Back in the day, they weren’t running flat-out, because of the limitations of the roads. Now, you can basically fill up the bike, open the throttle to 55 and go until you run out of gas. But if you do that, you’re going to run the engine out of oil.
“That’s the key—to modulate that oil pump. You know if you have too much oil, because you’ll see the blue smoke. But how do you know if there’s too little oil? Well, the engine seizes, then you know.”
In order to sort out the Harley lubrication system, Fusiak is planning a series of test rides with Kanter once their bikes are complete.
“I figure we’ll go 25 miles the first time, 50 miles the second, then 100 miles, 200 miles and try to do one 300-mile run before the Cannonball,” he says. “The goal is to set things up so that when you run out of gas, you still have about three ounces of oil in the tank. Then we’ll know the engine will hold up.”
In addition to all the work he’s putting into the motorcycles, Fusiak is also tuning himself for the 3,300-mile ride, going on a diet to drop about 25 pounds so far, with a goal of losing 15 more. But between his job as a pilot and the demands of family life, he says he hasn’t had time to fit in much training.
“My sister does triathlons,” he says, “and she keeps laughing at me, telling me I’m never going to finish.”
Still, Fusiak says he wouldn’t miss the experience of tackling what could be a once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
“You know,” he says, “I was always a fan of (actor) Patrick Swayze. I followed all of his movies. He was a young, healthy guy, and then, at the age of 55, he got pancreatic cancer, and a year-and-a-half later, he was dead.
“I’m sure six months before he died, he wasn’t counting his money. He was counting the accomplishments of his life. I think it would be a great accomplishment for me to go coast to coast on a pre-’16 bike.
And although Fusiak says his goal is just to finish the Cannonball ride, he admits that if he’s lucky enough to survive to the ride’s closing stages, his racing instincts may take over.
“I’m not going in there thinking I’m going to be the highest-point guy. But once we get near the end of the ride, I think there’s going to be some competition. Someone‘s going to want to be the first guy.
“I’ve always found that when there’s somebody in front of me, I want to pass them. So my plan is to spend the early parts of the ride watching what they do and learning. Hopefully, when we get out West, that’ll pay off.”