When Victor Boocock, Motorcycle Cannonball rider #29, decided to take his 1914 Harley Davidson single for a jaunt across America earlier this year, he did so with the explicit intention of being alone and with nothing planned. Just man and his machine.
It was supposed to be a warm up to the Motorcycle Cannonball. Together they made their way across the rugged, and sometimes daunting, terrain of the route he’d chosen between New York and back to California, where he lives. Born and raised in England, he has a special appreciation for the USA that often comes with adopting this country. Along the way Victor made many discoveries, but mostly, he gave himself an experience so full of memories that it will last the rest of his life.
Not that everything went completely smoothly. In the early stages of planning his trip, during one of his local practice rides, he blew out one of the engine’s pistons. It was original to the bike and had never been bored out, so the replacement of the piston set back his departure, stretching the preparations for the journey out over a year and a half, nearly 550 days. In the end, the trip itself took only 13 days. But it was a baker’s dozen of days he says he’ll never forget.
“There was no sight-seeing,” Victor chuckled in his English lilt as he shared the tales from the road. “I was up by 4-4:30 a.m. to work on the bike, then depart by sunrise, off the road by 5 p.m. I averaged about 300 miles a day.” Remember, that’s on a 1914 HD. And while most of us would expect weather to be a major factor when making a journey of this kind, the ever-so-charming Victor said there was, “no weather at all, it was absolutely beautiful.” What he did experience however, was a series of mechanical situations that kept the journey, ah, let’s just say, “interesting.”
A gallon of oil every two days
To begin with, consider that, in accordance with the 1914 HD factory specs for a total-loss oil system, a whopping 7 gallons of the sticky stuff went through the single-speed engine from coast to coast. That’s more than most “modern” bikes use in a year or three.
Victor’s 1914 H-D has been equipped with an auxiliary gas tank, which is filled from the gas station pumps, and then manually pumped back into the bike’s fuel tank. The reason for this is simple: safety. As Victor explains in the video below (Part 1 of a two part Series on Victor's Ride), the new pumps don’t fit and the petrol splashes back out and onto the hot engine, creating a potential fire hazard.
Added to the daily routine early on was the discovery of a slow leak in the rear tire, which meant pumping up everyday to maintain the required 60 pounds of pressure. With cord showing, the tire was worn out by the time he hit Kansas but wasn’t changed until Dodge City. Gunsmoke territory. Two days later, in Green River, Utah, Victor discovered a screwdriver lodged through the sidewall of the tire. Upon reflection, he considered himself lucky. “Everyone knows those old clincher tires are notorious for coming off the rims, and none of that happened,” Victor stated nonchalantly.
Somewhere in Virginia both pistons seized up. “Well, not exactly seized,” Victor, explained. “It was more that those old cast iron heads just got very hot and it felt like someone had the brakes on. I stopped and let them cool off and they loosened back up, so I went on my way.” Okay.
A 30-cent cuppa a Joe
Then there was the day that, while puttering along at 40 mph, Victor suddenly felt a smart blow to his back. Startled, he was confused and thought a bird must have flown into him. Suddenly his motorcycle started making a hideous noise, forcing him to pull over to investigate. Upon inspection, he discovered that the bungee cord holding his rain suit to the luggage rack had come undone and hit him in the back. It had then fallen and was wrapped around the rear wheel and sprocket, bending his chain guard. Everything was easily handled and Victor was back on the road in no time. Routine, really old chap.
And while all these niggling little mechanical experiences were just part of the journey, Victor still found the magic of his adventure to be what stands out the most. “People were just super,” he said. “I had some lovely experiences. While in rural Kentucky, where I got a cup of coffee for 30 cents, a gentleman who had passed me earlier as I stood on the side of the road transferring fuel, came up and asked if I was ok. Apparently he had gone back to an overpass to make a u-turn and travel back several miles to be sure I was alright and not broken down.” And every time he needed a helping hand, some one was there to help. Lovely.
By the time he reached California, Victor’s 1914 Harley was, well, tired. So while he won’t be on the starting line in Kitty Hawk, his fellow Cannonball riders today now know it can be done. Victor and the other riders who went before -- like “Cannonball” Baker – broke the trail. That spirit will, no doubt, inspire everyone on the Motorcycle Cannonball as they head for the West Coast arrival on September 26. Quite so.