The coast-to-coast endurance ride for motorcycles made before 1930 is under way.
The adventure has begun!
The 2012 Cannonball Motorcycle Endurance Run rolled out of Newburgh, New York, this morning, with some 66 motorcycles made before 1930 all starting on the first leg of a 16-stage, 3,900-mile journey across the Northern U.S. to an ending in San Francisco on September 23.
The starting line was the new Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, which itself preserves hundreds of historic machines from motorcycling’s Golden Era. But the bikes gathered for the start of the Cannonball included some of the most famous brands from all those decades ago—Harley-Davidson, Indian, Henderson, BMW, BSA, Sunbeam, Rudge, Excelsior, Husqvarna, J.A.P. and Triumph.
On Thursday, Motorcycpedia hosted the grand opening of the newest exhibit put together by the Antique Motorcycle Foundation. The exhibit is called “Kaizen,” and it tracks the development of the Japanese concept of the same name, which translates as “beneficial change.” Kaizen was the guiding principle behind the rapid growth of the Japanese motorcycle industry in the ’50s and ’60s, and the exhibit is filled with significant examples of landmark machines that came to America during the era.
The Cannonball riders themselves were some of the first people to see the Kaizen exhibit, and AMF Chairman Dennis Craig said that although these riders arrived on classic motorcycles of their own, he was pleasantly surprised by their reaction to these comparatively modern classics.
“I watched some of these old bikers walk up to these Japanese machines, stop, say, ‘I always wanted one of these when I was young,’ ” he said. “It was just as great experience.”
This morning, the museum hosted a kickoff breakfast for the riders. Or at least, it offered a breakfast. But museum Founder Ted Doering was concerned that it might go to waste.
“We were afraid no one was going to eat anything,” he laughed. “Everybody was so fired up to get started.”
Finally, the moment came for the riders to begin their journey. Police blocked off the street and local residents lined the pavement as, one after another, machines more than 80 years old set off on the first leg of this coast-to-coast adventure.
One of the most-anticipated moments came when a group of Henderson four-cylinder motorcycles rolled out together for the 210-mile ride to tonight’s stop in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Henderson brand, founded in Detroit by legendary motorcycle designer William Henderson in 1912. And Mark Hill has been working for months to bring together a whole fleet of these rare and luxurious machines for the Cannonball. Hill’s team accounted for eight of the Henderson entries in the Cannonball, while another nine were entered by others, bringing the total to 17.
“Yesterday, when we got together before the start, we had more Hendersons in one place than I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. “And then, this morning, we set off with eight of us in a pack. I think that’s the most Hendersons that have traveled together on the road since the ’30s.”
The day went well for the Henderson pack, consisting of Hill, Frank Westfall, Mike Fockler, Dale Stoner, Jeff Tiernan, Bryne Bramwell, Clyde Crouch and Steve MacDonald. All of the bikes rolled into Wellsboro within their 45-minute time window, so they were all credited with a perfect 210 points, one for every mile traveled.
But Hill notes that’s just the start.
“We’ve been working for months to build these bikes,” said Hill, “and this morning was our first chance to play around with them on the road. We’ve prepared some of them a little differently, and I think we discovered that Mike (Fockler’s) bike is going to be the hot machine.”
One of those most interested in seeing the Hendersons perform well is 19-year-old Tanner Whitton, who is a student in Hill’s motorcycle mechanics course at the State University of New York Canton.
Tanner has signed on as a support-team member for the Henderson pack, and he’s been involved in building some of the machines in the group.
“Working on these engines has really impressed me,” he said. “I had no idea that people were building something this advanced all the way back then.”
It will be Whitton’s job to help ensure that those sophisticated engines keep on working perfectly all the way across the country. And if the original Cannonball, run back in 2010, is any indication, that’s a job likely to extend well into the night most days.
It’s not surprising, then, that one of Whitton’s highlights of his first day riding in the support-team truck had nothing to do with William Henderson’s famed inventions.
“I was able to take a nap,” he reported. “It was great.”
Although the Henderson pack is off to a great start, the first day of the Cannonball included a scare for the rider on one of the other true classics in the event.
Buzz Kanter, publisher of American Iron, Roadbike and Classic American Iron, is aboard the only example of one of Harley-Davidson’s rarest models entered in the Cannonball. The 1929 JDH, a 74-cubic-inch (about 1,200cc) V-twin came with a twin-camshaft layout proven to increase performance on the company’s racing machines, and that technology was said to give this street motorcycle the capability to hit 100 mph.
Kanter’s JDH started great at Motorcyclepedia and, he reported, was rolling along just fine until the 58-mile point, when the rare (and expensive) engine “just locked up solid.”
Paul Ousey, who was riding alongside Kanter on a single-cam Harley JE model, stopped to help. And together, the two injected oil into the engine from the machine’s manual oil pump. They waited more than 15 minutes for the engine to cool, then discovered that it would turn over slowly using the kickstarter.
Eventually, then engine “unstuck” itself, and Kanter was able to fire it up again. It then proceeded to complete the final 150 miles of the day without any additional problems, although Kanter took the precaution of increasing the amount of oil he pumped into the engine at each gasoline fillup.
“We’re not tearing it down tonight,” Kanter said. “It ran great, and I think it’ll be fine.
“These bikes were rare even back then,” he added, “and I’m not sure if anyone has ever ridden one all the way across the country. So I guess we’ll learn as we go.”
In all, 54 of the 66 machines that started the day finished with a perfect 210-point score. But that’s just the first day, and tomorrow, the rider will be challenged by the longest leg of the trip—320 miles from Wellsboro to Sandusky, Ohio.
Oh, and the weather forecast is calling for rain.
It should be, uh, interesting.