2010 Pre-1916 Motorcycle Cannonball

Coast-to-coast on pre-1916 motorcycles


| January/February 2011



cannonball 1

Paul Watts heads across the desert on his 1915 H-D 13 days into the ride.

Photo by Michael Lichter

On Sept. 10, 2010, 45 riders roared off from Kitty Hawk, N.C., on vintage Harleys, Indians and other historic pre-1916 motorcycles. Destination: California. Sixteen days later they rolled onto the Santa Monica Pier, 10 of them having completed the entire 3,294 mile route in the 2010 Pre-1916 Motorcycle Cannonball.

Spearheaded by Lonnie Isam of Jurassic Racing in Sturgis, S.D., the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball was inspired by the historic cross-country endurance runs made by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker before and after World War I. Challenging riders on 95-plus-year-old motorcycles to cover almost 3,300 miles, from Kitty Hawk, N.C., on the Atlantic Coast to Santa Monica, Calif., on the Pacific Coast, it was an idea that bordered on insanity. Yet that didn’t seem to slow anyone down. If anything, it simply inspired them.

Watch a collection of videos featuring footage from the 2010 Pre-1916 Motorcycle Cannonball

Preparing for the Cannonball

Although inspired by Cannonball Baker, the 2010 Motorcycle Cannonball was modeled after the Great Race, a coast-to-coast rally open to all vehicles 45-years or older that ran for many years through 2007; except the Cannonball would run mostly on secondary two-lane roads, and it would be an endurance race rather than a timed race.

Matt Olsen, who helped organize the ride, made the whole thing sound even more unbelievable when, before the race, he explained he would build a 9hp single-cylinder, single-speed 1913 Sears — from scratch, hand-fabricating most of the bike. Were people really crazy enough — and were there enough of them — to take valuable, almost 100-year-old bikes (and one 100-year-old-plus bike) and attempt such a feat? The answer, it turns out, was yes.

As the bikes all had to be of pre-1916 vintage, that brought up the question of what, exactly, does that mean? The rules explained: “The machine must be powered by an original engine. Many things could be changed on a machine, and updates made for safety sake, but the core of the motorcycle must be 95 years old or older.” The rules recommended updated brakes and even adding a front brake if not so equipped, and suggested that for safety reasons riders may choose not to run old-school “clincher” tires. Also, everyone would have modern lighting, not the carbides of the day. The bikes were divided into three classes: Class 1 for single-cylinder, single-speed bikes, Class 2 for multi-cylinder, single-speed bikes, and the more open Class 3 for multi-cylinder and multi-speed bikes that were becoming popular by 1915.





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