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21st March 2014

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Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012 - Part 2

Ian Lihou has travelled from Australia to America to accompany the 3000-mile coast-to-coast classic motorcycle Cannonball Run. But while his team's machine is ready to roll, Ian himself doesn't have any transport...

After months of work Team Southern Cross made it to the Cannonball start with the Invincible ready to ride. I arrived with two days to spare and terrible jetlag. In spite of my lack of sleep (five hours in the previous 36) I felt excited and invigorated and couldn't wait for the ride to begin. I caught up with Team Southern Cross, rider Chris and passenger Christine, and the rest of the Cannonballers and got to ride the Invincible for the first time. Admittedly it was only three laps of the car park but I rode it.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

The next day was spent preparing bikes and checking out the rest of the field. The Texan Carson Classic Motors team looked professional; the Roaring Rudge Team with Mike Wild and Ken Ashton on a 1924 bitsa were experienced, practiced hands. As it turned out, Ken's Rudge lasted less than 150 miles and the enduring image I have of Ken's bike is with a piece of wood jammed between the head and the frame to stop it lifting after threads stripped at the base. According to Ken; 'it goes like a rocket but it explodes like one too.'

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

I took the opportunity to visit Orange County Choppers and the whole thing left me a bit cold. I was impressed with the quality of the workmanship yet the end product seems impersonal and useless. I'm not sure what these machines are: they won't be ridden, although they are strictly speaking capable of that, and they won't end up in an art gallery. In the end they may end up in a motorcycle museum but in reality they strike me as being mere wannabes compared to machines from Arlen Ness or AEE choppers. At least their bikes were truly groundbreaking machines and will be reminders of how they used to make 'em in the olden days…

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

There was bad news for us at the riders' meeting. Support teams are NOT allowed to travel on the same route as the riders to prevent roadside assistance. If you break down on the road you can: a) fix it yourself, b) get assistance from other riders, and Chris never failed to offer assistance to another rider, or c) put it in the support vehicle and fix it at the end of the day. For me, as the support crew, this meant that my journey from NY to San Fran would take the most direct route, probably interstates and major highways. So I would miss the Mississippi River, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the high plains AND four nationally significant motorcycle museums. Darn it all to heck! (As our well-spoken American cousins would say). I would however probably get to see the Golden Gate Bridge…

The next morning I start to feel jealous that I don't have a bike. We head to the Motorcyclepeadia Museum for a hosted breakfast, then on to Wellsbro. The breakfast is good but the museum is better. Walls of bikes, one model Indian for every year of production, custom bikes all over the place, two Walls of Death (two!) and enough stuff to keep a bike enthusiast happy for a whole day; we had until 9am.

My original plan was to get a bike to cross the USA. Initially I was offered a BMW GS for the trip and then a cheap Harley Sportster became available. I chose to go with the Sportster which became a nightmare of paper work and legalities that eventually proved too difficult to overcome.

So at 8am on the morning of departure I had no way of getting from New York to San Francisco… which is a real problem when the whole point is to go from New York to San Francisco. With just over half an hour to go before we hit the road Loni Islam (the organiser) introduced me to Kris Thompson who was in a bit of a pickle because he had a van that needed a driver.

Could I help them out?

Sportster old and new on Now...

Yes I could!

To top it off I was asked to do 'sweep' duties with the truck which meant I could take the same route as the bikes and retrieve any machines that became a little temperamental. I went from having no transport to being given a truck with a glove box full of cash AND I didn't have to travel with the support teams. I got to go on the official route. No interstates just back roads and scenery.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

While we ate breakfast the parking lot had filled with well over 200 motorcycle enthusiasts. The place was alive and the atmosphere was electric. 9am arrived and the run was officially under way. Each rider and machine took their turn to wind their way through the crowd and onto the road, carried on thunderous applause and cheering that waned only slightly until the next vehicle and its rider started through the crowd, and onto the road when the clapping and cheering would rise again to the point of almost drowning out the noise of the bikes themselves. It was a moving and special event.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

The first day took us from Newburgh, New York, to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, through the Endless Mountains. It was lovely to look at but hard on these vintage bikes, and especially hard on the Invincible with its chair and two people. Even Buck on his BSA had his feet down and paddling. My team's top speed was down to about 40mph and we were averaging about 35mph. Eventually the clutch gave out and Chris and Christine were stranded halfway up a hill on a blind corner. You couldn't find a more dangerous place to stop if you tried. The clutch was in such a state that to carry on would have been pointless, so the outfit was loaded into the truck having travelled only 43 miles that day. There were a couple more machines rescued during the day, but most people made it to Wellsboro under their own power.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

Wellsboro is a pretty town, very clean and tidy as most of these small American towns tend to be. The architecture is remarkably well preserved and there is a real sense of home-town pride. We worked on the bike until about midnight at which stage we were satisfied it was ready to hit the road the next day…

Photos: Ian Lihou and Chris Knoop. Details of the 2014 Cannonball Run:

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