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14th April 2014

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Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012 - Part 3

After several frustrating days on the 3000-mile coast-to-coast classic motorcycle Cannonball Run, Ian Lihou's team decide it was time to transform their vintage outfit into a solo...

The first day of the Cannonball Run saw Team Southern Cross travel less than 50 miles on the vintage Invincible; the rest of that leg had to be completed in the recovery truck. On the second morning, a large crowd bid us farewell us at 8AM and we headed out with the weather forecast of rain, more rain and the possibility of hail. I prayed the wipers on the van worked. The hills were considerably less challenging than yesterday, and the Invincible covered 68 miles… before having to go on the trailer with more clutch and gearbox troubles. This may not seem like many miles but at least we were not the last!

For the bikes left out on the road, the rain came down in sheets. The riders said it was like riding into a wall of water. One minute you were dry, now you're soaked. We passed through the Togia National Park and picture postcard perfect American towns. Lush forests coming right down to the edge of the road, rolling mountains and smooth roads: absolutely perfect motorcycling country.

By mid-afternoon the sun had come through and the weather was warm. Speeds increased and the Hendersons showed their horsepower, easily belting along at 100km an hour, their speed only matched by some Harleys.

I learn a lot as I listen to blokes talk about bike troubles. One thing is that cubic dollars won't get your bike going. Another is that if you can't fix it with a hammer then the fault is probably electrical…

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

The day turned out to be a nightmare for the participants. We lost one rider when he had a rear tyre go flat (some of these bikes still run clincher tyres) which resulted in shoulder and hip injury. Nothing bad but he wouldn't be riding for a while. There was a giant traffic jam on the freeway which held us up for ages. By the end of the day we had three Indians in my recovery van; Jeff's van had a Harley and Loni's trailer had the Invincible aboard and was headed into the distance to pick up someone else up. The nightmare day then turned into a nightmare night where repairs were begun late and finished much later. In our case it was 2:40am before we went to bed.

4½ hours after going to bed we were awake again. Day three was a special day. It was absolutely imperative that everyone reached the ferry departure point in Michigan by 4:30 - at the absolute latest - to cross the lake in time to ride to the Harley factory in Milwaukee. Willie G and the team were providing dinner and giving us a private showing of their museum. Nice huh? Nice, yes, but it left us with a problem created by the low speed of the Invincible. The Invincible couldn't possible make the ferry in time so it was decided by the organiser that it should go in the truck. So we drove the 560km approx to Milwaukee, a big job after an 18½ hour day and little sleep. Luckily I kept the near misses down to one… I think I did a great job. The lady in the car I almost crushed was not so glowing in her opinion of my driving skills.

Buck Carson got lost that day. It was imperative that he made the ferry by 4:30 but he missed it as he got lost (no GPS allowed on this event). The ferry left without him and, as you can't have bikes this old travelling slowly at night, a pick-up vehicle took off on a 300-mile round trip to fetch him. This is what you do when you have to, no questions asked, just do it. Buck, the bike and the support crew arrived at 11:30 at night and then set about preparing the bike for the next day's ride.

Willie G checked out the Invincible and said it was cool. That makes it official: if Willie G says it is cool then it is, FACT. Following day, the weather was warm as we headed to Anamosa, home to the National Motorcycle Museum. The ride was a little uneventful but anyone with bikes that needed work that night had the use of J&P facilities. The staff helped change tyres and give advice and lend a hand. Many of the J&P staff stayed until midnight (without pay) to help out.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012 That night had the use of J&P facilities...

Next up: 280 miles to Spirit Lake. The day's ride was characterised by hot, dry winds and the flat farm land of Iowa. Thousands of acres of corn, much more than the Americans could eat; apparently China buys a lot of the stuff. Not to mention sunflowers, acres upon acres of sunflowers all with their heads bent and facing the same way, could be a bit spooky at night if you were to let your imagination get carried away. The roads were straight and uninteresting and the scenery got boring after the first couple of hours.

One Excelsior suffered fuel vaporisation problems but was able to limp home and everyone was relieved to get to Spirit Lake, an Iowan holiday resort town next to a blue water lake. Blue water lakes are special (I believe) because they are filled wholly by rain water, there are only seven of them in the world, and I have seen one: makes you feel pretty special, it does. In the evening a cool breeze blows off the water and the atmosphere was very much of holidays and relaxation. The local Indian Owners Club was there; about 500 locals showed up and there was a real party atmosphere with a band playing and general festivities continuing well into the early evening. Some reports said it was nearly 8pm when it all stopped. It was wild. Am I getting old?

Back with Team Southern Cross, Chris decided to take the chair off the bike and ride it as a solo. After five days of disappointing results caused by clutch and gearbox troubles, he decided to significantly lower the load the bike has to carry. We would see if this helped.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

Next morning I was talking to someone on the start line who informed me that the forecast was for rain, and cold. We set off on a cool morning and very soon it did indeed get wetter without getting any warmer. Three bikes had problems with fuel and Christine and I picked up Buzz and his JDH early in the day for the 260 miles left of his trip to Murdo. He was very disappointed having his day finish so early. He has a very special bike, a twin-cam JD Harley, sort of a street version of their racing models. It has the potential to win this but after this non-finish he fell back a couple of positions.

Once again we travelled the flat open stretches of Iowa for hours and hours. It isn't for the most part a scenic place. Do you know why Iowa is so big? No other states wanted to take any of it (huh huh huh!), but a funny thing happened. After travelling for most of the day on flat roads, suddenly the roads became like a roller coaster. Hilly, curvy and interesting again. Isn't geography wonderful?

On a VERY positive note the Invincible did the whole 312 mile section without a hitch. Brilliant. It went faster and farther than many other much more expensive machines. The clutch issue hadn't improved but the bike finished and finished strongly. After so many days of frustration we were happy with this very good result.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

Another Cannonball moment. We had some wet weather and Chris went to a shop to buy some dry socks. The man behind the counter said they didn't sell socks but for him to just hold on for just a couple of minutes. The salesman got in his car, went home, got a pair of his own socks and gave them to the rider. Amazing.

The following day we were due at Sturgis for a civic reception. They would be closing the main street off and giving us dinner, and a visit to Mount Rushmore was scheduled too. At 8am I was alone, driving the truck across the gently rolling hills, chasing a bunch of beautiful motorcycles. The air was crisp, clean and clear and the road was empty. I had at last figured out how to work the radio and in the middle of emptiness they played Frank Sinatra singing 'Fly me to the Moon.' For the next two and a half minutes the world could not have got any better.

It was a spectacular day of riding. Mountains, lakes and the famous Black Hills. It's the place where the Indians taught General Custer a lesson in manners. It is where the buffalo roamed until they were made almost extinct by the white man who took the leather and left the meat to rot on the prairie. Injun country, and beautiful it is too. The geography here is quite different to Australia yet almost, but not quite, familiar.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

The route took us to the Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore. Badlands' geography is predominantly huge chasms formed by erosion, much the same as the Grand Canyon. It was spectacular and beautiful. The road winds its way along the high plains where you get a spectacular view of the chasms then suddenly drops down into the chasms themselves.

The second National Park was Mount Rushmore, set in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Heavily tree covered, shady and cool much of the time: magic for motorcycles. The memorial itself is breath-taking, it is BIG, bigger than pictures can relate. Americans show respect so well.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012

For the second day in a row the Invincible made it to the finish without any major problems. The tail pipe came off the exhaust (sounded GOOD!) and the rear brake shoe cam snapped and left the rear brake arm dragging on the ground. Both these things are fixable (but I hoped Chris wouldn't fix the exhaust…) Another full section of around 300 miles completed by the Invincible.

Next was supposed to be a rest day but many teams, including us, had big jobs to do. Three Hendersons were stripped to the crank and reassembled that day. We had to fix the rear brake and make a new clutch pressure plate. The original pressure plate was damaged when the primary cover fell on to it, breaking it into pieces. The clutch continued to operate OK for the next two days which was incredible in itself but we knew that eventually it would fail, possibly with catastrophic results.

The Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run 2012 The Invincible ran with a pressure plate like this for 3 days and 1000 miles Brits old and new on Now...

We had access to the Competition Distributing ( workshop full of tools and equipment, including a lathe. First job was to make a new brake shoe cam which ended up being a Harley piece, easy. The second job, the making of the new pressure plate, was to be quite time consuming so the proprietor of the workshop suggested we took it to a gun shop which had a CNC mill and who would be happy to do it for us. We left it with them and they said they would ring us when it was done, about 6:30 maybe 7:00. At 10:15 it still wasn't with us. We eventually got it at about 10:30 and what was going to be an easy day turned out to be Chris and me working in a parking lot until nearly 11. And it didn't work. Not happy.

But even on days like this there was a bright spot. During the day there was civic reception, they closed off the main street, put the bikes on display and fed everyone. Because many of the teams working on machines missed out on a meal, the people who had put on dinner packed up the left-over food and took it to the workshop and fed those who had missed out. That gesture is typical of the way the event has been received right across America.

The next day, Wyoming beckoned…

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

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