The 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball “Race of the Century” is now well over half way completed. The annual cross-country ride began in Atlantic City, New Jersey on September 10th and is scheduled to end on the other side of the country in San Diego, California on Sunday, September 25th. To most driving from coast to coast in 16 days may not sound challenging, however the Motorcycle Cannonball only allows antique motorcycles, 100 years old or older. That means riders and hitting the road on 1916 and earlier motorcycles and riding literally from one end of the country to the other.
The ride, which began in 2010, is broken down into 14 legs that are usually around 300 miles each. There is one “rest day” in the middle of the ride. The rules state that the bike must be powered by an original equipment motor and carburetor as well as an ignition that is intended for that era bike. Brakes and lighting are allowed to be modified if the rider so chooses, however many of the bikes have stayed in stock condition.
This year the contest features 100 riders who were pre-selected to participate. They came from South Africa, Australia, Germany and Poland among other places to take part in the epic adventure. They even include Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers band, who celebrated his 22nd wedding anniversary to his wife Cris, who is also participating in the ride. The features an assortment of brands including Matchless, BSA, Henderson, Thor and of course Indian and Harley-Davidson in this year’s Motorcycle Cannonball.
The event is not so much a race as it is an endurance and resilience competition. Despite only 100 miles of Interstate riding, the trip can put a lot of strain on the antique motorcycles and riders. Most riders are carrying extra gas, carburetors, assorted tools and even tires. When a race leg ends the motorcycle parking area is turned into a sort of Motorcycle M.A.S.H. unit where parts are replaced, cleaned, adjusted and reassembled before the next leg starts the next morning. As you would expect each rider is willing to help out where they can to get other competitor’s bikes going in time for the next leg to start.
As a testament to the difficulty of the ride only 58 riders remain. There is currently a 20 way tie for the lead with no clear cut favorite. I know a few antique motorcycle riders and collectors and they are a friendly and tightly knit group. As it should be, it is more about the experience and the machines then winning.