Saturday, September 13, 2014


Don't rough it - Brough it!  A rolling advertisement for the pleasures of obsolete machinery, still giving pleasure long after their working days are done.
First, the Rules.  For this year's Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, the motorcycle must be built (or appear to be built) before 1937.  Teams of mechanics and even tractor-trailers pulling mobile machine shops are allowed, as there's no limit on the amount of support for the event, BUT during the day's ride, your team, if you have one, isn't allowed anywhere near your bike, not even on the same road.  To prevent conflicts, the support teams have their own set of maps and instructions, and the riders are only given their next day's map when they check in at the end of their day's ride.  Thus, we don't know where we're riding beforehand, just our destination hotel, which helps a bit to keep the roads clear of hangers-on with new bikes, although quite a few have appeared anyway.
And at the other end of the scale, this Neracar...being ridden by Bob Addis with a smile at 30mph through the hills of Georgia
Riders have specific start times in the morning, according to their class; Class 1 - bikes up to 750cc, Class II - 750cc-1000cc, and Class III, the big boys, who generally start between 7:30 and 9am, depending on the days' mileage.  Our rally maps are excellent, and the day's ride is calculated to the speed limit of each section, limited to 50mph on open highway, which is where the 'extra' time in the day is found, to stop and take photos, or work on the machine if required. And many do require...the attrition rate is about the same as the 2012 ride, with perhaps 25 machines out of contention already, requiring total rebuilds or wholly new motors, at least one of which was airmailed a hotel!  Clearly, some of the Cannonballers can afford to fly a spare VL motor from home.
Among the parts needing replacement...this Harley JD engine threw a rod, becoming a de facto 'sectioned engine'.  A replacement bottom end was flown in from a specialist...
Which brings up the cost of the rally.  I'll post my totals at the end, but a few of our riders, especially those from abroad who flew their bikes from Italy or France or Uruguay or Spain, will be tens of thousands of dollars deep into this rally by the end.  My total cost for 2012 was around $14k, and I ran a pretty cheap rally.  This year the entry fee alone was $2500, which doesn't cover your bike, any repairs or transport or spares, hotels, food, or your support vehicle/team.  This year almost every evening features a hosted dinner at whatever museum or motorcycle shop is willing to feed 250+ bikers, so that saves money...if you care to eat a hamburger or pulled pork sandwich every night for 3 weeks.  I've enjoyed the adventure of finding the best food in every small town for lunch and dinner, but Yelp is only as reliable as its reviewers, and more than once McDonalds was #1 on the list of 'best restaurant' in a town.  Horrors.
Carry a fire extinguisher if your carb is anywhere near your ignition source.  One of our Cannonball riders was surprisingly sanguine about losing his Harley on Thursday morning...
Our Team #38 Brough Superior squad (the Revival Cycles/Vintagent/Sinless Cycles gumbo combo) has enjoyed a good run thus far, with the '33 11-50 running better every day, as it slowly wakes up from a long slumber, and Chris our mechanic dials in the details.  Our biggest bugaboo has been the clutch, which has alternately slipped or dragged at times - never to the point of unrideability, but not quite right for a Brough.  While the '50hp' engine rating is pure BS (it's more like 33hp), the old Sturmey-Archer clutch struggles a bit to keep up with the torque of the beast, especially two-up.  Still, she'll thunder along at 60-65mph all day long.
After a few days' being hors de combat, Doug Wothke's bumblebee VL is back on the road...
The countryside is the reward of all this, with day-long cinemas of gorgeous Americana, from the swamplands of Florida, the rolling lushness of Georgia, the exceptional country roads of Kentucky and Tennessee, and the open hilly countryside of Missouri and Kansas.  The weather until yesterday (Sep 11th) has been generally warm and muggy, although a cold front moved into Kansas, and we were chilled at 50 degrees with a heavy mist coming down, so had to bulk up our at a Walmart, and put some dry stuff under and over our wet leather.  Never trust the weatherman! Once sorted, we loved purring over hill and dale, and meeting great characters beside the road while taking photos.
Dave Kafton does a little impromptu maintenance
Tomorrow we enter the West, making our way to Colorado, the Rockies, and beyond.  We'll cross a 12,000' pass on Monday en route to Leadville, and it's snowing today...but scheduled to warm up significantly by tomorrow.  Fingers crossed - c'mon sun!
Doug Feinsod and his Excelsior-Henderson
A fairground in Missouri
Our first few miles in Florida, through picturesque swampland and lots of Spanish moss...
The Moto Guzzi Normale running strong in Kentucky
Ron's Indian Chief captured in the magic circle...
Another Indian gets a little love
An evening still life with 1915 Indian parts
Team Shinya working - again - on the pistons of their 1915 Indian
Brough not in clover, but sorghum - Kansas
At the end of the day, riders check in and grab the next day's route map
The Missouri landscape...
A friendly member of the Outlaws MC posed for a wet plate, and a few other pix
A Harley JD gets a little love
A rural airport in Kansas had a lineup of great vintage planes, still in use
Where's PauldO?
Susan at the county fair...matches her helmet!
Sean Duggan's '36 Knucklehead chopper - attracting attention everywhere, and good on them for getting the kids interested in the Cannonball...
The workshop of the Cyclemos Museum
Where's PauldO?
A tobacco drying barn in Kentucky

Thurston, the tobacco farmer, who explained the different types of tobacco, and different processes required for smoking, chewing, and snuff products.  This batch was for chew, and let off a pungent aroma as it dried.  Tobacco is labor-intensive, being cultivated and hung up by hand - Thruston hires workers from Mexico for 6 months/year for the process, as 'they're the only ones willing to do the work'.

The leaves are 5' long, and most of the drying barns throughout Kentucky look like they're about to collapse

Tobacco fields in the background

Susan chats with Thurston

While Thurston's property is covered with tobacco and soybeans (he leases out acreage for the soybeans), his workers plant corn, beans, and vegetables for their own use.  Like many people we've met along the road, he has a son working in the tech industry near San Francisco, the new hub of gainful employment.
Claudia on her Frera, plonking along - they're doing well!

Chatting at a rest stop in Georgia

In the parking lot of the Cyclemos museum in Kentucky; the middle of nowhere, but also in the middle of some excellent riding roads

Peter Reeves from the UK on his '29 JD Harley, keeping calm, carrying on...

Free ice cream at the local DQ; even Doobie Brothers' member Pat Simmons has a Flurry, with Fred Lange still deciding.

Susan in front of a picturesque, abandoned garage in Georgia

Frank Westfall shows the stability of his 1917 Henderson, the fourth oldest machine on the Cannonball, after Victor's 1914 Harley, Shinya's 1915 Indian, and Thomas Trapp's 1916 Harley.
A rare pair of Freras; the Class I machines are running much better this year than previous years, and half of them are still on perfect points: The OHV Moto Guzzi Sport 15, the Sunbeam Model 9, two BMWs, an Indian Scout, and a Rudge.  The Freras have both experienced gremlins, but are still running strong.

An unusual 1940 Indian Sport Scout with factory original '39 tinware...

Indian racers at the Cyclemos museum

The Brough in a Kentucky park, with some of the most beautiful riding roads we've seen yet.

Shinya Kimura chugging along on his '15 Indian.  At the very moment this photo was taken, a cylinder head nut exited the scene, and he lost compression.  A pair of vice grips solved the problem, and he carried on....

Tattoo artist Craig Jackman showing off his handiwork...

The Cyclemos parking lot, with an Aermacchi/Harley single and Cushman delivery truck in modest decay

Road work in Missouri

Wes at the Cyclemos

John Landstrom with his BMW
Susan with one of the many Amish decorative panels seen on barns throughout the South

Monday, September 08, 2014


Michael Lichter captured Susan McLaughlin and I riding through the Georgia hills, and titled it, 'Oh what a wonderful life!'.  I couldn't agree more.
I should mention that much of my apocalyptic talk about the Cannonball relates to my previous experience in 2012, with my 1928/33 Velocette KTT.  There was a weak link in my parts ordering system (me), and I didn't get the replacement camshaft I desperately needed in time for the start, so installed the best one from my pile - a mystery cam with no markings - and guessed at the timing.  It proved all wrong, and I seized the exhaust valve twice (thinking it inadequate guide clearance) before I realized the KTT needed a different cam.   The replacement cam was Fedex'd en route, but wasn't dimensionally identical, and all mating parts required machining - cam, shaft, rockers, rocker pads, cambox - before everything lined up.  Let's just say I spent way too much time in motel parking lots, working by streetlamp, getting bummed out.
The difference between labor and leisure; a competent mechanic to lend a hand.  Here's our wet plate shot of Chris Davis of Revival Cycles, who prepped our Brough and keeps it running sweetly.
Another factor which sucked: crap coffee and mediocre food.  So, this year, I teamed up with Revival Cycles of Austin, who prepped our borrowed Brough Superior 11-50 (a zillion thanks to the ever-generous Bryan Bossier of Sinless Cycles), and we brought a French press and many pounds of coffee from our favorite roaster in NYC (a delicious organic Peruvian French roast from Porto Rico Coffee in the West Village).  And while it might seem inconvenient that my riding/life parter Susan doesn't eat red meat, that gave us carte blanche to find our own dinner nightly, as while the Cannonball has set up free dinners every night at a local motorcycle dealer or museum, that meal is invariably hamburger or pulled-pork based.  Via Yelp, we've found fantastic meals for lunch and dinner every day thus far, including Cajun and totally organic home-made or at least non-chain genuine local cuisine.  Not having to wrench every night, and eating a good dinner, have improved my outlook on the Cannonball immeasurably - so far it's been an absolute treat, despite occasional Biblical-level rainfall.
Southern decay; glamorous and spooky
Our first day's ride was through the Florida forest and swamplands, which are actually gorgeous, although hot and humid.  The Brough nipped up while stuck in a series of traffic lights in a small town, so we gave her a rest by an enormous oak tree in an old cemetary, made spooky with Spanish moss hanging from trees, and an air of decay.  Plenty of decayed barns and mobile homes en route added to the feel of glorious rot about the place, and I was on the lookout for alligators (but only found them pre-deceased, in restaurants).  Support crews aren't allowed on the same roads as the riders, so our partners, Alan Stulberg and Chris Davis, texted to ask for a progress report at lunchtime.  I replied, "The oysters were delicious, the shrimp fresh, even the Arnold Palmers not too sweet.  Waiting for key lime pie now; will assess."  Good food at Corky Belle's in Palatka, FL.
The Brough beside a ruined homestead near Ephesus, Georgia
We arrived in Lake City, FL just before our rally check-in time of 4:30pm, and just before the town attempted to live up to its name.  It rained 10" that night, and in the morning, our first half of the Cannonball route was cancelled due to floods on our way.  We put the Brough in our Sprinter and drove to Albany, Georgia, where we found Pearly's Country Kitchen, and 'Pearly' Gates presiding over the small-town restaurant he's owned since 1960.  Alan rode the rest of the day, and we finally set up our 'wet plate' photography gear, after a stop at Home Depot to build a folding shelf in the van to work on.  Regardless of the heat and humidity, our shots turned out well.
We saw lots of abandoned factories along the way, evidence of America's industrial decline, and the real impact of 'outsourcing'.  It will take clever and innovative business ideas to revive the South.
Day 3 was a ride from Columbus GA, through the hills to Chattanooga Tennessee, which was simply delicious two-up, with the humidity and temperature more moderate.  It was bliss, and I felt lucky.  The drop from Lookout Mountain into Chattanooga was fantastic, a series of tight bends dropping rapidly from along the cliff face...marked 20mph but we ignored that silliness.  While the Coker Tire Museum was a lovely backdrop for dinner, we hung out long enough to enjoy their incredibly collection of cars and motorcycles, then found the Tupelo Honey Cafe on Warehouse Row, which was amazingly good.  Food, motorcycles, company, coffee: keeping me in good spirits!
Our wet plate of Craig with his twin-carb Harley VL
Our wet plate shot of the beloved 'round the world' Doug Wothke
100-odd old bikes make an impact in Chattanooga, Tennessee, outside the Coker Tire museum
Andy explains, 'While you can fix a Harley with a hammer, my Excelsior-Henderson only needs a wrench.'
Working on a very specially tuned BMW in Chattanooga in the Coker garage
Lots of barns and homesteads returning to earth
The Coker Tire museum; my least favorite display method.  The best?  The Cannonball.
Outside Corky Belle's cafe in Palatka, Florida.  Especially don't feed the alligators with yourself!
A few repairs on the slightly fire-damaged VL Harley...
We found a spare engine for our Brough!  This Morgan in the Coker collection uses a JAP engine of the same basic least we know where to find it if we need it.  'Hey Corky, would you mind...?'
A lady just might paint her nails to match her Harley...
...and would be forgiven for doing so with such a compelling smile.
A fantastic view into Tennessee from Overlook Mountain...
An Amish barn shows it's not all pegwork and pins for this austere sect; their barn decoration matched my Ruby helmet!
Planes in the Coker museum
A BMW R63...making me wish I still had one!
The full moon came out, and a bug appeared.
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